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The Howard Drears: Episode One
In keeping with Webdiary’s policy of disclosure, I should start by making a few things clear. It was not until the show aired that I realized how many Federal politicians I had not actually met. I have never met Mr Howard but I have always despised him. Years after I had walked out of the Young Liberals I realized he was the real reason I had left. His influence on the NSW machine has brought it to its current apogee. You would have thought that blind Freddie couldn’t have lost the last State election standing against a dill like Morris, but the man from Vaucluse did it. Strange place Vaucluse. Strange place the conservative parties. There are only three leaders I can think of in Australia who have not only lost an election but their seats with it: Bruce, Howard and TOM’s predecessor but two, Peter Coleman. Wait for next time: TOM has managed to turn Wentworth into a marginal for the first time in its history. Another 1% and he goes into history as well in more ways than one.
Now Peter Coleman is a nice bloke for a Quadrant editor and he’s a decent chap too, but he’s better off for being out of it.
Another thing I should disclose before we start is that I have copies of episodes 1-3 (never mind how – but what you know has little to do with it). I am trying, in my usual objective, non-partisan way not to let myself get ahead of you but it isn’t easy.
I suppose I should last disclose that this review was not my idea. Blame Richard Tonkin who asked me to do it. All you can blame me for is complicity, oh, and the fact that over the past 33 years in and around NSW politics I know a few things that they aren’t telling you in their revisionist self-justification but I thought I might just share them with you anyway. As Bob Ellis often says: prove I lie.
EPISODE 1: A Hen in the Bathhouse
Gobsmacking. These fools were allowed to run the country. Who elected them? Who would have elected them if they knew what they were really like? Who would believe anything any of them said? Why?
Let’s take it from the top. Fran Kelly put this project together and she is well respected by other journalists (an interesting enough tale in itself). In my view she hasn’t done a very good job but when all you have to do is sit back and watch a bunch of self-important dimwits who’ve never done a decent day’s work in their lives commit hara kiri in front of you, I guess you lose the incentive to try any harder.
The first question was a challenge to the intellectually challenged to come up with one word to describe Howard (or, as I shall refer to him LLC – use your imagination). Now in my view, any response to that particular question starting with the letter c and containing more than four letters is excessive verbiage but let’s look at what some of the major players of the time said in response.
The best of the lot and a classic demonstration of what a complete dill he is was Bruce Baird who, when asked for his one word response, said: “Consummate politician.” One, Bruce, count it on your fingers, you only need one of them. Where the rest of them might be – well, we shouldn’t get too personal about people’s private habits. Just remember that this guy used to be the NSW Transport Minister – caught public transport lately?
Fahey (who I have met and who is a total moron and I say that as a trained psychological examiner): “Constant”.
Tim Fisher and Downer: “Conviction”.
Meg Lees (the lying bitch who told us there would never be a GST on books): “Committed”.
Now, I hadn’t realised that the LLC had been either convicted or committed but in hindsight it might have been a good idea. Really, where’s Gareth Evans when you do need him?
Costello was reluctant to answer. Almost as reluctant as he was to challenge. Thank goodness the Dollar Sweets case didn’t depend on him having to say anything in Court. And he went to Monash.
No-one from the ALP has appeared yet and why would you need them? The Liberals and Nationals are consummate self-immolators all on their own. Prune Goward has also been so far interestingly silent. Something she swallowed perhaps? It might just be because it’s Spring, or because, as in the old days at the Easter show, you just gave the man a cigar. [I’m dying to see how they plead that imputation.]
Back to Fahey and Costello. The LLC put these guys into the most sensitive economic portfolios in the country. Why? Fahey lost an unlosable election and Costello was Downer’s deputy. Maybe the LLC isn’t quite as stupid as I think he is – if those two could get away with it the country was bullet proof. Oops, getting ahead of myself – that bit’s in Episode two.
Oh no, he is as stupid as I thought he was: he actually believes his own lies. At least Goebbels knew how to do the thing properly: you lie but you know it’s a lie. Unstuck on the guns actually. And I wish he had asked Dad to do the dental work – not only would the crowns be better but we would have an extra investment property in the family (or possibly a registered mortgage on Kirribilli House – but let’s not go there – there’s a Kevin in there.) Anyway, Admiralty House has the better view.
The utter hypocrisy of all that was said in the programme about the gun control issue is falsifiable by the following anecdote. When Fahey spat the dummy after losing to Carr, I decided to run for Southern Highlands, his old State seat. I gave them a fair run for their money. The Federal member for the area, the seat of Hume, was a bloke you might have seen on the programme called John Sharpe (an early and almost only casualty of the LLC’s Ministerial Code of Conduct). During the course of the campaign, Sharpie (as he was erroneously known) and I met on the hustings the week after I had released my gun policy (published the day before the Port Arthur massacre – politics - 90% luck, 12% effort and 200% hard work – ask any of them and give them a calculator and an assistant paid about $36K a year to work it for them – job description – senior advisor- age about 12 – IQ, well, I said I wasn’t going to be personal). I ran the entire campaign from home and the car. I think it fair to say I was the only candidate living in Potts Point at the time. I introduced myself and asked Sharpie if he would pass on my sincere congratulations to the PM for what I thought was a bold and courageous policy decision (roughly in line with mine although not going quite as far – unlike John Anderson, I’ve never owned a gun let alone an arsenal but I’ve fired a few in my time including a Bren and a nasty thing we got during Vietnam that pours out a cyclical rate of fire of 600 rpm [GPMG – don’t you love acronyms?] – I accept farmers need guns for all sorts of reasons but no-one other than a soldier needs an automatic). Sharpie looked at me strangely in a funny way that reminds one of Julie Bishop – one assumes they wouldn’t even blink in headlights. I thought he just thought I was an idiot. He changed that view when I got 4.2% of the vote, effectively defeating his candidate in the process. It wasn’t until I found that figure out from the Liberal’s number cruncher, a fundamentalist Christian MLC called John Ryan, in the evening after the polls had closed that Ryan said to me something to the effect of, “You don’t think we made that decision [gun policy] without polling first do you?”
