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 tr ...

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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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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London 1999. I’m in a draughty slum in Hackney, the poor part of the East End, shared with a mini-UN of students, squatters, drifters and a junior investment banker. Feeding five-pound notes into the gas meter, keeping an eye out the window for the television licence detector van, we’re doing what everyone who comes to cool Britannia does most evenings – watching the BBC ‘cos we can’t afford to go to the pub. Suddenly, the screen seems to widen and there’s Sydney Harbour in all its luminescent glory, with an expert panel of worthies – Bob Hawke, Bill Hayden, Geoffrey Robertson – arrayed before it.

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