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Last updated 8th December
John Howard, interviewed on ‘Four Corners’, “An Average Australian Bloke”, broadcast 19 February 1996
Q. Can you give us a John Howard vision for the Year 2000 to the Australian public, such that they will see yes, this is the person we would like to be PM?
A. Let me respond to your question by saying this, I would … by the Year 2000 I would like to see an Australian nation that feels comfortable and relaxed about three things: I would like to see them comfortable and relaxed about their history; I would like to see them comfortable and relaxed about the present and I’d also like to see them comfortable and relaxed about the future.
‘Polyarchy’ is a system of government literally meaning ‘rule by the many’. In elitist theory it has the specialised meaning of ‘rule by competing elites’ in a pseduo-democracy with the participation of the masses limited to selection of which members of the elite class will govern them.
In this post I would like to explore the extent to which John Howard’s iconic statement that he wished for Australia that its citizens be ‘relaxed and comfortable’ reveals that John Howard is a proponent of Polyarchy.
Is Howard’s vision for Australia that Australian government should be limited to business elites with the general population coaxed into political passivity and remaining satisfied with a ‘comfortably’ affluent lifestyle while the wealthy elites go about the business of government ? Did his use of the term ‘Relaxed and Comfortable’ contain this idea ?
Polyarchy In The USA
Yale professor Robert Dahl and others characterise the United States as a Corporate Polyarchy with rule exercised by the business sector, thus serving the interests of the business sector.
He Who Pays The Piper…
It is apparent that it is impossible for any candidiate for the US Presidency to be elected without the approval of the business sector. The combined budget of the Democratic and Republican party candidates in the 2008 Presidential Election surpasses One Billion Dollars with funds overwhelmingly drawn from wealthy corporations and investors. Corporations do not invest this kind of money without guarantee of return on investment. In order to attract the necessary funds to finance the electoral extravaganzas of the US system, Parties select candidates who appeal to business, with the Party elite and candidates themselves either being members of the business elite, or having loyalty to, or symbiotic patron relationships with, the business sector.
Polyarchy The Basis Of Western Democracy
James Madison, the most influential person in the writing of the American Constitution was explicit that executive power should reside amongst the wealthy property-owners of the new nation and that this power should be denied to anyone who was not a member of this elite class. Madison believed it was inappropriate for ordinary citizens to outrank wealthy property-owners in government, though ordinary citizens should be able to be elected to the Lower House in a bicameral parliament. (see below)
In this, of course, Madison describes and endorses the English Westminster system of government of the time in which ordinary citizens are elected to the House Of Commons, but the propertied, landed, wealthy classes exercise veto power over them in the House Of Lords; thus the democratic threat to power and wealth is averted.
How The Ruling Class Talks To Itself
From the above it can be seen that the belief amongst the wealthy elite that it is only they who are fit to govern was a foundational element of Western political culture. This belief has persisted to the present day. In 1975 the Trilateral Commission produced a report entitled ‘The Crisis Of Democracy’ which canvassed strategies of how to prevent the general population of the United States from becoming too active in the democratic process. The Commission, a superbly connected group of corporate and political elites writing sadly about the increase in participation in democratic polity in the 1960’s noted:
‘Authority based on heirarchy, expertise and wealth all ran counter to the democratic and egalitarian temper of the times…In politics generally, the authority of wealth was challenged…(Trilateral Commission, The Crisis Of Democracy, 1975, p.75).
The Commission believed that alternative points of view to the previously unchallenged corporate orthodoxy were dangerous for democracy noting:
“a new importance for “adversary” media and “critical” intelligentsia in public affairs
and believed that an increase in political awareness in the general public or a widening of the political debate to include issues beyond the the concerns of industry were detrimental to society:
those who are active in politics are also more likely to have consistent views on policy [which leads to] polarization of political opinion..often involving higher levels of group consciousness (as among blacks) which then stimualted more political participation (Trilateral Commission pp. 76-77)
Participation in the political process and the resolution to lobby for policy change is regarded by the wealthy political-corporate elite of the Trilateral Commission as threat to democracy, not a sign of its health. For the Trilateralists, the expansion of democratic participation leads to an overload of inputs into the governmental process which could lead to its collapse.
