Sunday, October 02, 2005

The legacy of John W. Howard

Howard lovers never tire of lauding the PM’s economic management credentials, John W Howardhis strong and decisive leadership, his steady, experienced hand on the tiller in these troubled times. But many of us have a different take on the leadership qualities of John Howard, an appreciation acquired by peering behind the facade of fiscal responsibility and taking a good hard look at his record.

Howard won office with a guarantee to “never ever” introduce a GST, a regressive tax that unfairly burdens the poor, and he promised to govern for ALL Australians. It wasn’t long before the “Beazley black hole” was unearthed to justify Costello’s razor gang, which set about cutting millions from public sector spending.

Howard wasted no time expanding the uranium mining industry in Australia, giving the green light to Roxby Downs, Ranger and many others, including acid leach mines. The multinational group Pangea was invited to look at Australia as a possible international high-level nuclear waste dump, and recently, the Howard government illegally commandeered a site near Woomera for a national radioactive waste repository.

Then came zero tolerance on drugs, opposition to needle exchanges, injecting rooms, harm minimization and more recently, a proposal to legalize discrimination against drug addicts. There was Howard’s refusal to halt the homophobic smear campaign against Justice Kirby, which contrasted starkly with the PM’s high praise and moral support for Bishop Pell and the GG when they were under public scrutiny.

Howard’s regard for the original inhabitants of this country became apparent long before his ten point plan to nobble Wik, no apology for the stolen generations, the demolition of ATSIC and Wilson “Ironbar” Tuckey’s repeated assaults on the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.

Another defining characteristic of the Howard government has been its concerted attack on workers rights, unions and unfair dismissal laws. The unemployed and disadvantaged have faired no better, often referred to as work shy, job snobs, dole bludgers and welfare cheats, their rights have been systematically eroded with work for the dole schemes, onerous administrative requirements and punitive breaching regimes. Cutting people off the dole may lower the unemployment rate, but it leaves the individual without any assistance at all, possibly hungry and homeless.

When it comes to dumping on the defenceless and blaming the victims, those poor refugees who sailed into our waters have worn more than their fair share. The current Immigration Minister, Senator Amanda Vanstone, has implied that indefinite detention of child refugees is necessary to send the “right” message to people smugglers.

From Tampa to SIEV-X, from the Pacific Solution to “children overboard”, asylum seekers have been treated with contempt and cruel indifference. And all the while, then Minister for Immigration, Phillip Ruddock, was quietly accepting Liberal Party donations from influential persons seeking favourable immigration outcomes, and DIMIA was secretly smuggling refugees out of Australia.

After 9/11, the Howard government introduced some of the most draconian anti-terror laws in the western world. Though slightly improved by the Senate, they remain a serious blight on the civil rights of all Australians. And if anything undermines our national security, it has to be Howard’s fawning endorsement of preemptive war and his high-profile role as deputy sheriff to George W Bush.

With extraordinary enthusiasm, the Howard government peddled faulty intelligence and fueled the demonization of Saddam Hussein, whipping up fear and loathing in an effort to generate public support for the invasion of Iraq, with little thought for the victims of war and the mayhem it would cause.

Since then, the government has routinely attacked senior public servants who depart from the Liberal party line, the ABC for “anti-Americanism” and “left-wing bias”, the National Museum for being too “politically correct”, state schools for being too “values neutral” and church leaders who dare to speak out on “political issues” like refugees and war.

During the last election campaign, the Howard government bribed voters with tax cuts for the rich, extravagant handouts and cynical policy backflips on temporary protection visas, all the while sharpening the wedge and shovel, busy with the muck raking and character assassination, hoping most Australians would remain ignorant of the truth.

Tony Abbott once warned Australians not to become so tolerant that they tolerate the intolerable. I fear we have already reached that point, we are tolerating an intolerable government.

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