“Doc” Howard takes us back to the future

From today’s Crikey email:

Before he flicked the switch from the testy old bloke mode he was in at the start of the campaign, John Howard memorably told Kerry O’Brien that the Coalition’s vision was all about “back to the future”.

The Chaser’s De Lorean wasn’t at the policy launch yesterday, but “Doc” Howard and his merry band did their utmost to confirm Paul Keating’s adage that their view of a modern Australia is coloured by a serious streak of nostalgia for the white picket fence. Even the ghost of Menzies got a nod.

The PM, of course, wanted to convince all of us that he is full of ideas for the future, even if his new slogan of the “opportunity society” appears to have been borrowed from a 2001 Tony Blair speech.

The “new leadership” hope of the Coalition, Peter Costello, was playing to the gallery with a reprise of his Keating impersonation. Costello, still stuck fighting the student politics wars of the 70s and 80s, reprised “reds under the beds” and solemnly warned of the dangers to Australia of “Socialist Forum”.


As I’ve argued elsewhere, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Howard’s philosophical musings were more about the legacy than anything else.

So it was something of a contrast to see Brisbane’s Liberal Lord Mayor, Campbell Newman, as the host for the show. If the “narrowing” never arrives, Newman will of course be the senior Liberal politician in the land on the 25th of November.

The 40-something first term Brisbane Lord Mayor might be compared to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Governing with the handicap of a Labor majority council, Newman presents himself as largely a post-partisan figure. His signature themes were articulated in his brief remarks during the launch, and they sounded an awful lot more contemporary than what was on offer from the star turns.

A figure like Newman might have represented genuine renewal for the Coalition. That opportunity has been well and truly lost, but some “might have beens” could well be on the agenda for the Libs as they try to turn their focus from endless discussion of what interest rates were in 1974 or 1984 and actually contemplate what they might need to do to reinvent themselves as a governing party for the twenty-first century.

Posted in federal election '07, Howardia
40 comments on ““Doc” Howard takes us back to the future
  1. Christian says:

    If the libs lose, they will disintergate explosively; all the hallmarks are there for a grostesque stouch. Of course, we can expect the usual factional rubbish from Labor, but that will be nothing compared to Nelson / Downer / Turnbull clusterf–k. And frankly, a totally demoralised Liberal party will mean terrible Labor governance, as it must. Unless Brumby is serious about decriminalising abortion and getting somewhere on hospital organsiation, the state Labor party in Victoria should go down as one of the worst. Friends in NSW aren’t much happier either.

  2. Greg says:

    Apparently, the Chaser was at the launch, but were detained upon arrival and prevented from attending.

  3. Sam Clifford says:

    An ineffectual opposition which manages to hold on to only the safest of safe seats definitely spells trouble for the standard of governance regardless of level of government. The Federal Liberals and the State Labor governments (particularly Qld) have really dropped the ball when it comes to good governance and accountability for their actions. It falls to the minor parties to hold the government’s feet to the fire in these situations but a federal Senate majority and the lack of an Upper House in Queensland (or an electoral system which is fair to minor parties) means that this vital check on executive power has been absent for some time.

    Newman as the senior Liberal makes me chuckle, because he’s a terrible Mayor who was only elected because Labor’s candidate was even worse. The Queensland Libs have imploded something fierce and it’s only a matter of time before the knives come out federally.

  4. bilb says:

    I thought that the “opportunist society” was the one that we have just had. Howard very proudly presided over an unconstrained low interest rate fueled unabashed property wealth lolly scramble that saw luckily placed instant millionaires popping up all over. This was all done with no thought that with every doubling of property values our young next generation were further and further alienated from the future that we imagined for them.

    Howard’s stage of life and personality was fully reflected in his method of government, giving us the hoarding penny pinching manner of an elderly miser far beyond the cares of renewal of life. Bring on the spring, with Howard’s demise the winter is over. I, for one, am desparate to see some greenery.

  5. gandhi says:

    Newman as the senior Liberal makes me chuckle…

    Dammit, I saw him in Surfers on Sat night, downing some cheap pizzas with two big fat, white-haired suits. The table was covered in beers and bottles of wine, even though there was only the three of them. I wish I’d taken a photo now: my spidey sense was tingling!

  6. gandhi says:

    NB Anna Bligh was ridiculing Flegg for not getting the MC job. Funny.