Finally, and perhaps most seriously, there are the intrinsic challenges to the viability of democratic government which grow directly out of the functioning of democracy. Democratic government does not necessarily function in a self-sustaining or self-correcting equilibrium fashion. It may instead function so as to give rise to forces and tendencies which, if unchecked by some outside agency, will eventually lead to the undermining of democracy. This was, of course, a central theme in de Tocqueville’s forebodings about democracy; it reappeared in the writings of Schumpeter and Lippmann; it is a key element in the current pessimism about the future of democracy.
The reference to Lippman by the Trilateralists indicates their endorsement of Lippman’s repulsive opinions that the general public are “ignorant and meddlesome outsiders” who should be mere “spectators of action,” not participants.
Relevance of the Trilateral Commission
The Trilateral Commission is no fringe group or irrelevant academic think tank. Its members include many elected and appointed representatives to Western government and those who advise them. Perhaps the most well-known current members are Bill Clinton, ex-US President, Alan Greenspan, current chairman of the US Federal Reserve and Richard Cheney, the ravenously greedy war-criminal who is currently US Vice-President. The Carter administration included 25 Trilateralists
Polyarchy A Recognised Current Reality
The general public of the United States recognises Corporate Polyarchy as the current reality of the American polity.
Because corporations so effectively control the outcomes of government in the United States, more than half of Americans have given up voting, as they believe that politics is largely confined to the machinations of competing fractions of captal. Voting is strongly correlated to wealth because it is the wealthy who have their interests attended to by the two Parties on offer. Most Americans believe their vote is of no significance to political outcomes.
The percentage of Americans who believed that the US Government is run “by a few big interests” was 17.6% in 1958, rising to 53.3% in 1972. Conversely, the proportion that believed Government is run “for the benefit of all” declined from 76.3% to 37.7% over the same period.
(Source: University Of Michigan Center for Political Studies, cited in Trilateral Commission p.79)
The Context Of Howard’s Remarks
Howard’s remarks were made during the 1996 Federal Election. At the time Australia was actively debating the history of Aboriginal relations, the debate made salient by the “Bringing Them Home” report into the ‘Stolen Generations’ i.e. the policy undertaken in Australia from approx. 1890 to 1970 of seperating ‘mixed-race’ Aboriginal children from their Aboriginal parents with various objectives being at the forefront at different times over that period.
The Stolen Generations report stirred a passionate debate with many conservatives being unwilling to admit or even countenance that their British forebears were in any way influenced by racism in their interactions with Aboriginal Australians; far less that during the 1930’s that Australian government officials had implemented policies that were designed to result in the extinction of the Aboriginal race.
Same As It Ever Was, Same As It Ever Was, SAME AS IT EVER WAS
Additionally at this time, a debate on whether Australia should become a Republic had emerged. For conservatives then, this was a challenging time. Precious assumptions about the nobility of the Australian-British peoples were seen to be under threat and a movement was underway to discard formal governmental ties with the British monarch.
For Howard, belief in the nobility of British Australians and respect for Australia’s Constitutional Monrachy ran deep. On the first question of Aboriginal relations, the idea for Howard that his forebears could have been motivated by anything less than noble concern was insulting. That they could have been intentional murderers or motivated by racism was a baseless smear. That they could have been genociders was fatuous nonsense from the leftist loony-bin. On the second question, the idea that the Constitutional Monarchy could be abandoned was both a hasty and immature abandonment of a tried and true system of democratic government and an unwelcome and vulgar attack on his personal psychic security blanket.
Howard’s Legacy: Rescuing The National History
Speaking at Kirribilli House on the eve of the 2007 Federal election, Howard, interviewed by journalist Miranda Devine, considered one of the signal achievements of his Prime Ministership the rescuing of Australian History from the ‘Stolen Generation’ proponents and the Republicans both typified by Paul Keating:
There was a view [under Paul Keating] that the history of Australia started in 1972 and there’s something immoral and wrong about the old Australia – the old Australia being a collection of things [including] the more Anglo-Irish or Anglo-Celtic traditions.
“We are now in a situation where we can think positively about those bits again as well as think positively about the new bits and I think that’s a change that’s occurred and I regard that as a big change and regard it as very important.”
On the immaturity of Paul Keating’s motivations for Australia becoming a Republic:
A contemplative Mr Howard said: “Keating had a sort of chip on his shoulder [as if he] almost thought he was fighting the Anglo-Irish wars all the time, which was pathetic.”
