October 17, 2004 | Graham

Howard isn’t about to drop his clutch

Back in the days when most cars were manual, we’d talk about “dropping the clutch”. In fact, this was the opposite of what you would do. “Dropping the clutch” meant pushing the accelerator to the floor and engaging the clutch quickly. Your foot, and the clutch pedal, went up, while the clutch moved horizontally – neither “dropped”.
The term had force because there was a sense of something dropping under the car when you did it, but nothing actually succumbed to gravity.
The effect of dropping the clutch was that your wheels spinned, and you then went off with the appearance of great speed in clouds of vulcanic smoke. It upset parents and looked good, and it impressed girls. These are three things that I suspect John Howard has never cared about. He’s more intent on arriving in one piece.
There has been a lot of hysteria about “Howard unbound”, the retro-Promethean who, now that he controls the Senate, will destroy the world as we know it. Howard, so the myth goes, will drop the clutch on reform, and you won’t see him for a cloud of sulphurous dust consigning us all to hell.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Queensland politics demonstrates that having the numbers doesn’t allow governments to ignore public opinion, or suggest that they want to. Both the Goss and Beattie governments have baluked at significant law reforms because they fear they might upset conservative constituencies.
While the Senate does provide a sudden brake on governments, it’s not certain that this is beneficial, or necessary. I tend to think that it is, but it is quite possible that while some governments may need it, others may behave no worse without it.
John Howard learnt his politics at a time just after Gough Whitlam demonstrated the folly of rushing ahead with reform, and during a period when Malcolm Fraser is popularly supposed to have wasted control of the senate by failing to introduce necessary reform. He won’t want to fall into either trap.
Helen Coonan’s declaration that Telstra will be sold later rather than sooner is a sign that reform will occur steadily. The National Party also looks set to fill the vacuum on this issue left by the impotence of the formal opposition. Some Liberal backbenchers may also see some pressure points they can exploit.
When John Howard eventually leaves office, Australia will be a different place from what it is now, but it won’t change quickly, and it will be negotiated with the opponents of change. In crying wolf now, the opponents of change are actually helping to marginalise themselves, just as they did during the election with their accusations of dishonesty.

Posted by Graham at 10:31 pm | Comments (5) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. Graham,
    It is a pleasure to see an observation that is not crying calamity at the results of the election. We certainly need balanced articles such as yours.
    It seems to me that this mind set, the basis of the alarms now being widely expressed, has developed essentially through the production line of left wing journalists in our universities. Incessantly we are battered about the injustices of the Conservatives, the neglect of aboriginals, the malevolent agendas of conservative politicians and scandal of asking unionists to share power in the workplace and take responsibility for their work and the consequences of their work.
    We now have the extraordinary event that the people in Australia have voted for a Conservative government at two levels of the National Parliament. This surely is an excellent example of a democracy at work and to greet such an event with loathing and fear to me indicates a massive lack of understanding of the natural checks and balances in our community which existed prior to this election and will continue after it. No government can “run wild” regardless of the numbers in the houses. Look for example at the case of Gough Whitlam. He lasted one term.
    Apart from this social constraint to which you allude in your paper, the Australians with whom I have shared the country for over three score years and ten have shown themselves as responsible and reasonable people who almost universally loved this country and would see it came to no harm. I have also known many politicians of all political persuasions and in all cases on a personal level I have liked them and found them to honourable people trying to make a positive contribution to our country – and I don’t think that I am an exception. Even though these same politicians have been reviled as untrustworthy and told untruths in the eyes of journalists – and indictment of our storytellers if ever there was one!
    I would like it if those who are crying poor at the moment tried to give this government some trust and some time and attempt to have a little impartiality in their judgements.
    We will see the Labour side elected in due course – that’s what happens – and the tragic’s alarm can turn to joy!

    Comment by Tom — October 18, 2004 @ 6:05 pm

  2. I agree with your comments Graham. There is no interest in Howard treading so wrecklessly that the 3 years in which the Liberals have the most power become their fatal years.
    Howard will be embarking on an agenda of reform which sets up Coalition members all over the nation for a generation of Coalition government.
    The focus on policy will be to deliver election promises and platforms which have long been Liberal party policy. There are no suprises in this term.
    The Australian people voted for Howard because he delivered stable government. He is not going to depart from the winning formula. He is too smart for that.

    Comment by R — October 20, 2004 @ 1:35 pm

  3. Spoken like a bunch of people who never did a hards days manual labour in there lives, have never had to fight a boss because he was treating his employees like crap and underpaying(yes i know about AWAs i worked under one in WA )and guess what my wage dpopped by a $4 an hour normal time, no ot, all paid a flat rate if sick $13/ph which you paid for, it was deducted from your pay at i hr a day ditto public hols no annual leave yes lads tell me how Howards going to look after all, Howard will look after the people who funded him and screw the rest

    Comment by john — October 21, 2004 @ 9:03 pm

  4. Quoth Gra-Gra “the opponents of change are actually helping to marginalise themselves, just as they did during the election with their accusations of dishonesty.” Firstly a disclaimer ; I am not a wild eyed radical I supported Australia’s involvement in Iraq and still do but Johnny Howard is a psychopathic liar , and he uses this strategy as his primary tool for getting a political program he wants .While in some circumstances this has been an effective and useful thing e.g. the GST in the long run it degrades politics and results in poor decision making . The accusations of his dishonesty are valid and your attempt to deny them is extremely naive .

    Comment by Bill O'Slatter — October 26, 2004 @ 10:01 am

  5. John,
    I’m not sure that supporting the invasion of Iraq is a proof that you are a judge of whether someone is a pathological liar or not, but you don’t offer any other evidence. Howard’s GST comment wasn’t even close to a lie. He changed his mind and fought an election on it, recklessly in my view, because the GST didn’t change the direct/indirect mix much at all, so what was the point?
    Most of the so-called lies are not lies at all.

    Comment by Graham Young — October 26, 2004 @ 10:57 pm

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