  7. Paul Burns says:

    Oh, yes, bring on the spring. We bloody need it. It seems to have escaped Howard completely that when Menzies made his speech about the Forgotten People he was founding a Liberal Party that bears no resemblance to the current crop of meanhearted lackeys of economic rationalist conservatism. Even Menzies’ paternalistic and phobic views on race reflected his generation’s. Howard, on the other hand is some Gollam-like creature still willing power and destruction, not some idealised future. (Do we really want the welfare state to be destroyed and replaced by some neo-conservative capitalist model that is foreign to our ideas about Audstralian identity? I doubt it.) Unlike Menzies, Howard is presiding over the disintegration of ‘a once-great Party’ (I hope)- and its all his own fault.

  8. lazyaussie says:

    And as fake British as it was, at least Menzies didn’t have a voice like Howard’s expiring frog. The forgotten people? That would be Costello now wouldn’t it?

  9. steve says:

    My personal favorite was the Lib Broadband policy launch. Seemed to have a bit more life than the rest of the boring episode.

  10. Evan says:

    The Launch sank like a stone, too. I don’t think it made the lead story in any of the Metropolitan papers. It didn’t here in Sydney.

    Oh, how low the mighty have fallen.

    As for Costello’s performance, I choked on his “reds under the beds” thing too. This is the best they have to offer? Some half-baked student-politico gibe that has no resonance at all out there in an electorate that wouldn’t know a communist if one jumped-up and bit them on the arse.?


    Roll-on the Brucing.

  11. The Rockstar Philosopher says:

    “Do we really want the welfare state to be destroyed and replaced by some neo-conservative capitalist model that is foreign to our ideas about Audstralian identity? I doubt it.”

    I’ve been thinking that. It seems both parties want to destroy our welfare system (beyond giving election bribes to breeders, seriously, how isolated do I feel right now). I’m quite enjoying the latest interest figures, as it will give the ALP a reason to cancel the tax cuts that nearly no one wants (I also don’t own a house, I SAVE my money, not waste it on usury, again, how isolated am I feeling).

  12. Fanny Robin says:

    I wonder when the commie/marxist/reds under the beds trope will finally be put to rest? It’s a scream that the Libs and the GG still invoke it, eh. But then if there’s such policy convergence between JHo and Rudd, which even the rabid GG comforts itself by claiming there is, what exactly is it these people are so scared of in an ALP electoral victory?

    It’s not just about the spoils of power. It’s more than that, surely. Any ideas?

  13. Peterc says:

    I have been amazed by the amount of references the Liberals have made back to Hawke and Keating times. Seem like they really are looking backwards rather than forwards. “Opportunity society” seems pretty close to Latham’s “ladder of opportunity”. It seems they are now winging it as much as Latham was. This is pancake politics without self raising flower – flat, dull, boring and irrelevent.

    However, I have some reliable information that the Liberals are right now ramping up some rabid attacks on the Greens – from the Exclusive Brethren copybook – full of nonsense about tax, drugs, and “asylum seeker terrorists”. No mention of climate change of course. In doing so that reveal themselves as the dangerous extremists playing russian roulette with our climate and our economy.

  14. Carl says:

    Fanny Robin, I think its about the spoils of power, the pay cut is substantial, the loss of status more so.

    As Costello so aptly demonstrates its also about petty, juvenile rivalries from so many years ago. (think VSU)

    We are a wealthy first world coutry, committed to an economic ideology that is supported by both parties. Passionate, substantive political arguement is far more likely in countries where there is a lot more at stake (think parliamentary punch ups in Taiwan).

    Having said that, I hope Rudd wipes the floor with them, they have become so recklessly arrogant and irresponsible that they deserve a lot more than a pay cut, even if the alternative is’t that great.

  15. Stephen Bayne says:

    From what I saw on the news it looked as if you could cut the tension in that room with a knife. 7 news even got a good shot of Costello giving a very unentusiastic clap to John Howard as he took the stage. Howard looked like a man who was surrounded by enemies.

  16. Fanny Robin says:

    But Carl, it must be more than that. There are many players here, not least the major MSM. Why is the Murdoch press acting in such an astonishingly partisan, over-the-top, pro-Liberal Party manner? It’s hysterical the lengths the Murdoch press is going to to wrest a Liberal victory from the jaws of the Labor Opposition. Yet the GG and its columnists have editorialised on many occasions there is little policy difference between the two parties.

    What gives?

  17. Roger Lamb says:

    Well, I watched the entire launch – and (upon reflection) saw, heard, and grokked throughout, a plenitude of N O S T A L G I A. I did.

    “It’s Been Wonderful”, they seemed to be saying – (subliminally) employing the Present perfect. Still in the Present, They Hadn’t QUITE Given It All Up – as, indeed, they would’ve had they (subliminally) employed the simple past, “It Was Wonderful” – the natural tense of the utterly Resigned Nostalgic.

    But the other side never resigns. In a couple of weeks the snarling attack from the new opposition begins.