“On the republic, instead of arguing . . . this is the next natural thing to do, not because we’re unhappy with our British past [because] we’re very proud, very grateful … he couldn’t bring himself to do that …
The Howards Clarify Relaxed And Comfortable
At the same event, Janette Howard sought to clarify her husband’s iconic ‘Relaxed And Comfortable’ utterance by stating that it was meant only to apply to the Stolen Generations and Republican debates i.e. to valourise the nobility of Australia’s British heritage. Devine writes:
Janette Howard said her husband’s pledge in the 1996 campaign to make Australians “relaxed and comfortable” was meant to counter Keating’s history cringe, but the quote had been misinterpreted.
I wrote to Ms Devine and asked her in what way Mrs. Howard felt the meaning of ‘relaxed and comfortable’ had been misinterpereted. Ms Devine said that Mrs Howard was countering
the accepted interpretation at the time [which] was that Howard wanted everyone to sit back and relax and not think too hard about anything.
With respect to Mrs. Howard, who is certainly far closer to the source than any commentator could be, her clarification does not encompass the full meaning of Mr. Howard’s remark. Howard, said he wanted Australians to be relaxed and comfortable about the past, yes, but also the present and future. It is very difficult to limit Mr. Howard’s comments to only the past when he himself applied then to the present and future also.
Victory By Falsification
Furthermore, Mrs. Howard’s clarification does not address HOW Mr. Howard attempted to achieve his goal with respect to Australia’s race relations history which was to falsify it. Mr. Howard’s patronage of Keith Windschuttle following the publication of Windschuttle’s phoney history, The Fabrication Of of Aboriginal History, volume one: Van Diemen’s Land: 1803-1847 is a monumental act of intellectual and social bastardry.
Mr. Howard’s approach to the history of race relations in Australia is to bury it in propaganda. He doesn’t want anyone thinking about it, acting on it or talking about it. Only Windshuttle’s counterfeit which validates the received myths are of benefit for Australians and Australian society. It is them that will keep us relaxed, ameliorate demands for action from government to redress past wrongs, so removing this unneeded ‘input’ which could dangerously overload and drain democratic government and disturb the economy.
Like the Trilateralists, Mr. Howard does not want Australians thinking about anything beyond personal financial enrichment via conventional participation in a business-corporate-biased polity. Howard, on one occassion actually enunciated a vision for Australia that it should be a ‘nation of shareholders’. The Trilateralists, for their part made a list of Subjects Better Ignored, i.e. a list of issues that drain the energy of democracy away from its proper focus of economic management for the benefit of the Business/Corporate Sector. These dangerous, democracy-threatening topics included
‘social issues, such as…civil liberties…;racial issues [and] military issues…
Trilateral Commission p.77.
It doesn’t seem to leave us much to talk about.
Like the Trilateralists, Howard is sensitive to “adversarial” media. Howard set out to silence insofar as it was practical any informed critique of his political agenda. He stacked the board of Australia’s public television broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Commission, with as many of his stooges as he could, finally appointing the manically twisted Windschuttle in June 2006. For his part, Windschuttle held the ABC in contempt using a Trilaterist-reticent term “adversary culture” to describe the ABC reporting viewpoint.
(see Robert Manne article in preceeding link)
Jown Howard approved of the nauseating description used of the ABC by his former Chief Of Staff, Graham Morris, that the ABC is
our enemy talking to our friends [i.e. the Australian people]
On the issue of culture, Windscuttle is Howard’s ideological twin. The description of Windschuttle by the historian Lyndall Ryan, applies equally to Howard:
‘[he is] driven by the ethnocentric belief that the British colonists were so inculcated with the ideas of the Enlightenment that they were incapable of exterminating Aborigines’
Howard and the Offspring Of The Trilateral Commission
This being the case, it is unsurprising that Windschuttle’s and Howard’s depictions of the ABC are so similar in their paranoia. Howard and Windschuttle have both either addressed or written for the right-wing Australian Journal ‘Quadrant’ which has carried numerous articles written by members of the Institute For Public Affairs IPA), a right-wing think tank based in Melbourne with a long-standing association with the Liberal Party. According to Wikipedia
John Roskam, the IPA’s Executive Director, worked on the Liberal Party’s 2001 election campaign. He has also run for Liberal Party preselection. Prime Minister John Howard (Liberal Party) delivered the 60th CD Kemp lecture to the Institute in 2004
For its part the IPA has a fraternal relationship with the American Enterprise Institute which itself cross-pollinates with other like-minded American right-wing groups including the Trilateral Commission. Thus, the pedigree from John Howard and Keith Windschuttle and their belief in an adversarial (anti-Business-Corporate) ABC back to the Trilateral Commission is very short, and is the reason, I believe, why we hear Trilateral-speak in the mouth of the former Prime Minister at the time (I use this phrase deliberately) he ruled Australia.
