John Howard on Q & A, shoes, David Hicks. Thoughts?

Last night John Howard appeared on Q&A.  And after asking a question about the war in Iraq, one irate audience member shouted “This is for the Iraqi dead” before hurling both his shoes towards the former Prime Minister. Here’s how it went down:

It was certainly compelling television and both John Howard and host Tony Jones handled it beautifully. 100% professionals in what must have been an awful situation. Props to both men. The other unforgettable moment was a video question from former Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks. You can see the whole episode here. It was fantastic.

Here is my post from earlier yesterday:

John Howard’s memoir

I was never a John Howard fan. Not when he was Prime Minister. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say there were many times during his 11 years in office that I felt ashamed to be Australian.

Ashamed at the way Pauline Hanson and her unashamedly racist, divisive, xenophobic rhetoric was allowed to flourish.

Ashamed at the way refugees were demonised and the outright lie of the ‘children overboard’ accusations were made by the governement who then refused to correct them until refugees had been demonised a whole lot more.

Ashamed that we didn’t say sorry to the stolen generation.

Ashamed that we weren’t signatories to the Kyoto Protocol.

cAll of those decisions were made by John Howard’s government.

Choosing not to condemn Pauline Hanson was a particular travesty. Had our Prime Minister come out and taken a position of moral leadership and condemned such blatant racism after she made that first, terrifying speech in parliament, he could have swiftly marginalised her and set the tone for an inclusive, tolerant Australia. Had he done that, One Nation would never have flourished – to the detriment, ironically of the Coalitio). But he allowed it. And tacitly encouraged it. And when her party disintegrated, he adapted many of their policies for his own party.

I think John Howard’s treatment of the refugees on the Tampa and, in fact, his demonising of all refugees was a very dark time in our recent history. The way he allowed children to remain behind razor wire… goes on.

On a social policy level, I think he had little clue about the pressures on modern families, particularly the stress involved in a household with two parents working outside the home. The nuclear, traditional family model from which he came and in which he lived with Jeanette and their three children was not representative of the way the majority of families now live. And I think the policies of his government reflected this disconnection, particularly when it came to the social and financial pressures faced by women. His answers seemed always to come back to the idea that everything would be fine if women just had kids and stayed home. I wonder, had he been in government when his daughter Melanie, a lawyer, had her baby and then returned to work, if these ideals may have changed his views. Perhaps.


Yes, I know. Surplus. The economy was good. However, as former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett has said in response to questions about what kind of Prime Minister he thought Howard was, he pointed out that despite economic times being good, there was virtually no proactive spending on infrastructure. No great plans for what Australia could be, should be. Spending on education went backwards by 4 percent during the years he was Prime Minister.

I felt that we were less of a country during the Howard years. I felt that intolerance was encouraged under the guise of shrugging off the tyranny of political correctness – another mean-spirited approach he wheeled out at every opportunity.

I feel like he was a little man (in the small-minded sense – I have no problem with his stature) who made our country little when he was in charge. No vision. No moral leadership.

Today, Howard’s memoirs are published and by all accounts, they’re light on regret, perspective or insight, heavy on hubris and positively drowning in self-congratulations. Of course the bit that has everyone’s knickers in a twist has to do with Peter Costello and their leadership tussle.

The Great Man and Channel 9 political guru Laurie Oakes wrote a scathing piece about John Howard and his book for News Ltd on the weekend where he calls bullshit on Howard’s endless propagation of the idea that he would only stay on as leader as long as his party wanted him.

As Howard admits in his book, his party told him point blank that they DIDN’T want him anymore. And yet still he stayed. Because Jeanette and his kids urged him not to look like he was running away from a political fight. Great tactic. Far better to stay and lose and take your party down with you. Politicians are so selfless, aren’t they?

Laurie Oakes writes in part…..

Howard & Costello

It is clear Howard decided whether to stay or go on the basis of ego and concern for his own reputation – not what was best for the Liberal Party and the Coalition government.

Looking back on their 2007 defeat at the hands of Kevin Rudd, Liberals should be angry at what is revealed here. Howard writes that, after discussions with his wife Janette, he decided to retire and hand the leadership over to Costello before Christmas 2006.

He later changed his mind because of the way Costello reacted when a journalist uncovered details of a 1994 leadership pact between the men. A pact Howard had welshed on.

Instead of trying to suppress the story, Costello confirmed it. That still smarts with Howard. “He had cast his bread upon the water,” Howard writes. “He hoped the story would shift the dynamic of the leadership issue in his favour.”

The result – Howard’s decision not to bow out – “destroyed Peter Costello’s hopes of my retiring before the 2007 election” and was a “tragedy” for the government.

Jeanette & John Howard

Why did he inflict that political “tragedy” on his coalition colleagues? Because he did not want people to think he had been pressured out of the prime ministership. Especially by “rank amateur pressure placed on me through media briefings”. This is petty, petulant stuff. A leader of the kind Howard pretended to be would have acted from higher motives.

As I said, it’s all about him. “Peter’s inept handling of the December 1994 story incident had created a situation where I had no alternative but to announce when I did that I would stay,” Howard writes.

Nonsense. Of course he had an alternative. But his ego got in the way. A leadership hand-over in late 2006 or early 2007 would have changed the political equation.

The Coalition might have had a chance of holding on to office. It would certainly have done better. Howard deprived it of that opportunity. Howard used to proclaim that he would do what was in the best interests of the Liberal Party in deciding when to hand over the leadership.

Now, out of his own mouth, we know that was not true. Self-interest was paramount.

Laurie Oakes is political editor for the Nine network. His column appears every Saturday in The Daily Telegraph

They all say it, don’t they, political leaders. I remember Bob Hawke saying it. Keating too. They all say they will do what’s in the best interests of the party but that’s bollocks. They do what’s in the best interest of themselves.

Who knows what kind of Prime Minister, or even opposition leader, Peter Costello would have been. We’ll never know, in large part because he never forced the leadership issue in the way Julia Gillard did with Kevin Rudd. He must take some responsibility for that.

But clearly he would have been very different Liberal Prime Minister to John Howard. In Lazarus Rising, Howard says Costello is an elitist who couldn’t connect with ordinary Australians.

Laurie writes…..

“You know what that means,” a former Howard government minister said yesterday. “John thought Pauline Hanson had appeal to ordinary Australians, and Peter condemned her. John thought ordinary voters were not interested in reconciliation, while Peter wanted to take part in the reconciliation walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge.”

So what do you think? Do you have fond memories of John Howard? Should he have handed over to Peter Costello – hell, to anyone – before the 2007 election? Might it have affected your vote? How will Howard be remembered as a Prime Minister by you? By history?