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Howard’s end

Unsurprisingly, John Howard and his conservative coalition lost Saturday’s federal election in Australia heavily. It also looks like Howard will lose his seat – a sitting Prime Minister has only ever lost his seat once in Australian political history. On a personal level, his passing is somewhat of a melancholy event for me. I first started taking a strong interest in politics from the age of about 13. Howard was elected when I was 15, so for many years he has been a political figure of very close scrutiny and interest for me. Thus, the “end of an era” aspect is a little sad, and I think that despite the kind of doublespeak people in his former position often need to talk in order to Keep Everyone Happy – or at least keep the minimum amount of balls in the air – he is quite a decent and humane man. He genuinely had the “common touch”; not in the charming, polished, stage-managed way that impresses the media and the elite. He was less of a “gather a media entourage and head to the nearest working class pub to have a sham beer’n’bellylaugh with some rough men in singlets” type – ringing up a late night radio station talk show after he’d clearly had a few too many beverages was more his style. His uncontrived ordinariness, often verging on folksy, is a rare commodity amongst politicians of his seniority – and it is something I will miss.

Having said all of that, we should not get too sentimental about his defeat. John Howard and his party are no friends of ours. Many of his party’s major reforms, whilst bearing objectives which most in the small-government camp would consider a step in the right direction, were implemented with a liberally (pardon the pun) spread layer of added regulation. Consider the tax code which, after eleven years of ongoing “reforms”, stands as an epic bureaucratic tome defying compliance. Or the recent industrial relations changes, which somehow made a fiendishly complicated system even more so.

Certainly, Howard can accurately claim that Australia became richer and more economically stable whilst he was in office. Nevertheless, he and his team should be remembered as big-government conservatives, and we liberals must not forget that Australia is more prosperous today in spite of his government’s efforts, rather than because of them. My only regret is that his successor is likely to be even more meddlesome.

20 comments to Howard’s end

  • Nick M

    For Shame! James. For Shame!

    Every media outfit in the English speaking world has probably used that headline for this story.

    Good piece though!

  • Paul Marks

    Of course we have our differences with Mr Howard and the Liberal party – starting with “gun control” (a wildly anticonservative thing to do) and on from there.

    Liberals did not tend to be libertarians even in the 19th century (even the so called “Manchester School” was not libertarian – as soon as the Liberals gained control of Manchester in the 1830’s they started to increase government spending and taxes and to take over such things as water and gas supply).

    However, we have to compare Liberals to the alternative. And the alternative, sadly, does not tend to be black hearted reactionaries like me (after all Libertarians are the real “conservatives” in that we oppose every big government “reform” that has been done over the last couple of centuries, the political economy of the conservative Whig Edmund Burke [or even the COUNTRY Tory folk he cooperated with on such things as opposing the tax on cider] is basically the same as ours).

    Mr Howard’s record on government spending and taxes compares well to that of almost all other Western governments (not that this is difficult) and will certainly be better than that of “Our Kevin”.

    As for the economic record:

    Balanced budget (if that is easy why has Britain got a budget deficit between three and four per cent of G.D.P.?).

    G.D.P. growth at over four per cent.

    Industrial output growth at over four per cent.

    Price rises at under two per cent.

    Unemployment at about four per cent (watch that rise if the labour market reforms are reversed).

    All this “in spite of” Mr Howard?

    As for foreign policy:

    Some people say that Mr Howard was too pro American. However, Mr Kevin Rudd seems to prefer the People’s Republic of China – and I do not.

  • Tex

    Good post James. A welcome change from all the absurd hyperventilating nonsense in the blogosphere over Howard’s defeat.

  • Heh, Nick – I meant to put an apology for the title at the end of the piece, but I forgot. I wanted to run it due to all the “Howard’s Way” cliched headlines we copped in his heyday.

    Thanks, Tex.

    Paul Marks – Okay, let’s work through this. A balanced budget? We should applaud the Howard government for wasting money and destroying wealth at a sustainable rate? Sure, that’s better than an unsustainable rate, but it’s still the lesser of two evils. How about the federal government’s share of Australia’s GDP increasing during the Howard years? That’s a more telling fact for me than balanced budgets.

    The other factors you mention I credit primary to the hard work of individual Australians (and fortunate geographic circumstances of the land), rather than a meddlesome government deciding to pull its meddling fingers out of one hole in the economy, whilst sticking them in another.

  • nick g.

    I’m sure we’ll all regret letting the Labors back into Canberra, even if the boy reporter Kevin (Who looks a lot like a grown-up Tintin) smiles at us a lot. Still, with an effective upper house, we might be able to stymie his ‘reforms’.
    As for laughs, we’re all chuckling over here about the 25 million people who no longer officially exist! Talk about population control! Is it true that the Left Honourable Brown was on one of the disks?

  • darkbhudda

    Howard copped a lot of undeserved flak. Yes, he’s not a supermodel, get over it. Even some Labor voters I know thought he deserved a better send off.

    We’ll miss you Johnny.

    I really don’t think people understood who they were voting for. Peter Garret is now going to be in charge of the environment. That’s like putting Bill Clinton in charge of sex education for teenagers.

    Don’t get me started on the new Deputy Prime Minister, a first class feminazi who has never let the truth get in the way of her ideology. She turned an inquiry into the disadvantages of boys in education into an inquisition on why there aren’t more female orthopedic surgeons and was openly hostile to people who explained that maybe it had something to do with women making choices in what careers they wanted.

    Well congratulations Australia.