In 2008, John Howard received the AEI’s Irving Kristol Award for 2008.The annual award, selected by the Institute’s Council of Academic Advisers, is given to individuals who have made exceptional intellectual or practical contributions to improved government policy, social welfare, or political understanding.
John Howard On Governing For ‘All Australians’
John Howard himself would utterly reject the idea that he is a Polyarchist or has attempted to entrench a corporate Polyarchy in Australia. He believes that he is absolutely free of sectional bias including any bias toward corporations or capital. Speaking on radio 7ZR in September 1998 he said:
the Liberal Party [is] owned by no sectional interest within the Australian community…We are not owned by the business community. We’re certainly not owned by the Trade Union movement. And we’re certainly not owned by any elite politically correct pressure group. What we are owned by is a driving ambition to serve the interests of all of the Australian people.
Carole Johnson, “John Howard and the Mainstream” in Simms M, and Warhurst J., “Howard’s Agenda: The 1998 Australian Election”, UQP, St. Lucia, 2000
The Special Status Of Business
Howard’s contention that the Liberal Party is not owned by the business sector does not hold up to examination. In fact, Howard’s philosophy is that it is exactly by serving the business sector that ‘the interests of all the Australian people’ are promoted.
The quote above comes from John Howard’s victory speech in the 1998 Federal Election which was fought on the issue of Tax Reform centering on the introduction of a Goods and Services Tax (GST). In Howard’s view the greatest benefit of the GST was that it would reduce costs to the Business Sector by $10.5 thousand million dollars. This assistance to business would create ‘more jobs, more investment, [and] a more secure economic future’ and that was why ‘It is, above everything else, a plan for the long-term interests of all Australians’.
In Howard’s opinion the GST would ‘do more to give an incentive to the business community, the wealth generators of Australia, than any other single deed that the government could undertake. Therefore, in Howard’s conception, it is the best possible thing any government could do. (see Howard, Transcript of Address at Add Lib Luncheon Hotel Sofitel, Melbourne 21 Aug 1998).
So in Howard’s equation helping business = helping all Australians = good government. It is clear, then, that government should be exercised in the interests of the corporate sector and, therefore. that political parties must represent them and rule for them. That’s simply what governments should do.
Business Is Not A Vested Interest
During 1995, while still in opposition, John Howard began to sketch out the priorities of a potential Liberal government in a series of ‘Headland’ speeches. In his first speech, ‘The Australia I Believe In’, Howard articulated his opinion, which coincided with those of many Australians, that the Keating Labor government was governing for a coterie of vocal minorities which were unrepresentative of the national interest:
“There is a frustrated mainstream in Australia today which sees government decisons as increasingly driven by the self-interested claims of powerful vested interests with scant regard for the national interest”
Powerful vested interests seen to win the day when it comes to duchessing the government and access to public funding
The ‘powerful vested interests’ to which Howard referred were Aboriginal people, Multicultural groups and feminist organisations. They were not business organisations, whose interests, as we have seen, are coterminious with those of the ‘mainstream; and ‘all Australians’.
It is revealing that Howard does not identify business as a vested interest, even though it surely is. For Howard, vested interests are those groups unrepresentative of the deserving mainstream, sucking funds away from it. Business is special. It is unambiguously good, specifically, it is Moreover a wealth-generator, therefore it cannot be a vested interest.
Howard’s description of Aboriginals, Multicultural organisations and Feminist ’ vested interests’ as ‘powerful’ is laughable. Upon his election, Howard simply defunded these groups and they were powerless to resist. $300 million dollars was summarily removed from ATSIC, the Office Of Multicultural Affairs ceased to exist and feminist goups became persona non-grata to the government. Their supposed champion, the ABC, lost 10% of its budget.
