Crikey’s wedge politics expert Wendy Wedge reckons Janette Howard is the only relative with any influence over Federal policy.

It’s not news that there are divisions in political families about policies nor that much talk on the pillow or around the kitchen table is as influential as many editorials.

Famously Malcolm Fraser’s decision to have Australia sign the anti-whaling convention was driven by pleas from his children. While in retrospect it is a tad odd that there was ever any doubt that Australia should sign, it also probably marks the point at which Fraser went the way of Harold Macmillan and embraced all that soft and cuddly liberal nonsense.

Alfred Deakin was another who listened to family as well as indulging an interest in spiritualism which presumably allowed him to commune with relatives long past as well.

Bob Hawke, of course, wouldn’t have listened to partners it would have been easier to hold a referendum.

And Phillip once the hero of small-l liberals in the right and ugly dominated NSW Party is certainly not going to start listening to some bleeding heart 30 year old just because she’s his daughter and gets upset about him wearing his Amnesty badge.

Indeed, a whole lot of Amnesty members feel the same way having besieged their organisation with letters and calls asking them to stop Ruddock from doing so. AI, being such a fundamentally good organisation, agonised over this and felt it would be illiberal to insist and that it was far better to focus on refugee policy rather than symbols.

Such failure to get serious about politics that is to ruthlessly pursue symbols and tactics rather than policy are one of the reasons why AI and their ilk have been comprehensively outmanoeuvred by Howard and Ruddock.

But to get back to which relatives get listened to or rather why there is only one that is worth thinking about.

For a start you wouldn’t want the Prime Minister to start listening to his siblings. Big brother Stan may well be Australia’s most unsuccessful company director. Another brother is some sort of left wing economist who has disappeared from view along with most others of the breed.

Although it is arguable that the PM could have picked up his interventionist inclinations from both.

Howard does make Black Jack McEwen look like an amateur when it comes to handing out subsidies through levies on everything from sugar to airfares.

Sadly the debate on this has tended to focus on the bailouts and the levies rather than the fundamental fact which is, that since the GST and the deal with the States the Commonwealth is not that flush with revenue!

Handing over the GST revenue to the States was great politics but unless you want to start increasing income and corporate taxes it has a dire effect on the Feds purse. Add in Howard’s desperate re-election spending (first home handouts, cutting petrol prices, bribing the greys etc etc etc) and there ain’t too much around to hand out to friends like Dick Honan and all those sugar growers in marginal seats.

Wendy tends to think that this reality is probably more important than sibling advice in shaping the Howard views on why a supposedly market-friendly government committed to an efficient tax system has introduced such a complex range of charges and levies on top of being the highest taxing government since WW2.

In fact, Wendy wouldn’t mind betting that this will be the basis of the Costello push after it becomes clear that Howard won’t go. In an ironic reprise of the Howard critique of Fraser it will be a Costello case around “missed opportunities”, “losing the way” and being obsessed with short-term politics rather than sound policy.

But if it wasn’t the siblings, one can be certain that the grand daddy (well super mummy anyway) of relative advice has to be Janette. As Wendy has mentioned before, it’s worth a trip to old Parliament House just to see the portraits of PMs and to realise that the Howards are the only joint portrait on the walls. Wendy doesn’t object to spouses and partners being featured although in a couple of cases the portraits would end up looking as crowded as a Benjamin West tableau but does find it significant.

On the other hand perhaps we should be grateful that the PM doesn’t listen to his beloved spouse on every issue.

After all, we don’t yet have capital punishment for jaywalking, drug taking and republicanism.

Peter Fray

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