October 12, 2007 | Graham

Trashing the dog whistle

I don’t understand this speech by John Howard

“If re-elected, I will put to the Australian people within 18 months a referendum to formally recognise indigenous Australians in our Constitution – their history as the first inhabitants of our country, their unique heritage of culture and languages, and their special (though not separate) place within a reconciled, indivisible nation.
“My goal is to see a new statement of reconciliation incorporated into the preamble of the Australian Constitution.”

It has been an article of faith in my analysis that Howard’s ascendancy is founded on a coalition of blue collar conservatives and middle to upper class Australians. Amongst the issues that tend to motivate blue collar conservatives is antipathy to a special place for indigenous Australians. This speech cuts right across those assumptions.
What is happening? Have good economic times made blue-collar conservatives more generous towards indigenous, so that this announcement is now in fact in line with their preferences? Does Howard sense he’s going down, and is this the equivalent of a death bed confession? Mal Brough’s photo features in the Australian’s coverage of the issue – has he turned the Prime Minister?
I can’t imagine that this advice was given by the party’s pollster, Mark Textor, so is this evidence that Textor has been marginalised, as I’ve been told? And if he’s been marginalised, does that explain why Howard is doing so poorly in the polls? Too many questions, and I could keep going.
An election will most probably be announced this Sunday. While I’ve now publicly written the Howard government off several times in the last months (the latest being a prediction of a 15 seat Labor majority made in Melbourne a month ago), it is always with the reservation that on announcing the election Howard could change the entire paradigm of the debate and make analysis based on how it is currently framed irrelevant.
This announcement is certainly left-field, and certainly changes the paradigm of debate, but I don’t think it alters my prediction at all.
Note: Further rumination raises the possibility that this could in fact be a defensive strategy aimed at limiting the losses this election. While the blue-collar conservatives conferred a majority on Howard, the Liberal Party’s bedrock has remained the middle class which provides the bulk of seats. This bedrock has been gradually leaching from under Howard, and if some of the scuttlebutt about polls is correct, may have been seriously eroded. The issues washing it away have included the Prime Minister’s attitude to indigenous Australians. So facing losses at both ends of his support base, Howard may well be choosing to go with the group that has been with him and his party the longest, and those who he knows the best, many of whom live in his own seat.

Posted by Graham at 6:49 am | Comments (7) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. It’s not the firewall strategy, is it? The “Howard battlers” are probably gone for all money due to IR, and the dog-whistle seems to be broken. They might be able to keep hold of some “leafy-suburbans” – full of people who don’t really want to vote for the awful socialists – as a base for 2010 when IR is no longer an issue. All it takes, they hope, is an empty, meaningless gesture like this, which shows that Howard is capable of doing something “nice” now and again.

    Comment by Jason — October 12, 2007 @ 8:36 am

  2. Howard did not mention the words core and non core did he,rather like Saul on the road to Damascus God(opinion polls) have caused a deathbed conversion.
    I after 11 odd years of this Fraud I think he would sell his mother if he though there was a vote in it,next think he will say sorry for the IR changes,as I think it was Cromwell said to the Brit Parliament,for Gods sake go, you have tarried to long in this place,or something like that.
    Howard will do or say anything to cling to power

    Comment by John Ryan — October 12, 2007 @ 10:13 am

  3. “I can’t imagine that this advice was given by the party’s pollster”
    Don’t be too sure. Labor has been wedged before, by less controversial issues than reconciliation. This is not a deathbed confession, more a desparate attempt to claw back some votes. Howard will not go quietly.

    Comment by Steve — October 12, 2007 @ 12:41 pm

  4. I hadn’t thought of the firewall but that’s probably a good explanation for it.
    All in all though, a bit late now.
    I didn’t know Crosby Textor had been sidelined. That would explain why the whole campaign has become a meandering shambles. Come to think of it, that’s another problem with this – there’s no clear indicator of where either Howard or the Liberal Party are going. Downer and Costello are trying to play it as a natural progression but it looks too much like a hairpin bend.

    Comment by Lyn — October 12, 2007 @ 3:41 pm

  5. Perhaps John senses that this is the end.They gained 3.5% points but still trail Labor by a massive 15%.
    There seems to be a tone of resignation in his voice and this could be his way of taking the sharp edges off his image,so he is viewed more favourably in history.
    Keating gave us Marbo as his legacy,Gough gave us the Socvialist State and John will give us an expensive referrendum that will be purely symbolic.
    The problem for us all is that these spending promises from both sides if fulfilled,will put more pressure on interest rates.Will we be any better off?

    Comment by Arjay — October 13, 2007 @ 1:00 pm

  6. I can’t for the life of me see where this one is going. Despite the collective wisdom of Dennis Shanahan, Christopher Pearson and (regrettably in my view) Paul Kelly that this is significant, it would absolutely seem to be set to be condemned to the historical dustbin.
    If I were a Liberal MP with a margin below 5 per cent, I would now be very worried. There is no way that this will play in Lindsay, Bowman or Blair, to take three examples.
    The consequence of 11 years of the Howad Government on indigenous affairs has been to marginalise so-called ‘symbolic’ issues such as reconciliation. Anyone in the Liberal Party who would support it has been driven out or marginalised and, in so far as there has been any success, it has been to drive the Labor Party away from a ‘symbolic’ approach to indigenous affairs.
    It must also confirm the suspicion that, as I understand it, exists in his own ranks, that it is all about him, and the Liberal strategy for the 2007 Election is increasingly sitting around issues that matter to JWH and few others, such as the high school history curriculum or a referendum that ‘recognises’ Aborigines. If he cared about this, 1997 was the critical year, not 2007.
    Finally, what is now real in what John Howard says? Will he remain the hard-working local member for Bennelong over 2008-2010 if Labor wins the election? would this become ‘non-core’ iof he retained government? The malange of things that a re-elected Howard gvoernment would now offer Australians is now very complicated, and probably not deliverable.

    Comment by Terry Flew — October 13, 2007 @ 10:03 pm

  7. If C/T have been marginalised its because of
    a) the continuing poor polling, which means their suggested strategies have not been working and/or
    b) the leak of the Track 33 results.

    Comment by The Doctor — October 14, 2007 @ 4:38 pm

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