While it’s true the man had faults, to automatically tag John Howard as one of our worst does the man a disservice.
It’s rather amusing that every January 1st the National Archives releases the Cabinet papers of the government from many years previous. This most recent New Years Day saw the release of the cabinet papers from the first year of the Howard government (it was the ’90s; those were the days: Ace of Base, etc). Alongside the release of the papers, it’s pretty standard practice to wheel out the members of that cabinet, or the ex-PM himself, to have a look back at the decisions that shaped the nation, well after the nation was shaped.
John Howard was to those of us on the left, a bit of a downer. For eleven years he held the top job, and when he finally was ousted from the Lodge by Kevin Rudd’s ’07 campaign, a large sigh of relief was heard throughout the myriad inner-city latte-sipping smart sets – the lattes made ever so much sweeter by the fact that not only did his government lose, but the man himself was denied an exit from his blue ribbon Sydney seat of Bennelong, having lost to upstart ABC/ALP candidate Maxine McKew. Howard was one of only two PMs in history to ever suffer such an ignoble exit.
Time rolls on, and given the rose-tinted lenses of history, we’ve been able to look back and reflect on John Howard’s government with a few more wistful remembrances. For one, we need look no further than the likes of T. Abbott, or the prospect of a Prime Minister P. Dutton, and suddenly we feel as though John Winston Howard was a white knight of fully-formed, statesmanlike policy and decorum. Then, of course, is the idea that had he not put up as good a fight as he did in 2004, we’d have been a nation with Mark Latham at the helm. God save us; there has never been a more loathsome personification of a bullet collectively dodged.
And, not for nothing, but you have to kind of admire the man who goes to an early election in 1998 on the promise of making everything 10% more expensive. “Vote for me and pay more for everything.” That took some stones. Almost lost him the Lodge, but it worked. Kudos.
Also on The Big Smoke
- Leak shows how Howard navigated the budget of all budgets
- When your election campaign fizzles, rub some gun paranoia on it
- Sydney man faces prison over 3D-printed guns
So I give John Howard credit for a few things. One, good on you John Howard for not being Tony Abbott. Also, good work, John Howard, for being a more preferable Prime Minister in 2004. I didn’t know it at the time, but good lord I’m glad the coalition defeated the ALP that one time. But I think most importantly – and if you’ll allow me a modicum of seriousness at this point – he really did achieve something significant and important for the nation.
The Port Arthur massacre in 1996 was to that point Australia’s worst mass shooting event. A very disturbed man went into a café at a historic site in Tasmania, and, armed with a semi-automatic weapon, killed dozens of people, and wounded two dozen more. In response to this, and in details hitherto not disclosed, the Howard government decided to take their substantial popularity and parliamentary majority, and take steps to ensure that such a thing never happened again. Semiautomatic weapons were banned, and in order that no citizens who possessed such weapons were too far out of pocket, a large gun buy-back scheme was launched.
Spoiler alert: it has not happened since. It’s something you can’t tell one of the Second Amendment Americans who clutch to their guns and archaic notions of well-armed militias as being inherently inalienable rights of theirs: those who, when a lunatic opens fire on a room of 6-years-olds, don’t take action, just send thoughts and prayers. There is literally no price too great to pay for one’s rights to arm one’s self against the threat of King George III. Gun control works, and John Howard did it.
Well done, John Howard.
What the Howard government did was take the situation on face value and determine that the thing that is designed for mass killing should not be available to members of the general public. It was the most significant act of gun control legislation that the western world has probably ever seen and is the touchstone for how gun control laws work. All this from a staunch conservative government led by a staunch conservative prime minister. He, at the time, decided to capitalise on his government’s popularity and did something inarguably good. Because the number of mass shooting events that have happened in Australia since 1996…is approximately zero.
It’s never a bad time to bring this up, because just so long as sociopaths like the Lib-Dem senator from South Australia have microphones in front of them, they will be squawking inanely about Australia’s lacking freedom and apparent rights to be gun owners. I’m not a fan of Howardism, if you want to call it that, and despite what my latte-sipping comrades will say, I will hold the man aloft as someone who got something important done when it needed to be done.
Now, as far as immigration policy is concerned, (sssssssssip,) let me tell you something else…