One can only imagine the furore if Howard had , for example, transferred the common law rights inherent in Pastoral Leases to Native Title (instead of the other way around, as he did later) or removed the access of Business to government. One would have then seen real power exercised. His government would have been bought down.
see Brett J. ‘The New Liberalism’, in Manne R. (ed.), ‘The Howard Years’, Blank Inc. 2004 )
Identifying Howard’s Polyarchy
Though Howard sees Business providing an unambiguous and constant benefit to society and even as coterminious with the overall interests of all Australians, this does not make Howard a Business-Corporate Polyarchist. It is quite reasonable for government to wish to protect and encourage the wealth-generating sectors of the economy.
There is a valid distinction between ruling for the interests of business and ruling for the interests of business REGARDLESS of the effect on the wider economy and society. The meaning of Howard’s statement ‘We are not owned by the business sector’ is presumably ‘I will not govern in favour of the business sector to the point where this harms the interests of ordinary, decent Australians’.
However, Howards is ideologically blind to the fact that ‘helping business’ may harm ordinary Australians or have other detrimental social effects. Helping business, for Howard, is its own good and can never be anything except good.
I identify four areas in which Howard’s commitment to a pro-business agenda extended to areas where he pursued that agenda regardless of its effect on wider society. In these areas Howard shows that he believes that the interests of business must prevail over all other interests and that the business class and its supports are the only legitimate ruling class.
Firstly and most importantly. Howard goes out of his way to remove critique of Business-Corporate ideology from the polity. He does this by dismantling, demonising and marginalising instititions and groups that promote critique of (let alone opposition to) that ideology, and/or transforming the ideological basis of those instititions into a Business-Corporate-friendly view.
Secondly, in the specific area of Industrial Relations Howard was unable to see that his (in)famous Work Choices legislation could greviously undermine basic social institutions, even those honoured by conservatives such as he.
Thirdly, Howard used government to transfer power and rights to business at the cost of other social groups even where the rights of these other social groups do not affect the viability of business.
Fourthly, Howard ignored the great Environmental challenge of Climate Change, which consolidated scientific opinion says poses a threat to the survial of humanity because addressing that challenge could affect the profitability of Business.
Through these areas we can see Howard working out a Business-Corporate Polyarchist agenda by seeking to ensure that the pro-Business ideology is dominant and insofar as possible unchallenged; that the share of benefits from the economy are directed disproportionately back to the business class and its supporters and that members of the Business class and its supporters are seen as the only legitimate ruling class.
Howard’s Radical Pro-Business Ideology
Howard once said of himself that he is a radical pro-Business ideologue. He was not joking. He nominates as his three great heroes, Pope John Paul II, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. These last two he describes as ‘towering figures’ of the late 20th Century, a description many would find problematic especially in the case of Reagan, whose primary purpose in government was to recite speeches written by others.
Howard nominated these people as heroes on the basis that their moral clarity “punctured the nonsense” of left-wing apologists for communist dictatorships.
Ronald Reagan, in my view, was the greatest of post-World War II American presidents. His greatest legacy will be the end of Soviet communism.
Once again while finding this characterisation problematic, what we can say that what Reagan and Thatcher unmistakably did was implement the neo-liberal fundamantalist market ideology of Hayek, Friedman and the Chicago School which for Howard is an economic religion. And, like Howard, Thatcher loved destroying Trade Unions, even calling them ‘the enemy within’, those Briton through-and-through coal miners.
Like any fundamentalist, Howard cannot countenance that there is anything wrong with his religion, though many others could see that endemic casualisation of the workforce, the introduction of a compulsory 24×7 on-call expectation in the low- and semi-skilled economy and the splintering of shifts down to three hours compromises community, family, marriage and even worship.
(see Manne R., ‘Left, Right, Left…’, in Manne R. (ed.) ‘Left Right Left: Political Essays 1977-2005’ and Kevin Rudd, now Prime Minister Of Australia, ‘Faith and Politics’, The Monthly, October 2006)
Howard’s War On Ideas
Because Business-Corporate Polyarchy attempts to represent the members of the Business-Corporate sector as the only legitimate ruling class it follows that, in a democracy, Business-Corporate Polyarchists must attempt to control the political discourse to prevent or contain critique of Business-Corporate ideology and in particular, the emergence of any competitor ideology insofar as possible in the public domain.
Elite rule without democracy is totalitarianism. Elite rule within democracy requires that the opinions of the ruling elite dominate the political discourse so that when free elections are held the opinions of those outside the ruling elite are delegitimized in the mind of the electorate and discounted by them. In so doing the Business-Corporate elite rules freely through the control of the public imagination. Thus the media must be domesticated to convey the message of the ruling elite in preponderance and without significant criticism.
Controlling The Media
Australia’s free-to-air Television stations comprise three commercial channels, the publicly-funded ABC and the also publicly-funded Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) which had its origins in catering for migrant communities. As privately-owned corporations themselves, the commercial channels naturally editorialise for the Business-Corporate elite. The audience of SBS is miniscule. The ABC’s audience is minor but occupies an important niche. It is the only broadcaster carrying any sort of critique of prevailing Business-Corporate ideology to a significant number of persons.
Howard’s entire intention with the ABC was to intimidate it, thus to domesticate it and finally to transform it into a pro-Business voice. Howard here reveals a totalitarian trait, the inability to suffer dissent, disagreement or even critique that he cannot control. Even when 85% of the Television media is pro-Business, this is not enough. Howard wanted 100% compliance.
From the outset, Howard trimmed the ABC’s funding and additionally over the course of his Prime Ministership continually accused it of bias, By these two methods he attempt to cow the ABC into a pro-Howard, pro-Business editorial policy.
Howard’s ultimate ‘solution’ to the ABC was to stack the ABC Board with pro-Howard (therefore pro-Business) academics and bureaucrats and in so doing remove the only significant voice of critique from the Television spectrum. In 1998 Howard appointed Michael Kroger, a former President of the Victorian Liberal Party; in 2000, his personal friend and President Of The Australian Stock Exchange, Maurice Newman (admittedly the ALP felt that Newman was a good appointment); in 2003, Ron Brunton, a noted proponent of Howard’s view of the ‘Stolen Generations’ thesis (i.e. that it didn’t happen); in 1996 his personal friend, Donald McDonald to Chairman of the ABC Board, his major qualification being he had officiated at a Howard fund-raiser. In 2005, Howard appointed Janet Albrechtson, an enthusiastically right-wing newspaper columnist, who immediately said she would look at “problems of bias and how facts are presented”. In 2006 Howard appointed the unconscionable Keith Windschuttle himself to the Board.
Howard’s Communications Minister, Richard Alston made 68 formal complaints (7 later withdrawn) to the ABC about its reporting of the Iraq War, while Michael Kroger was the first ABC Board member in its history to attempt to directly interfere with a journalist’s choice of story.
Alston’s complaints were simply a campaign of harassment, designed to drain ABC energies from critiquing the Howard government over the politically sensitive issue of the Iraq War. The clear message to the ABC was ‘toe the line’.
The Australian Broadcasting Authority issued an overall report regarding Howard-Alston’s serial complaints and found bias in one-third of the matters raused by Alston, obviously the most egregious he could find.
As Gerard Henderson summarises:
The authority’s report held “that AM’s coverage of the Iraq war was of a high standard overall” but it also found the “frequency” of “incidences of bias or partiality compromised the quality of AM’s valuable and extensive coverage of the Iraq war”.
I have taken the trouble to read some of the Australian Broadcasting Authority’s findings on specific matters raised by Senator Alston. Some of the ‘biased’ matters seem to me to be quite harshly judged.
Matter 5, in which the ABC said of a press briefing issued by Donald Rumsfeld that he was taking ‘the opportunity to make advances in the propaganda war’ was found to ‘[convey] a prejudgement that the statements and claims of Coalition officials should be regarded as propaganda and no more.’
An assertion that war may contain propaganda seems to me to be highly uncontroversial.
That two-thirds of Howard-Alston’s complaints did not meet even this trivial standard of supposed ‘bias’ shows Howard-Alston to be interested in the silencing of reporting, not improving its quality. Given that the ABc would have made who knows how many – scores ? hundreds ? – in addition to what Howard-Alston hammered the ABA with, I think it can be reasonably seen that the ABC presented an overwhelmingly bias-free coverage of the Iraq War (though not critique-free to teh chagrin of Howard).