  • countingcats

    I got to say, I am already starting to feel a little sorry for Rudd. As Tim Blair(Link) is pointing out, his supporters are already starting to carp, moan and whine and all the poor bloke has done is make a speech.

    If this is any guide to the future, Rudds own side is going to make his life miserable. I think the issue is, when you are self righteous, only your way is the right way, and boy, are the aussie left self righteous.

  • Nick M

    We exported “Howard’s Way” to Australia! We get Kylie and you get that unmitigated shite. No fair!

  • Paul Marks

    O.K. James – I freely admit that I do not know the stats, and I would like to know them.

    What was the Australian Commonwealth (Fed) government tax share of G.D.P. in 1996 and what is it now?

    And what was the Australian Fed government spending share of G.D.P. in 1996 and what is it now?

    I would not be astonished if had gone up – after all Australia has Welfare State entitlement programs. But what are the stats?

  • I really don’t think people understood who they were voting for. Peter Garret is now going to be in charge of the environment. That’s like putting Bill Clinton in charge of sex education for teenagers.

    I have to admit I’m looking forward to this one. Bad for Australia, but probably good for the world. If Garret is allowed to screw up to his full potential (which is considerable I’m sure), it may go further toward discrediting Kyoto et al than Stephen Harper pulling Canada out (assuming he ever gets around to it, I mean).

  • nick Gray

    And another think-
    I fear that Australia is becoming enamoured of photogenic pollies! I, who voted Liberal, would never accuse Howard of being handsome. The Labor man, Rudd, looks like a prettier version of Howard (same dull policies, but prettier packaging!). Beazley, the previous Labor leader, never looked so good. They also came up with a catchy slogan ‘Kevin, 07’. The only catchy names in the current crop of wanna-bees are Abbott and Costello, and Malcolm Turnbull (“No bull- it’s Trunbull!!”)
    We’re lost!!!

  • Paul Marks

    No Mr Gray, Mr Kevin Rudd does not have the same policies as Mr Howard (this will be seen soon).

    But Still at least Mr Rudd does not lose control of himself as the leader of the A.L.P. at the last election did.

    The shouting abuse and the delusions (as shown by his own verbal and written statements) were one thing – but the physical attacks on people were too much for even the media to cover up.

    Still it might have been fun.

    Often in politics people accuse their opponents of being “insane” – it might have been interesting to watch (from a safe distance) a Prime Minister who actually was insane.

  • Paul Marks

    I am still waiting for the stats on Fed government’s share of the economy in Australia in 1996 and now (both in terms of spending and taxes).

    Oh well, I suppose I will have to stop being so lazy and look the percentages up myself.

  • Tex

    Well, to start with, the Howard government has increased taxes by 34% per capita, adjusted for inflation.

  • Paul,

    Sorry about the tardiness but as you may have guessed from my less frequent posts here, I no longer have regular access to the internet (hopefully rectified soon). I only then read your response requesting evidence. Well, I read that stat some time ago – it shouldn’t be too hard to find. When I stumble across it, I’ll e-mail you. If I don’t get back to you, consider it recinded. Nevertheless, I still see no reason to change my assessment of the Howard years.

    And Paul, with respect, I don’t think you fully comprehend the impact of Howard’s policies because you don’t live in Australia. Your defence of Howard is primarily supported by macroeconomic statistics, however these have little direct relevance (obviously they have indirect relevance) to the man on the street. Ask any business owner – the Coalition’s traditional bread and butter – what they think about the implementation of the GST or the compliance burden of it. If I had to deal with the nonsense Howard forced business owners to process four times a year, he’d lose my vote too.

    Howard’s other major crime against libertarianism is his great effort to accelerate political centralisation in Canberra, further undermining the federal structure our founding fathers envisioned.

  • James Waterton

    That is, I’ll e-mail you if the thread’s died – if it’s not dead already! – if it’s still going I’ll just post it here.

  • nick gray

    Dear Paul Marks, one feature of the campaign was the constant poaching of the Liberal policies by the opposition, as they were then. A favourite theme became the labor side always saying ‘Me too!’ to any announcement by the Liberals. Maybe their policies are not EXACTLY identical, but it sure seems like they are! The one constant difference was Work Choices, which seemed like a good policy to me, as a Libertarian.

  • Paul Marks


    That was not the stat I asked for (actually I asked for four different stats). Saying “revenue went up by X” is meaningless as a measure of the size of government unless you take note of economic growth.

    What share of G.D.P. did total Fed tax take in 1996 – and what does it take now?

    Ditto with spending.

    So two different stats for 1996 and two stats for 2007.

    If you do not know, just say you do not know (after all I do not know – so I am not claiming to be better than you).


    Thank you for your kindness. I will indeed wait for the information.

  • Paul Marks

    James – I think that federalism in Australia really got undermined when income tax was taken over by Camberra during World War II (and the power to set the rates, or decide whether they wanted income tax or not, was never given back to the States) and by the post World War II Welfare-State amendments to the Australian Constitution.

    Although, at least this is more honest (and sane) than the United States – where there were no Welfare State amendments to the Constitution. The government and the courts just pretended that the PURPOSE of the powers granted to Congress “the common defence and general welfare” was somehow a “general welfare spending power” allowing the Feds to spend money on anything they felt like.

    In short the American powers-that-be wiped their backsides on the Constitution of the United States (rather than amending it) and most Americans did not even notice.

    Of course, contrary to that old liar Manning Clark, it was the British who really pushed for Australian federation in 1901 anyway.

    Most people in the various States were not really interested in creating a Commonwealth of Australia.