Geez, some Crikey readers really
don’t like John Howard. A fortnight ago, to mark his tenth anniversary
in power, we asked you to list the ten best and ten worst things that
he’s done in the past ten years – and identify ten trends that have
shaped the Howard decade. Most of the “best” lists looked like this one:

  • Gun Control
  • Brisk Morning Walks
  • Revising the Wine List at the Lodge
  • Sending Reith Out of the Country
  • Sending Vaile out of the country (for a while, anyway)
  • Finally acting over East Timor
  • Acting in the Solomons/Afghanistan
  • Sacking Danna Kelly and Bronwyn Bishop from Cabinet
  • Improving the Nats by accepting fellow Rodent Julian McGauran
  • Being loyal to rich, powerful and influential friends like Kerry Packer, Alan Jones, George W Bush, Tony Blair et al

But even you lot admit he has his moments. OK, so it’s rather like when Reg asks his freedom fighters:
“What have the Romans ever done for us?” But there have been good parts
of the Howard decade. It’s just that finding ten might be hard for some
Crikey readers.

Intervention in East Timor definitely comes in
at number one. The gun laws enacted after Port Arthur come in at number
two. But then foreign policy figures highly again. You might not know
it, dear subscriber, but you may well be a closet Gladstonian Liberal.
Your peers consider Australia’s intervention in the Solomons, a swift
and significant reaction to the 2004 Asian tsunami, improved relations
with Indonesia and the region and even our involvement in Afghanistan
as pluses of the Howard years – even if there’s more realpolitik in his
reasoning than some of our readers like.

That’s six items
already, and we haven’t even got onto economics. You give him marks for
ten years of a strong economy and increase in real wages. That’s number
seven.

A whole range of other economic issues from publication
of a pre-election fiscal outlook to Reserve Bank independence, the
privatisation of Telstra and – yes – labour market reform were also
cited as plus. But good thing number eight has to be the GST – if only
because it recognises the shifting nature of the economy.

And
now for the scary stuff – or scary for some. Good thing number nine
about John Howard? He’s been a better leader than the others on offer.
One subscriber observed: “He’s kept Beazley, Crean and Latham out of
office. As Matt Price said on the Insiders, if federal Labor was a puppy, you would have to drown it!”

And
with this comes an acknowledgement – no matter how begrudging – of his
skills. The final positive point – Crikey subscribers believe John
Howard has a steady hand. Even if they loathe what he does with it.

Peter Fray

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Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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