(see McCallum M., “Howard’s Politics” in Manne R. (ed.) ‘The Howard Years’, Blank Inc. 2004 )
Howard’s malevolence towards Unions is complete. His government even took the petty step to destroy Student Univeristy Guilds at University, seeing them as a breeding ground for anti-Corporate-Business ideology.
By doing this, Howard was attempting to prevent University Students from being exposed to radical or even left-of-centre politics. Taken in conjunction with Howard’s attempted destruction of an independent ABC it can be seen that Howard, quite literally, wants to control people’s minds, to make sure that Australians, insofar as possible, learn only the right political philosophies – those that are pro-Business.
Delegitimizing and Controlling Unions
Howard sees Unions as parasites on business and the economy. In Howard’s view Australia would be better off without them. One of his great Prime Ministerial ambitions was to destroy the Union movement.
In Howard’s first term he undertook a deliberately strategy to domesticate Australia’s most militant Union, the Maritime Workers Union in a ‘totemic attack’ which would signal to all other Unions and society at large that he intended ‘to destroy the Union movement’ in Australia. (Graham Morris, former Chief of Staff to John Howard, ‘The Howard Years’, ABC Television, broadcast 17 November 2008). A central part of this attack was quite simply to sack the entire Unionised workforce.
Howard’s (in)famous ‘Work Choices’ legislation, which attempted to remove Unions from workplace relations and place all power in this field took was centrally a generalised attack on Unions. Business was awarded almost unlimited freedom to dictate how employees would be hired, the conditions under which they would work and the length of their working hours.
When Howard publicly announced his Work Choices legislation, he did so with Business Leaders at his side but no representatives from the Unions. This eloquently demonstrated that only Business interests are relevant to Howard and his government.
During the 2007 Federal Election campaign, the centrepiece of Howard’s re-election message was that Unions will destroy the economy if Labor is elected. Union leadership was portrayed as thugs and the Labor Party was depicted as being controlled by Unions. The overall message was that Business would be harmed by Labor/Unions hence Liberals should be re-elected. Thus it is only representatives of the Business Class that are worthy to govern. Only they can be trusted with the nation’s prosperity.
Native Title – Transferring Rights To Business
In December 1996 in Wik Peoples v. State Of Queensland, the High Court found that the grant of a Pastoral Lease does not necessarily extinguish Native(Aboriginal) Title to that land. The High Court found that where Native Title rights do co-exist with Pastoral Leases, the Pastoral lease prevails over the Native Title Rights.
The Howard government could not tolerate any concept that any Native Title Rights could exist on Pastoral Leases and simply set about to extinguish those rights by ‘bucket load’ as expressed by Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fisher. In addition to extinguishment, the exercise of Native common-law rights was made dependent on an onerous registration test while the rights of Pastoralists were expanded. The government ran a scare campaign which stated that 78% of the total land area of Australia was under control of Native Title. and that this would create a Native Title ‘right of veto over further development’.
It is apposite here to recall the opinions of James Madision who, as we have seen, was opposed
to Land Reform as this would render ‘the property of landed proprietors would be insecure’ and
therefore recommended that the US Constitution be drafted in such a manner,’ to support these invaluable interests and to balance and check the other…’so as to protect the [wealthy] minority against the majority.’ Howard shows himself to be completely like-minded with Madison in his
objective ‘to secure the permanent interests of the country [such as Pastoral and Mining Leases]against innovatio [such as Native Title].’
As with Work Choices, the Wik ‘Ten Point Plan’ of the Howard government shows he is willing to transfer rights from other sectors to business. With Wik, Howard did this regardless of the justice of the claims of other persons and despite the already entrenched precedence of the perogatives of business over those other persons.
(see Dodson M., “Indigenous Australians’, in Manne R. (ed.) ‘The Howard Years’, Black Inc. 2004 )
Ignoring The Environment
In the words of Ian Lowe:
The Howard government has presided over the steady and systematic decline of the Australian environment. As in other areas the worsening problems are an inevitable consequence of the government’s ideology, compounded by an emphasis on short-term economic issues…
“..the Howard government has taken the approach that economic development is the be all and ena all; one minister even argued in 2002 that wealthy countries generally have healthier environments than poor countries, so the best thing the government can do to improve the environment is increase the rate of economic growth”.
Due to Australia’s reliance on coal-fired power, the Howard government actually attempted to sabotage the Framework Convention On Climate Change (which became the Kyoto Protocol), reasoning it would damage our economy too much to try and meet any respectable challenging lower target for Carbon emissions.
