In August 2004, Margot Kingston asserted that John Howard was creating a ‘pre-fascist’ society in Australia, a characterisation that Gerard Henderson in this article, ‘Fascist Australia’ in The Age described as ‘nuts’ and a ‘fantasy’ and elsewhere as ‘psychotic’
To suggest Australia or Britain or the US today are fascist is just, well, nuts. The use of such a label in a modern context indicates a total misunderstanding of both democracy and fascism
To make his case, Henderson cited two scholarly works on Fascism, Roger Eatwell’s Fascism: A History (Pimlico, 2003) and Robert O. Paxton’s The Anatomy of Fascism (Allen Lane, 2004). Paxton typified Fascism
as a form of political behaviour “marked by an obsessive preoccupation with community decline” and by “compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity”. All this combined with the creation of “a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants” that “abandons democratic liberties” and embraces “redemptive violence”.
It does not sound like Australia in 2004.
Contrary to Henderson, I think that certain of Paxton’s hallmarks of Fascism are readily discernable in John Howard.
The Redemptive Violence Of Cronulla
Howard’s embrace and support of the prominent broadcaster, Alan Jones, even when Jones had just been found guilty of inciting racist violence leading up to the infamous Cronulla Riots as well as Howard’s refusal to condemn the use of the Australian flag by the rioting thugs as a banner for racist thuggery indicates that Howard is willing to tolerate the redemptive violence of the Anglo rioters as they attempted to reclaim Cronulla beach from aggressive, lewd Lebanese-Arab-Muslim youth.
It is characteristic of Fascism that symbols of state are employed during attacks on unwelcome minority populations.
Howard tried to draw a distinction between pride in the Australian flag and the thuggery of those wielding it at Cronulla. If Howard loved Liberal Democracy and the Flag as much as he continually claimed then he should have been disgusted at the use of the Flag as a rallying cry for brutality. His inability to express disgust at the desecration of the Flag by the Cronulla thugs leaves open the suggestion he may have approved of its use in that context i.e. that of beating up wogs and telling them to get out and go home.
Cleansing The Media
Further, under Howard, police were desptached to “cleanse” (close enough to Paxton’s ‘purify’ for me) the media of anti-Howard elements using the violence of physical destruction of journalists’ computers
[Journalist] Travers later described to SBS Dateline how the officials spent all day trawling for information and smashed computer hard-drives with hammers in what they called an act of ‘cleansing’ that they performed regularly (‘We do this every day’) , and that they’d carried out perhaps ’70, 72 or 73 times.’
From ‘Conservative Correctness’ By Mark Davis, ‘New Matilda’ 21 November, 2007
Howard’s intimidation of the media, so shockingly demonstrated by the assault on those sympathetic to Wilkie, was not designed to protect national security but simply to warn media to stay away from Howard’s vulnerabilities. Indeed, Howard was quite happy to leak national security documents to friendly media when it suited him, doing just this by sending classified security materials thought to contradict Wilkie to Howard-friendly journalists.
Is This Where You Live?
Did you catch those words from Howard’s Goon Squad ? Every day they were out there smashing the hard drives of persons inicimal to Howard. This is behaviour characteristic of Totalitarianism. I would expect merciless intimidation of the media in say the former USSR or current day Turkmenistan, but we got it under Howard.
Abandoning Democratic Liberties
Howard professes a love for “liberal democracy” and considers himself a faithful conservative with reverence for noble tradition but introduced counter-terrorism legislation which removed democratic rights and liberties from the general population. While many in the general public sympathised with the temporary need for additional police powers and even the reduction of some much cherished democratic liberties, Howard prevented Parliament from debating his Bill and tried to hide its existence from the general public. Howard does not love democracy, parliament or tradition so much that he will abandon any of them when he feels appropriate.
The counter-terrorism laws were introduced into Parliament on Melbourne Cup Day. Howard fully realised of course that the Melbourne Cup would fully divert the general public’s attention from any political news and thus lessen public scrutiny of the Bill. He also insisted that Paraliament vote on the Bill on the same day that it was introduced.
It is almost impossible to believe that Howard could hold the Parliament and Australian people in such contempt. When democratic liberties are sneakily done away with, when Parliament is trampled on, one must ask serious questions about the totalitarian tendencies of the government, which during Howard’s tenure was, in a practical sense, a regency.
The Fostering Of Exclusivist Nationalism And The Taking Of Political Prisoners
Fascism is associated with an unhealthy exclusivist nationalism. Howard’s dog-whistle 1996 Election slogan ‘For All Of Us’ along with his condemnation of ‘vocal minorities’, his assertion that non-mainstream elite interest groups were appropriating an unfair proportion of public resources and legal advantage, his protection of the bigotry of Pauline Hanson, his support for the racist invective of Alan Jones, his encouragement of hostility toward and rejection of Middle Eastern boat people allowed sour concepts of intolerance and racially-based suspicion to settle in the public imagination.
Howard frequently voiced his veneration of the Australian flag while mixing the volatile brew described above. While it is perfectly acceptable to love and respect the national flag and to encourage citizens to likewise respect Australia’s best traditions and national symbols, Howard’s overall tone in regard to nationalism and patriotism always carried with it a menacing tinge for those outside Howard’s mainstream which even sickened and alienated many who otherwise qualified for Howard’s unqualified acceptance by reason of Anglo heritage.
Howard’s nationalism always left someone feeling under threat and political prisoners (Hicks and Haneef) became a reality on his watch.
Henderson feels that Kingston misunderstands both democracy and fascism. I say that Henderson failed to understand what was happening right in front of his eyes.
More on Pre-Fascist Australia here