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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”.

Henderson summarized:

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.

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In March 2008 John Howard received the Irving Kristol Award of the American Enterprise Institute. In receiving that award he delivered the Irving Kristol Lecture to the AEI. Howard’s speech was entitled ‘Sharing Our Common Values’.

Howard’s Disdain For The Media

During his speech Mr. Howard made the following remarks about the media, inter alia the prevailing situation in Iraq and what he views as the success of ‘the surge’.

But perhaps the most convincing sign of all that some progress has been made is the significant decline in media coverage of Iraq – noticeable both in the United States and Australia. The dominant left-liberal elements in the media in both our countries apparently cannot bring themselves to acknowledge good news stories coming out of Baghdad.

Media: The Enemy Of Government

I find Mr. Howard’s remarks deeply disturbing.

Not only does Howard consider the ‘left-liberal’ media to be biased, he also considers it to be the enemy. John 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]

It is very troubling that Mr. Howard considers the media so much his enemy and the enemy of what he describes as ‘conservative’ governments such as his Liberal/National Party administration 1996-2007 and the administrations of Bush Senior and Junior. (In fact, Howard is far from a conservative but I’ll leave that for another time).

Where the media is considered the enemy of the government, repression and intimidation of the media are usually not far behind. And where you have repression and intimidation of the media, Democracy suffers.

Howard’s Harrasment And Intimidation Of The Media

Today I read this article in New Matilda which described the systematic harassment of the media by the Howard government. I was shocked to discover that in my own country the government had regularly despatched police with hammers to destroy the hard drives of computers owned by journalists thought to be troublesome by Howard.

Narrowly Avoiding The Pre-Fascist State

Margo Kingston described Australia under Howard as a ‘pre-fascist’ state, a characterisation thought to be ‘psychotic’ by Gerard Henderson, his former staffer and a prominent columnist. But when police are despatched with hammers to destroy hard drives, one should pause for thought.

Whose Common Values ?

Mr. Howard entited his speech ‘Sharing Our Common Values’ implying that the values he personally championed during his Prime Ministership are also those championed by the AEI, and the Australian and American publics. However, while the AEI and Mr. Howard are in agreement over values, there is significant divergence between the values of the AEI and those of the American public and, as noted above, Mr. Howard’s hostility toward and intimidation of the Australian media are not values common among Australians either.

Both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party occupy positions on the political spectrum which are to the right of the general American population as demonstrated by this article

The University Of Maryland Centre on Policy Attitudes took a poll just after the 2005 US Federal Budget and discovered that the government implemented policies to the right of the preferences of the American people on a very wide range of issues. In the words of Noam Chomsky:

Let’s start with some proposals about the federal budget announced last February. It should have a sharp cut in military spending, including supplementals for Iraq and Afghanistan. It should have sharp increases in social spending, meaning education, job training, renewable energy, medical research, veterans’ benefits, UN peacekeeping operations, in fact, UN generally. With regard to fiscal policy, it ought to be committed to reducing the deficit—it’s a burden on future generations, a very serious one. And it should rescind Bush’s tax cuts for the rich, a large proportion of them, say for people over 200,000 dollars.

Well, that proposal happens to be very conservative. It’s the position of a very large majority of the American population. Immediately after the budget was announced, there was a careful study of attitudes toward the budget, undertaken by the most prestigious research institution in the country, based at the University of Maryland. As they pointed out, overwhelming public preferences were basically a mirror image of what the budget actually was. That is, where the budget went up, the population, by an overwhelming margin, wanted it to go down—and far down. Where the budget was going down, the same overwhelming margins wanted it to go up, by again, very large margins.

In regard to the specific issue of Health Care:

The large majority of the public feels we should have a national healthcare system, like every other industrial society. In fact, about 80% of the population regard it as a moral issue, that the government should provide adequate health care to everyone. The number of people who think the healthcare system is working is about 8%.

The same relationship, or non-relationship between policy positions preferred by the American general public and those of the major parties was observed in more polling taken two weeks before the 2005 US Federal Election

Polls showed that in 1984 over 80% of Americans supported increases in social spending and a majority favored cuts in military spending over decreased spending on healthcare. Obviously the Reagan and his administration chose to curry the favor of 20% of the population when they implemented policy.

The United States is the only industrialized nation with no universal health care system… Chomsky cited numerous opinion polls, including those conducted by NBC-Wall Street Journal and the Pew Research Center. Each poll reflected that over 60% of Americans wanted a universal health care system.

The American Enterprise Institute is on the right of the Republican Party which is itself too far to the right to represent the American population on substantive policy such as Health Care, Tax, Climate Change, The International Security, Fiscal Policy, Education, Medical Research, Terrorism, Iraq, the conduct of US Foreign Policy, Job Training and Military Spending.

Howard receives awards from the AEI and describes the ‘common values’ supposedly shared with them by him and the Australian people. I do not think, however, that the media in general, supposedly in the thrall of the ‘left-liberals’ according to Howard, are considered by the general populace of Australia to be the enemy of the Liberal Party or the Republican Party either. In this thinking Howard is to the right of the Australian people and has entered into the domain of an unhealthy ideological spectrum.

The End Of A Nasty Little Era

I am very relieved Howard lost the 2007 election. Always an ideological thinker in economics, Howard throughout the 1990’s became progressively more ideological in his cultural and sociological views and in doing so has absorbed some highly undemocratic ideas from the American outer-Republican right. By 1996, at the time of his election to Prime Minister he had become convinced that the non-commercial media was in the grip of an adversarial, politically-correct culture that made it the enemy of ordinary Australians and conservative governments.

Canaries In A Coalmine

The American author Kurt Vonnegut was once asked what earthly use an author was to society anyway. Vonnegut replied that he thought authors and artists generally were like ”canaries in a coalmine’. The old time miners would take canaries down with them underground. When the air began to foul, the canaries being most sensitive would drop dead. The miners would then be alert to the danger of foul air and be able to vacate the mine before the foul air claime them too.

Kingston, in my view, was quite right. She was one of our canaries in the coal mine, and not the only one. Howard, I am sure unwittingly, was creating the first pre-conditions for the development of an Australian Police State. Without his stultifying presence the Liberal Party has space to remember how a Liberal Democracy should behave and our media can function once again without harassment.

Appendix

Here’s the excerpt from the New Matilda article where journos get their hard drives smashed with hammers:

In 2005, several months after publication of Axis of Deceit, a book about the non-existence of WMDs in Iraq by whistleblower Andrew Wilkie, officials claiming to be from the Attorney-General’s Department raided the offices of the book’s publisher, Black Inc, as well as the homes of Wilkie’s brother and sister, that of the journalist Carmel Travers (who had been emailed a draft copy of Wilkie’s manuscript), and the university office of the person who commissioned the book, the academic Robert Manne.

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.’ They spent a week at the Black Inc offices. All those who had their hard-drives smashed were asked to sign a confidentiality agreement preventing them from discussing what had happened, which would have opened the way for charges under the National Security Act and the possibility of five years in jail.

From ‘Conservative Correctness’ By Mark Davis, ‘New Matilda’ 21 November, 2007

For more information on how the Democratic and Republican Parties are to the right of the general American population, Google ‘Chomsky Democratic Deficit’.

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