The PM was out yesterday talking about an issue so important that The Age had to publish an article about it, twice. “Howard backs calls for better manners,” announced the first headline, at 12.04pm, and “PM blames TV for deteriorating manners,” declared the second, ten minutes later. Observant Crikey subscribers will note, however, that the differences stop with the headlines.

But even if it is, as Howard said, “time that the television networks
put a curb on the increasing use of vulgarism on television” (leaving
aside the issue of what vulgarism may actually be, and whether or not
he actually means vulgarity), why is our Prime Minister talking about
what we will lightly refer to as an “issue” like this?

Surely the PM – he does run the country after all – has more important matters on his agenda?

Well, let’s see. Other than denying any knowledge of what AWB were up
to, what issues of Vital National Importance has Howard been carping on
about lately? Well, civics lessons, for a start. And if that’s not important enough, what about couples being forced to attend pre-marriage classes? Apparently history lost its narrative somewhere along the way, and John’s not happy, but you’ll be pleased to know shared values are important, and that the PM’s considering whether the Opera House should get a makeover. Or not.

Clearly, Howard’s fourth term agenda is chock-full of important issues.
Or as the PM might say, importantisms. Of course it’s not surprising
that after almost ten years, and having rammed all his outstanding
agenda items through the Senate before Christmas, Howard’s all out of

What is surprising is that the meeja are ignoring this. Where they’re not silent, the commentariat is praising Howard’s “big agenda.”

And no-one’s commenting that the party founded on the idea of
individual freedom and the government butting out of people’s business
is suggesting ideas like compulsory counselling and making TV networks
more polite. John Stuart Mill must be getting little rest, what with
the constant turning in his grave.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey