news

BLOG: 'Australia is a safer place to live because of John Howard'

John Howard on the Daily Show.

By JAMILA RIZVI

Tough. Difficult. Necessary.

As a press secretary, these are the kind of words you use in a politician’s press release when you know that what they’re announcing is going to get slammed by the public. In the special language of Canberra, these words have entirely different meanings to what they do in our common vernacular. In the world where promises are core and non core, and iron clad agreements generally turn out to be pretty flexible – these words are all euphemisms for: unpopular.

And what about the word ‘brave’, I hear you ask?

In politics-speak ‘brave’ isn’t used to describe knights in shining armour who rescue damsels in distress. It’s not even applied to celebrities who wear clashing prints to an awards season red carpet. No, no, no.

Brave is code for REALLY f*cking unpopular…. usually with a healthy dose of internal party dissent thrown in as well.

History will remember former Prime Minister John Howard for many things. As the man who back flipped on the GST, who cut income taxes for the wealthy, who failed to apologise to the stolen generation, who refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol, who lost his own seat in the Kevin 07 election and for introducing Work Choices.

I’m not going to try and hide the fact, I wasn’t a fan of John Howard.

But for the Government buy back (and destruction) of more than 700,000 Australian owned guns, following the horrific massacre at Port Arthur?

For that, Howard will be remembered as brave.

ADVERTISEMENT

And rightly so. In the 17 years that have followed – in which Australia has not seen another massacre of this kind – it can be easy to become complacent. To say ‘of course’ Howard made that decision, that is was a no-brainer, the obvious choice, and that compared to the US our country never had a strong gun lobby anyway.

Wrong.

Howard’s decision came early in his term as Prime Minister. He faced significant community dissent, including from within his own Coalition Government. Politically? This wasn’t an easy decision. Howard was accused of politicising a tragedy, for trampling on farmer’s rights, and of making radical change without a political mandate (because he hadn’t taken a gun buy back promise to the election).

Howard explained in an opinion piece for the New York Times that:

“There was strong resistance by some in rural Australia. Many farmers resented being told to surrender weapons they had used safely all of their lives. Penalizing decent, law-abiding citizens because of the criminal behavior of others seemed unfair. Many of them had been lifelong supporters of my coalition and felt bewildered and betrayed by these new laws…. Passing gun-control laws was a major challenge for my coalition partner: the rural, conservative National Party.”

The peaceful legacy of the Howard Government’s gun buyback speaks for itself: Australia is a safer place to live because of that (brave) decision. And while of course our situation is vastly different to that in the US, where the right to bear arms is far more deeply entrenched, that doesn’t mean Australia’s experience cannot be an example to the world.

This video played on the American television show The Daily Show this week, following the rejection of new gun control laws by the US House of Representatives. Howard agreed to be interviewed for the parody. It’s rare that I reflect positively on his term in Government but this video didn’t just make me laugh – it made me proud.

John Howard on Gun Control. from John Beohm on Vimeo.

Political disclaimer: Jamila previously worked for the Gillard and Rudd Governments and is a member of the Australian Labor Party.

00:00 / ???