It did this by introducing the idea of different targets for each country in the Geneva Conference of the Parties(1996) with Australia to be granted special privileges to raise Greenhouse emissions. The special provisions demanded by Australia were so high and sounreasonable it almost caused the 1997 Kyoto Conference to collapse, delegates working to 3 a.m. on the day of the final session to accommodate the intransigent Australian delegation. This achieved, Senator Robert Hill then demanded at 4 a.m further huge increases in allowable emissions to accommodate changes in land use.
Howard is content for Australian delegations to sabotage International Climate Treaties if this should be of short-term economic benefit. The interests of business are paramount.
Howard’s use of the phrase ‘Relaxed and Comfortable’ was primarily directed at restoring pride in the nobility of Australia’s British heritage which had come under attack by the uncovering racist assumptins underpinning Australian governmental policy toward Aboriginal peoples, especially prior to World War 2. Howard also felt that the move to make Australia a republic attacked the noble British foundations of Australia.
John Howard therefore made it a primary cause of his Prime Ministership to rescue Australia’s History from those he felt sullied it and thereby all decent Australians.
However, the immediate context of Howard’s ‘Relaxed and Comfortable’ utterance also included reference to Australia’s prospertity which for Howard can only be assured if left in teh safe keeping of the Business Community and those who faithfully represent it such as he.
Examination of Howard’s Prime Misistership shows he attempted to delegitimize non-Business sectors from participation in the ruling class, attempted to transform media entities that critiqued a pro-Business message and attempted to restrict the opportunity for Australian students to engage with radical non-Business-friendly politics, though Howard himself supports radical pro-business politics.
In addtion Howard attempte dto transfer rights from non-Business entities to the Business sector and implemented pro-Business policies as widely as possible even where this harmed the environment and compromised conservative institutions of which he approves such as family and worship.
In sum, Howard is a Business-Corporate Polyarchist. He attempte dto entrench Business-Corporate Polyarchy as widely as possible within Australia. His iconic statement that he desires Australians should be ‘relaxed and comfortable’, though not primarily directed towards the Business-Corporate agenda contains echoes of this sentiment and is informed by it to a minor degree.
Polyarchy – Longer Definition
This refers to a system in which a small group actually rules, and mass participation in decision-making is confined to choosing leaders in elections that are carefully managed by competing elites. This, of course, is the system in place in the United States. The concept of polyarchy is an outgrowth of elitism theories that developed early in the twentieth century to counter the classic definition of democracy as power or rule (cratos) by the people (demos). Building on earlier elitism theory that argued for an “enlightened” elite to rule on behalf of ignorant and unpredictable masses, a new polyarchic redefinition of democracy developed within U.S. academic circles closely tied to the policymaking community. U.S. policymakers often cite the redefinition of democracy put forward by Joseph Schumpeter in his 1942 classic study, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy.” Schumpeter argued for “another theory” of democracy as “institutional arrangements” for elites to acquire power “by means of a competitive struggle for the people’s vote.” “Democracy means only that the people have the opportunity of accepting or refusing the men who are to rule them,” explained Schumpeter.
Definition from “Promoting Polyarchy: The New U.S. Political Intervention in Latin America”
I want to see an Australian society where the small business sector is providing more jobs for young people. I want to see an Australian society that sees this country as a unique intersection of Europe, North America and Asia. Australia is incredibly lucky to have a European heritage, deep connections with North America, but to be geographically cast in the Asian/Pacific region and if we think of ourselves as that strategic intersection, then I think we have a remarkable opportunity to carve a special niche for ourselves in … in the history of the next century
Madison In His Own Words
‘In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of landed proprietors would be insecure. An agrarian law would soon take place. If these observations be just, our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. The Senate, therefore, ought to be this body.’
Jonathan Elliot, ed., ‘The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, 1787’ Philadelphia: Lippincott, 2nd edition, (1937), p. 450
“…it would seem unreasonable to extend the right[s of ordinary citizens] so far as to give them when become the majority, a power of Legislation over the landed property without the consent of the proprietors.’
Citations from Bloggist Manic Net Preacher
Jonathan Elliot, ed., ‘The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, 1787’ Philadelphia: Lippincott, 2nd edition, (1937), p. 450