"I can confirm that interest rates under the coalition will always be lower than under a Labor government."
- John Winston Howard, misleading Parliament during Question Time, 2.11.06
Julie Bishop is one of the brighter hopefuls in the ever-depleting talent pool of the federal Liberal Party. Alternatively, she has been pushed to the forefront by the Howard Government as the Anti-Gillard. Certainly she is one of the few female members of cabinet the JWH era who is neither (a) in the mould of Jeanette Howard, or (b) Amanda Vanstone. (Or indeed c, the unrelated Bronwyn Bishop).
When John Howard refuses to condemn something that seems to use mere mortals to be worthy of condemnation, it usually means (a) he supports the action; or (b) Liberal voters support the action; or (c) both.
It has been eleven months since I posted my last report - in actual fact, a nil return - of John Winston Howard's public references to Darfur.
Nothing has changed in that regard. Disappointingly, I can only find one reference to "Darfur" in Federal Parliament since the start of this year, a speech in the adjournment debate of the House of Reps on February 28 by Liberal MP Louise Markus, whose electorate in the Blacktown area is home to a large number of Sudanese refugees. Ms Markus took to task an opinion piece in the Daily Telegraph.
What was the answer to the following question, asked at the Cole Inquiry on Thursday:
MR AGIUS: Q. Prime Minister, your full name is John Winston Howard?
(a) "It is."
(b) "I have no recollection of that."
(c) "Disclosure of my identity would be a threat to national security."
(d) "No that was the last bloke, I'm Peter Costello."
Answer at this end of this article.
After the agony of Mark Vaile's amnesia on Monday, and the slapstick buffoonery of Alexander Downer's arrival for Tuesday's hearing via the Sydney monorail, we had an appearance by the Prime Minister on Thursday so perfectly choreographed that Ric Birch could not have staged it better.
From his morning power walk, to the triumphal front-door entrance to the courthouse, phalanxed by the usual crowd of security bovver boys, to the meticulously crafted answers under John Agius QC's unusually powder-puff questioning, it was all predictable. And irrelevant.
Howard calls this inquiry "transparent". It's not. He set it up basically as a set-up, to investigate the conduct of companies directly implicated in the oil-for-food scandal. But not into a government under whose watch it all happened.
AWB's reputation is in ruins and several of its executives have quit, some of them likely to spend their retirement years in custodial accommodation. Other companies, including BHP Billiton, are likely to get their wrists slapped.
However, the conduct of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and its "responsible" ministers are not accountable to the Cole inquiry under its existing terms of reference. Thanks to JWH's carefully-worded terms for the inquiry, there can be no findings made in respect to the government's role in this mess.
DFAT's culture appears little different to that of the Immigration Department and that of the Attorney-General's Department - a dangerous cocktail of slackness, "whatever it takes", and reactionary ideological bias. The responsibility for all this rests solely with the man who rules his cabinet with an iron fist.
Every day I have more and more trouble understanding why anyone could think John Howard is a good prime minister.
In any decent Westminster-based democracy, the responsible ministers, and possibly the government as a whole, would have fallen on their swords by now. Howard has torn up the Westminster system in Canberra, made a mockery of the concept of ministerial responibility, and made selective amnesia an essential part of the job description for any politician or senior company executive. And, quite separately to all this, he is systematically dismantling democracy in this country.
Howard's legacy to Australia is that he has turned impropriety and deceipt into acceptable "Australian values", and made decency subservient to wealth accumulation and ideological jihad.
Don't rule out a snap early federal election some time in 2006.
David Marr and Marian Wilkinson's brilliant dissection of the AWB story so far appears in today's Sydney Morning Herald. All the hearing transcripts can be found on the Attorney-General Department's website.
(The correct answer was (a). As boring as the man himself.)
Blurring the line between employees and directors is poor corporate governance and presents a potential conflict of interest: the immediate interest of workers, after all, is not always in line with that of the long-term health of the company or its shareholders.
- Editorial, The Australian, 27.3.06
JOHN HOWARD— Militarism and aggression are the foundations of his [Saddam Hussein's] regime. If you doubt this, consider his actions against Iraqi Kurds, against the Shiah majority—particularly the Marshland Arabs. Consider the estimated 400,000 combatants and civilians who lost their lives in the war that followed his invasion of Iran—
Howard hits out at 'jihad' Muslims
(George Megalogenis/The Australian, 20.2.06)
Notwithstanding the fact that this article is really just pre-release publicity for a book The Australian is publishing to celebrate ten years of the JWH regime, the sheer ignorance of the man is mind-numbing.
Does he even have a clue what the term "jihad" really means?
MAXINE McKEW: Are you getting complaints from parents or have you talked to, say, history teachers?
JOHN HOWARD: It is self-apparent. It is obvious to me that there's -
MAXINE McKEW: Why so?
JOHN HOWARD: From talking to people. The increasing number of people I talk to, younger people, who don't have a full understanding of some of these things.
[and later in the same interview]
MAXINE McKEW: Has this come to your attention because there are, say, younger people in your office or other ministers' offices that are ignorant of these issues?
JANE HUTCHEON [ABC radio]: Am I correct in saying that Friday, is that the Prime Minister's Cricket 11 match that's going to go ahead?
JOHN HOWARD: Yes, the game against the West Indies, yes.
JANE HUTCHEON: And that's on Friday…
JOHN HOWARD: Yes, yes.
JANE HUTCHEON: …the same day that Van Nguyen is going to be executed…
JOHN HOWARD: Yes.
JANE HUTCHEON: Do you think it would be sensitive to see you attending that cricket match?