John Howard

Queensland MP Charles Porter’s book, The ‘Gut Feeling’ (1981), relates the story of former prime minister Billy Hughes being pressed in the 1940s to pass judgement on a Liberal Federal Council statement on an industrial issue. ‘No bloody good,’ he pronounced. ‘Not sufficiently ambiguous!’ If, as Hughes implied, ambiguity is a key virtue needed for political survival, then by 2001 the Howard Liberal–National Party Government appeared to have embraced it. Indeed, any objective analysis of the Howard era is fraught with difficulties because of these two factors: the verbal, unrecorded nature of some political incidents, and the emotive left-versus-right culture war that marked John Howard’s prime ministership (1996–2007).

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Back from the Brink is the second volume of a projected four-volume series that investigates the performance of the four Howard governments (1996–2007). The first dealt with the Liberal– National Party coalition’s election in 1996 and their first year in power. The work under review focuses on the period from ...

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The unusual case of David Hicks is one of the most spectacular and politically supercharged miscarriages of justice in Australian history. Like the infamous Boer War case of Breaker Morant, Hicks was politically scapegoated and grossly denied a fair trial. Unlike Morant – a war criminal who murdered prisoners of war – even Hicks’s accuser, the United States, n ...

John Howard has long been concerned with countering what he regards as the domination of Australian historical writing by the left. His project was initiated before he gained the prime ministership, most notably in his Menzies Lecture of 1996, in which he claimed that most of the distinctiveness and achievements of Australian politics were grounded in the liberal tradition. It continued during the ‘history wars’ from 1996 to 2007 – a subsidiary element in his largely successful attempt to reshape the contemporary understanding of liberal individualism. His massive new book on Menzies and his times is the summa of this enterprise.

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Paul Morgan

 

The People Smuggler: The True Story of Ali al Jenabi, the ‘Oskar Schindler of Asia’
by Robin de Crespigny
Viking, $29.95 pb, 360 pp, 9780670076550

 

Do you remember them on the television news? Stumbling down gangplanks onto our shores, with fli ...

John Howard and Tony Blair both came to the prime ministership in landslides, Howard in 1996, Blair in 1997. They were on opposite sides of the traditional political divide, Howard leading a Liberal Party opposed to Australian Labor and Blair leading the British Labour Party ...

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Exit Right by Judith Brett & Poll Dancing by Mungo MacCallum

by
February 2008, no. 298

Since the November federal election, kicking John Howard while he’s down has become something of a national pastime. While Howard’s take no-prisoners-except-on-Nauru behaviour has now exposed him to gleeful mass taunting, the idea that the end of his resilient political career has instantly created a noble Australia, its citizens and institutions cleansed and renew ed, is wishful thinking. In this context, Judith Brett’s new Quarterly Essay injects some welcome clear-headedness. Brett rains blows on Howard, but she is not a Howard-hater in the counterproductive and grandiose style of, say, Phillip Adams. Instead, she takes aim at the former prime minister in a characteristically nuanced and astute way. She bridges a gap – too often in Australia, a gulf – between scholars and interested laypeople, offering prose that is accessible and lively but that avoids dumbing down complex issues.

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Canberra’s week of the two presidents – October 2003 – brought the unprecedented spectacle of George W. Bush and China’s President Hu Jintau speaking just a day apart to joint sittings of the Australian parliament. The coincidence elegantly dramatised the central questions for Australian foreign policy: how we manage our relationships with our superpower ally, how we live with our neighbours in Asia, and how we get the balance right between them. This has been the essential challenge for every Australian government since World War II. In his important new book, The Howard Paradox, Michael Wesley focuses on one side of that balance – relations with Asia – and on the Howard government.

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If journalism is the first draft of history, this book is a rough-hewn draft of some important historical chunks. Greg Sheridan, the foreign editor of The Australian, may not match some of his colleagues there in gravitas, intellectual depth, or analytical precision, but he compensates with an abundance of enthusiasm and enviable access to those in high office. In the early and mid-1990s, when The Australian was prominent among those boosting Asia and Australian–Asian relations, Sheridan was cheerleader for the boosters. His columns and books were often based on long interviews with presidents and foreign ministers, recounted in a tone more often found in celebrity journalism than in diplomatic reports. Sheridan’s obvious delight at being granted personal interviews with the powerful aroused some envious comments, but his technique served a purpose.

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Campaigning during the 1912 US presidential election, the great labour leader and socialist Eugene Debs used to tell his supporters that he could not lead them into the Promised Land because if they were trusting enough to be led in they would be trusting enough to be led out again. In other words, he was counselling his voters to resist the easy certitude that zealotry brings; to reject a politics that trades on blind faith rather than the critical power of reason.

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