Crikey subscribers have had a lively debate about the role Janette Howard plays in Australian politics and whether she is fair game? See how it unfolded below.
JANETTE HOWARD HANGING IN OLD PARLIAMENT HOUSE
From the first December 23 sealed section:
A subscriber writes:
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“Having seen the story on the front page of the Australian advising that Alexander Downer’s wife has been appointed to the Australia council, the nation’s peak arts body, it reminds me that the current government is quite shameless in its political patronage.
This was also highlighted to me in a recent visit to Old Parliament House in Canberra. In Kings Hall, where all the past Prime Minister’s portraits hang there was a Keating there, a Fraser here and a Hawke also. But I was quite surprised to see Janette Howard also on the wall, standing next to John in his portrait (I didn’t know we voted for her too). On asking one of the very helpful guides about it, it turns out that the portrait on display is not in fact John Howard’s official portrait but his “unofficial” one. I then wondered if the reason Janette was also on the wall was because she is also patron of the National Portrait Galley which is attached to Old Parliament House?
Perhaps we will soon see a few paintings of Mrs Nikki Downer now she has been appointed?
The Political Watcher”
CRIKEY: The Howards seem to have a blind spot when it comes to family entitlements that flow from the highest office in the land. Someone has just emailed through an Andrew West article in the Sun-Herald from a few years detailing how Melanie Howard helped herself to diplomatic cars in France and New York.
Both were supplied by former political colleagues of the PM turned diplomatic personnel and the PM wrote out a cheque to cover the cost after it became public. This is the same Melanie Howard who held engagement and wedding parties at Kirribilli, used a government car park when working in the Sydney CBD and even took the taxpayer coin working for her dad back in Opposition.
There’s a pretty obvious rule in politics about not allowing family members to cost the taxpayer but Howard, Peter Reith and friends never quite seem to have grasped it. Meanwhile, we’ve now got 160 examples of political nepotism in Australia which you can read in full here.
WHAT DOES JANETTE HOWARD ACTUALLY DO?
From the second December 23 sealed section:
Veteran journalist Barry Everingham writes:
“For a couple who on the charisma scale of 10:1 rate about a 2, and that’s on a good day, John and Janette really know how to work the system. The Sunday Age reported how much it costs to keep then at Kirribilli House – which is a national outrage – and as Crikey correctly pointed out, daughter Melanie is no slouch when it come to living off the public payroll. What did the wedding cost us?
Janette stands out as a prime minister’s wife – she doesn’t do much. No charity work, no visiting sick kids. All her predecessors did something – some more than others – but they did something.
Janette hangs out with Donald McDonald’s wife, she goes on all Howard’s publicity managed jaunts and most Australians cringe when they see the “first” couple on the world stage.
As a PM’s wife she has enormous resources to tap – she could do so much.
CRIKEY: Janette is of course the patron of the National Portrait Gallery and you can see the portrait of her and Johnny rendered in oil here.
A portrait of Howards also appeared on the PM’s Christmas card this year, only this was a portrait of the whole family, including Melanie’s new hubbie, Rowan McDonald. Check it out here.
LEAVE JANETTE HOWARD ALONE
From the December 24 sealed section:
Barry Everingham’s attack on Janette Howard yesterday has prompted some strong criticism of Crikey:
Why don’t you give Janette Howard a break. She has had a tough time with cancer. She is not a member of Parliament or paid a salary. If she chooses to lead a fairly private life as a wife and mother good luck to her. Attack her husband by all means but not through Janette.
And then there was this:
I wasn’t aware that political spouses were required to ‘do’ anything. Perhaps Crikey could give us a job description for the PM’s spouse? And an explanation as to why a ‘house-wife’ is required to visit sick children while a power-wife/husband gets an opt-out for their career.
If not, perhaps Crikey could hold its aim at the PM and resist going after his family.
JANETTE IS FAIR GAME
Here are two counter-arguments from subscribers:
The observations about Janette Howard are not without justification. Suggestions that she should be accorded “hands off” treatment would be valid if she indeed was an entirely private person with no influence on the body politic or public policy. The contrary is the case, however. Several media
reports over the years (the most recent appearing in the Xmas Fin) attest to the her role and influence as private political advisor/sounding board to her husband. Indeed, one is left to wonder whether some of John Howard’s more conservative social attitudes are largely the result of his wife’s influence/dominance.
We may also speculate whether Mrs Howard is the principal reason for hubby continuing to retain Kirribilli House and not the Lodge as their principal private residence. The original public justification for this decision – the need for the Howard children to live at home in Sydney – no longer stands. They are now all adults and therefore able to live independently.
The Spouse Watcher”
Another subscriber and experienced spin doctor has similar thoughts:
“If Janette Howard kept to a private life I doubt whether anyone would bother commenting on her. By swanning around for picture opportunities with the Prime “Smile!” Miniature she puts herself in the public eye – not to mention vetting virtually every Fed Govt appointment, including that of the unlamented former GG. That’s why she’s fair game.
HOW JANETTE HOWARD WORKS THE BRANCHES
A Liberal from Sydney’s North Shore writes:
To understand what Mrs Howard does (for much of her time) you have to know the Liberal Party on Sydney’s North Shore with its small, aging membership. Everybody has known everybody since 1949 when they first joined and the PM is an absolute hero. Mrs Howard is very active in local Branch activities – attends member funerals (not a small part of a job description when we look at the Libs greying membership), is active at election time in the electorate and generally does the traditional “Member’s wife in the electorate” things. Of course none of this is visible to the Canberra journos but it is essential to the PM’s unique standing in the Party.
Further afield, Mrs Howard accompanies the PM when he addresses Liberal Party State Councils in every State, usually at least twice a year. This takes up many of the Howard’s Saturdays or Sundays, given there are six States and two territories and State Councils are held every three months, the PM usually speaking at a minimum of two. Then there is the Federal Council held every two years where the Howards attend the main dinner and generally socialise with Liberal members from all over Australia.
Most people don’t understand the ongoing effort needed to keep a high level of active Party support for a Leader. A former US Ambassador in London said that the former Tory PM John Major’s major worry was keeping the Conservative Party together and that he sometimes spoke of the Conservatives as if they weren’t his Party, so hard was it to hold them together.
The Liberal Party continues to tear itself apart with the two factions and this is never evident to the Press Gallery unless someone deliberately leaks a one-sided story. The real current story with Tony Abbott is that he seems to have been decided on as Deputy Leader to Costello as PM. There was much confusion and jockeying for position when Costello (from the non-Group faction) was going to be Leader and there was no suitable person from the Group to be Deputy Leader – Joe Hockey, nominal Federal chief of the Group, is not suitable. So the Right seems to have won, with Costello as future Leader and Abbott (very active Rightey) as Deputy.
The PM employs people full time to work the numbers in the NSW Party (including former Party State Director Tony Nutt) and at a local level Mrs Howard is very important in maintaining the longstanding family connections which give the Libs their unique character and helps to get workers out on the booths in Bennelong.
The North Shore Lib”
Feel from to contribute to this debate by emailing [email protected].