That’s where this pack of totally morally bankrupt clowns comes apart. All for Queen and Country, all for the good of the realm Deo, patriae, tibi: that’s what is engraved on my medal for Oratory. Well, Anderson was at St Paul’s (a residential College within the University of Sydney) but the rest of the Liberals, if anyone had told them, would probably think tibi was a cat (my apologies to the resident diabetic) and the Nationals would have been out trying to find where they could shoot it.
Yet that is not enough. The undiscovered gem in this series is the true Peter Reith. It is difficult to understand how the man has enough brain cells to walk. It is the disarming quality of the idiot savant, “Shocking ignorance, I suppose,” he said of his pathetic attempts to destroy the Maritime Union.
Now, I don’t want to appear biased here. These are the bastards who in WWII wouldn’t load munitions or food for my grandfather (and probably yours as well) to sustain him against the Japanese while he was in New Guinea – and all over a pay and allowance claim. Our grandfathers were lucky to get the allowance of managing to avoid a bullet or being eaten or a number of other things that the Japanese are well known for doing to whales for example. As right a set of union bastards as you could find. Yet here is the true genius of a man like Reith. In one sense it is the zeitgeist of the LLC’s reign: take someone for whom no reasonable person could ever have any sympathy and make him a victim (you’ll see more of that in episode 2). Where is Corrigan (who features prominently in the waterfront segment) now? Probably reforming another business into the ground like all good union-breaking capitalists. Haven’t seen any meat out of Mudginbury lately.
This is a series that raises the clear question: where do you draw the line between sheer stupidity and being a fuckwit? The question applies, of course, not just to politicians and the producers of the series might ask this of themselves: notwithstanding the constant media prating about holding people accountable as part of our rich fabric of democracy and the necessity for media freedom that that implies, what did they actually do to expose these drongos while they were happily and ideologically wrecking a once great country?
And while we’re at that one, what did they do to hold the Placido Domingo of Australian politics to account? Some sort of dingo anyway.
What happens is that, eventually, the public does the job for them either out of sheer boredom or disgust or a combination of both.
Reith then reveals a disarming quality: his word is his Bond. “I can’t recall.” He says on a number of occasions. Well we all have moments like that but one would rather have hoped that they wouldn’t happen while one was trying to run a country. There are three possibilities I suppose: either he is a liar or an idiot or both. Sadly, he isn’t the first lying idiot we have seen in Federal politics and he won’t be the last. Yet he says he “felt isolated”. Not isolated enough for my liking. It is the only decent argument I have heard for detention centres.
Then we get switched back to the LLC. “We have a tax system that discourages savings,” he said in a desperate attempt to cling onto what he thought was an election he was going to lose. The sad problem about that is he was the Treasurer who created that very tax system.
Then we move back to the Monash kid – Field Marshal’s baton in his knapsack but never takes the field. One of his assistants explains the toil he went through: 16 hours a day, 7 days a week to “design” the GST. It seems to be the political equivalent of Intelligent Design. You spend all that time to produce a system that is unworkable, punishes the people it was designed to help and lays the seeds of the destruction of your entire economy while your mates just keep stashing cash away offshore (then lose it there anyway). Thanks Pete. I suppose we’re just lucky he never got an economics degree. We haven’t touched on compulsory student unionism yet but I have hopes for later episodes.
Switch now to insane populism: the Hanson that dare not speak its name. Virulent, divisive, poisonous, deliberate, racism. Face it: she was expressing the dearly held views of a lot of our fellow citizens and, in any democracy, the minority no matter how disgusting to the rest of us has a right to be heard. Yet what does this programme reveal about the reaction of our “leaders” (interestingly Beazley’s appropriate and statesmanlike condemnation of the whole thing is entirely ignored)?
We get this. LLC: “I thought we could be a one term wonder because the polls weren’t good.” They were showing that he couldn’t afford to offend Hanson’s supporters though – what a leader. And the Monash kid? Well he put One Nation last on his how to vote because: “I couldn’t control what we would do throughout the country. I wasn’t the leader… I could decide what to do in my own electorate.”
As with all political documentaries, what is not said is almost as horrifying as what is and I just can’t help wondering at the end of this episode what would have happened if a Martian had landed in Canberra and come out with the classic, “Take me to your Leader.” You take him by the little green hand and you introduce him to the LLC and he turns to you, Martian astonishment showing clearly in his little green eyes and he says, “That’s your leader?”
And you re-elected them, folks. Episode 2 screens tonight on ABC 1.