  18. dylwah says:

    Reds under the bed, isn’t that where Frazer told us to put our money. I missed the Coalition launch, but am tickled by the Newman info. Please tell me, was there a past leader of the libs or Nats in attendance other than Dolly?



  19. Carl says:

    I share your confusion about the GG Fanny, they are raving loonies, more so than the rest of the Murdoch press it seems.

    Maybe its just that there is no fun in a one horse race? Therefore they try to create the impression that the Govt. is actually destined to win.

    Maybe its just that they are wanna be politicians, who think they are entitled to blatantly interfere in the political process and act as the annointed Liberal party rag, the Overignton story on media watch last night backs this up.

    You are right, there are many players and we could talk about it forever and a day. When talking politics with friends of late I’ve been pretty defensive of politicians. Because whenever anyone complains about politicians I think it should be pointed out that the major MSM is EQUALLY responsible for the decline of quality governance in this country. And lets not forget ourselves, we vote for them, what is our share of the responsiblilty?

  20. Paul Burns says:

    Fraser – love him now, but didn’t then – did tell us to put our mo0ney under the beds, but Hawkie said we couldn’t, because the Reds were already there. So, among other things, Costello is guilty of plagiarism.

  21. SJ says:

    Re: Costello’s “reds under the bed” thing.

    Some of the younger readers probably don’t appreciate the history of the term. It’s from the 1950s – the US vs Russia cold war beginnings – the time of Joe McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunts in the US.

    It never gained all that much traction in Australia. Menzies tried to ban the Communist Party in 1951, but his legislation was declared unconstitutional by the High Court. Menzies subsequent attempt to amend the constitution by referendum failed. The radical-Catholic/anti-communist wing of the ALP split off in 1954 to form the DLP, but the DLP died out in the mid-seventies.

    By 1983 the whole thing had become a big joke. The then PM Malcolm Fraser tried to suggest that if opposition leader Bob Hawke was elected, the economy would shut down because people would lose faith in the banking system and instead hide their money under their matresses. Bob Hawke’s mocking retort, something along the lines of “Under the bed? I thought that’s where the reds were?” showed Fraser up as a ridiculous, backward thinking fear monger.

    For Costello to bring this up now, in 2007, is just f**king bizarre. I’m familiar with the history of it, even though it occurred before I was born. But who else gives a rats? He may as well be arguing arguing about the whether or not he’d be able to win the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.

  22. Goodbye Mr Thatcher says:

    I’d call it more an ‘opportunistic’ society that rodent PM has created, very much reflecting his own cynical, opportunistic persona. A ‘post-opportunistic’ Australia is difficult to imagine given the legacy of the last 11 years.

  23. rf says:

    Having just watched Insight on SBS I’m not sure that Howard has lost it. A collection of allegedly swinging voters from key marginal seats who in the main seemed glued on to the Howard team “ooh, what a lovely economy” etc etc. Depressing.
    There are an awful lot of clowns of there who can’t read past the slogans and are truly fearful of Labor getting their hands on the economic levers (though as Julia Gillard pointed out, it doesn’t really work like that). Dolly Downer was there too, egregious as always.

  24. anthony says:

    “This is pancake politics without self raising flour ”

    technically that makes it crepe politics, but oui zey are how you say … complete crepe.

  25. SJ says:

    “Having just watched Insight on SBS I’m not sure that Howard has lost it. A collection of allegedly swinging voters from key marginal seats who in the main seemed glued on to the Howard team “ooh, what a lovely economy” etc etc. Depressing.”

    The solid 55% who aren’t “swinging voters” and want Howard out are the ones who matter.

  26. joe2 says:

    mmmm pancakes/crepes.

    Thanks for tomorrows breakfast idea.

  27. Paul Burns says:

    Oh, no! I didn’t want to read that about Insight. I’m glad I forgot it was on. Already I’m turning into a worry wart. Another three years? It couldn’t be.

  28. Enemy Combatant says:

    “Already I’m turning into a worry wart. Another three years? It couldn’t be.”

    Paul, settle. Just kick back and enjoy The Fall. El Rodente will take a lot of his followers down with him. Crypto-fascists usually do. You’ll probably try to go easy on the schadenfreude but like so many of us that loathe him so, won’t be able to help yourself. (CK will no doubt make an outrageous spectacle of herself on E night).
    By early next year, human beings will drag his cultural lantana out by the roots so that a thumping majority of us will once again be proud to be citizens of our Great Southern Land. Proud to call ourselves, Australians. Bennelong time coming, mate.

  29. Mug Punter says:

    It appears to me that a lot of the election bribes, one way or the other, will end up in the pockets of financial institutions and corporates such as the big commercial child care providers.

