October 25, 2010 | Graham

We live in a time of pygmies

Watching John Howard on Q&A tonight made me think about a few things. He’s certainly a class act and a cut above any subsequent Australian Prime Minister or Parliamentary Leader of the Liberal Party. But he comes from a political generation where a significant number of politicians from both sides could have done what he did tonight.

Perhaps not in the same way. For a 71 year old he has an extraordinary memory. When Tony Jones suggested he’d invoked the ANZUS Alliance as a reason for going into Iraq he almost gave him time and date of the press conference when he invoked it and pointed out it was in respect of Afghanistan.

He was also impressive when ambushed by David Hicks, trotting out arguments he probably hadn’t used for years on the spur of the moment, and even recalling dates about the genesis of the US Military Commission.

His performance left an impression of authenticity, despite the fact that he deftly refused to answer questions, diverting answers to something else. His skill here was not just the diversion, but that it seemed to satisfy the audience. And I think he achieved this by showing how complex some of these issues are.

Julia Gillard demonstrated just how good Howard is by suggesting at a function tonight that the Liberal Party was adopting Hansonist economic policy because of Joe Hockey’s bizarre comments about banks and interest rates. She just doesn’t sound authentic, particularly when one realises that Treasurer Wayne Swan has been threatening the banks over rate rises for the last 3 years, Joe Hockey’s call was remarkable because of how out of line it was from Liberal party policy, and that the Resources Rental Tax and National Broadband Network are just the sorts of things Pauline would have embraced.

And then there is that phrase I’m sure she borrowed from Kevin Rudd “I’ve told my caucus quite clearly…”.

Of course, Tony Abbott had given her some room to move on the economic issues because he hadn’t gently repudiated his treasury spokesman’s suggestion.

Who would have thought that the Good Ol’ Days were less than three years ago?

Posted by Graham at 1:39 pm | Comments (6) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. The QandA programme was impressive but I remember Howard for creating the system which allowed banks to price lower middle class people out of owning their own home. And, he sees nothing wrong with allowing an Australian citizen to be imprisoned overseas because there was no Australian law under which he could be charged.
    Howard and Costello made no plans for what will happen when our principal capital assets, iron ore and coal are depleted. RIO alone is planning to export a Mt Tom Price every four years. For what; so we can import our consumption goods (for now). Not that Rudd and Gillard have made any better plans for our future.

    Comment by John Turner — October 25, 2010 @ 9:50 pm

  2. He handled hicks really well. is there a person who actually gives a damn about a bloke who went to the middle east armed to the eyes, and would have killed Aussie soldiers without batting an eyelid??

    Comment by peter piper — October 26, 2010 @ 12:55 am

  3. John Howard is the consumate politician,he is intellectually adept and knows how to manipulate a situation to his own advantage.Are they the primary qualities we need as a society to progress?

    Tony Abbott may be niave and lacking polish,but trustworthy within the paramaters of his knowledge and awareness.Perhaps this is what makes Abbott such a poor politician.

    Comment by Arjay — October 26, 2010 @ 8:46 am

  4. Howard “deftly refused to answer questions”,good politics, bad democracy.
    Everyone is entitled to a fair trial,Hicks’ treatment by the Americans and Howard’s supine attitude,was a disgrace.It was an insult to all Australians.
    The Howard-Costello legacy is an enormous foreign debt and an unsustainable population growth rate.

    Comment by Russell W — October 27, 2010 @ 12:08 am

  5. He handled Hicks well if you believe he was right. Why should anyone be surprised that Mr. Howard answered the questions well? Surely, after a lifetime as a politician, he should have developed some skills. Mr. Howard has another advantage, he does not find it hard to lie and in his own belief that he is always right. Have a look at all his reasons for not retiring. Even his wife and family get some of the blame.

    Comment by Catching up — October 27, 2010 @ 2:01 am

  6. I’ll be interested to read the book, when I get time. I was a player during some of that time so I’ll see how it squares with the areas I know something about.

    John, not sure what you’re referring to about the banks. I don’t recall Howard doing anything to them. Paul Keating was the great reformer in that area. And the reforms made it easier for lower income people to get loans, not the reverse.

    I’ve got some sympathy for Hicks. I think he was just a foolish young man in the wrong place at the wrong time. A bit player whose status was elevated by events.

    Russell I don’t see anything undemocratic in not answering questions. There is no right for an interviewer or a questioner to do more than try to set the agenda. The interviewee also has a legitimate interest in getting their side of the story across.

    The ability to reshape a question to suit is absolutely necessary from the point of view of leadership. The alternative is to allow others to set the agenda.

    Costello, Keating, Hawke, Fraser were all good at taking questions and ending up where they wanted to be. Gillard is not good at it – she just gives the wooden stock-standard focus-group-tested response. Abbott is less scripted, but is still a prisoner of the interview.

    They both need to do better. I don’t want a world where Tony Jones or Kerry O’Brien is the top dog. I want my politicians to be in control.

    Comment by Graham — October 28, 2010 @ 2:07 am

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