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catallaxy in technical exile

Henderson on Howard

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Gerard Henderson addressed the NSW Fabian Society in March on JOHN HOWARD: 10 YEARS ON. As a bonus there was some biographical information about Gerard himself and a window into the great schism in the Labor Party that kept them out of office for many years. 

I grew up in the late 1940s and early 1950s in a Catholic, Labor-voting household. My father, Norman, was a rank-and-file member of the ALP and a financial member of the Federated Clerks Union. In my early years, the likes of John Curtin and Ben Chifley were honoured names in our family – albeit somewhat behind the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Daniel Mannix. My first political memories involved attempting to help my father letter-box ALP election material and to watch him hand out how-to-vote cards on election day. It was a hopeless cause – we lived in Kooyong, Robert Menzies’ seat, and the upper and lower house State seats were also blue-ribbon Liberal. But Norman Henderson always stressed the importance of the Senate vote, so his contribution mattered. Moreover, there was the need to fly the Labor banner – even in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.

Then, one day, my father (and thousands of others – who were labelled Groupers and worse) was expelled from the Labor Party. So now I helped him distribute material for the Anti-Communist Labor Party – which became the Democratic Labor Party. And, soon after, I watched my father hand-out DLP how to vote cards, which preferenced the Coalition ahead of Labor. Norman Henderson came to despise the Labor leadership team of Bert Evatt and Arthur Calwell about as much as he once despised Mr (as he then was) Menzies. Later I handed out DLP material myself – but I never became a member of the Democratic Labor Party.

It would be interesting to know more about the work that he did as a staffer in Howards office, now many years ago, and he can take some credit for helping to move the debate forward on industrial relations.

He was keen to correct some of the more extreme views about the changes that Howard has wrought on the political landscape.

Yet the truth is that the Howard Government is not dramatically different from its Hawke and Keating predecessors. The Hawke/Keating Government (i) floated the currency, (ii) introduced financial deregulation, (iii) put the budget into surplus (it went back into deficit in Paul Keating’s final years), (iv) commenced taxation reform, (v) began the privatisation process, (vi) reformed the health, education and welfare systems and (vii) commenced compulsory employer-funded superannuation.

Other issues came up where he was happy to even up some scores and pour cold water on the rhetoric of the Howard haters. Some of this could be considered to be somewhat self indulgent in its own right, and not all that helpful to advance debate, but it can be defended on the ground that the left have seriously abused whatever power and influence they have managed to exert, so they need to be forcefully reminded of their follies.

It is the critics of the Howard Government who have engaged in extremist and hyperbolic language on the national security issue – not the Prime Minister, or Peter Costello, or Mark Vaile. Witness the tendency of some leftists to equate John Howard with Adolf Hitler and/or Josef Stalin and to draw comparisons between his government and South Africa under the apartheid regime.

There has been a degree of self-indulgence and self-importance about this debate. Witness the editors of Arena Magazine, Arena Journal, Dissent, Eureka Street, Meanjin and Overland – who wrote to The Age on 29 October 2005 – alleging that the national security legislation (which was initiated by the Coalition and supported by Labor at Federal and State levels) “may readily be used to stymie free and open debate”. Witness the playwright Stephen Sewell – who wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald on 24 October 2005 maintaining that “every Australian” faces “the prospect of being disappeared”. And witness Gabriella Coslovich – who complained in The Age on 5 February 2006 that the national security legislation might lead to the arrest of the likes of leftist comedian Ron Quantock but that, on the other hand, it was more likely that “nothing will happen”. It seems that you can have it both ways, after all. Mr Quantock behind bars – bad; Mr Quantock free – also bad.

In my recent address to the “John Howard’s Decade” conference at the Australian National University on 3 March 2006, I documented how a number of John Howard’s opponents are on the public record as declaring that they do not know anyone who votes for the Coalition. I also cited how, in Intelligentsia-Land, it was possible to get through an entire day without hearing anything but criticism of the Howard Government. And I cited some examples of well educated commentators who blame the Prime Minister for every outcome of which they disapprove – from bad manners to alleged mean-spirited attitudes.

The national security legislation targets real or potential terrorists. Once upon a time, Mr Sewell may have got a guernsey in this regard. After all, in June 1993 he had this to say about his (Marxist) past: “That young man I was – if he had achieved power with his friends, they would have created Year Zero in Australia; we would have been the Khmer Rouge; we would have been hanging people.” (See Richard Glover’s interview with Stephen Sewell in Sydney Morning Herald, 7 June 1993). But that was some decades ago. Nowadays Stephen Sewell is just a middle-age baby-boomer in search of yet another taxpayer funded grant. I doubt that he is on any agency watch-list.




Written by Admin

May 21, 2006 at 10:01 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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