  30. Helen says:

    “Already I’m turning into a worry wart. Another three years? It couldn’t be.”

    Perhaps LP readers could band together and save money by making a block booking or even a charter flight to escape to NZ. Then it would really be “LP in Exile”, ay.

  31. Paul Burns says:

    Enemy Combatant,
    Thank you. If nothing else, you’ve made ne feel okay again.
    What a wonderful idea. For a long time now I’ve had the idea NZers have a lot more political gumption than we Aussies will ever have. Dropping out of ANZUS etc.
    Given our record on refugees, Indonesia, East Timor, Chile,Venezuela, Iraq and Afghanistan and the Aust/US FTA we gutless wonders rarely stand up for any principle in foreign affairs unless there’s money involved. And in the case of the FTA, not even then.

  32. Tony D says:

    “Perhaps LP readers could band together and save money by making a block booking or even a charter flight to escape to NZ. Then it would really be “LP in Exile”, ay

    I say we just annex NZ for the LP Collective Hive Mind!

    Lots of good skiing for the party faithful… and Mordor’s just to the south for those political prisoners 😉

    And there’s no snakes!

  33. alan says:

    “Howard looked like a man who was surrounded by enemies.”

    Because he was. The polls indicate that about 45% of the electorate approve of him. The figure is even lower in the Parliamentary Liberal Party.

    Count up the total number of Liberal party members in all Australian parliaments when Ratty was elected as Prim Miniature. Count them again on November 25. He has presided over the collapse of his party. Much as I despise him and Hyacinth Bucket(pronounced “Svengali”), this is not good for Australia: effective oppositions make better governments. Now that Ratty has trashed all notions of responsibility and accountability for Ministers, the Liberals can scarcely hope to promote reasonable standards from the opposition benches.

  34. Tony D says:

    Paul, just think like Machiavelli: What would ‘Saint’ Nic do?

    Why he’d cosy up to the yanks (like we are), then fleece ’em for everything possible once their utility ran out – like we still have a chance to do. Then ditch ’em.

  35. Paul Burns says:

    Tony D,
    Don’t get me wrong. Apsrt from Bush and his neo-cons, I really like Americans. I’m utterly fascinated by their colonial and revolutionary history; they have created some of the world’s greatest literature, art, theatre, philosophy, even movies. They were once at the forefront of the world Socialist movement, until I think, the 1920s, with IWW and Eugene Debs, and their democratic theory is masterly. I’m a great fan of Jefferson’s, despite his contradictions.
    But Howard’s let them do us like a dinner over free trade and will continue to do so. For starters they want to destroy our Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme,(and Howard would let them – it is after all, part of our welfare state,which he wants to wipe out, along with Medicare and Social Security- or so he implied at his launch) and they’ve made sure there’s no effective Australian content quota on Ausie cable TV.
    As for the current disatrous insanity of their military and foreign policy, so trumpeted by JWH, well, that’s self-evident.Funny he never brought it up during that launch. Get-up have a petition going round about that.

  36. Enemy Combatant says:

    Eddy Burke may well be his fave philosopher but few would doubt that Clint Eastwood is El Rodente’s go-to movie guy. One day El Rodo’s a philanthropist for “forgotten simians”, the Clydes of Kalimantan; next he’s goading Tin-Tin to: “Go Ahead, Make…my…day!”. Ooh-aah.
    Apparently, Blue Rinsers go all weak at the knees when The Rat talks dirty. His Shiftyness is ever the smooth operator who never takes his rusted-ons for granted.
    The least El Rodente’s fellow Australians can do is Play Misty for him on Nov. 24. and let the shifty little grub absorb fully the practical implications of his 12 years bastardry towards those least able to defend themselves.

    “Sorry, Mr.Howard, you’re Unforgiven”.

  37. nasking says:

    Isn’t ABC TV going to broadcast the Labor Policy Launch live?

  38. Stephen Bayne says:

    Should be interesting to see the difference in atmosphere at the Labor launch today. Hopefully Rudd can land a few devestating blows on the government today.

  39. FDB says:

    Crikey Stephen! That cold’s really hanging around eh?

  40. Tony D says:

    Yeah Paul, I have great respect for the USA along similar lines. But their foreign policy trend since WW2 is pretty concerning, and that Protestant exceptionalist thing has really stuffed up their national mythology.

    “But Howard’s let them do us like a dinner over free trade and will continue to do so”

    Yeah Globalisation Method 2: Hegemonic Stability Theory – what gets globalised and how is determined by the superpower of the days attitudes. E.g. the Britain Empire.

    It’ll pass, in time.

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