The introduction of the Hon John Howard MP at the Millennium Forum dinner last night – the version Alexander Downer should have given.

Mr Howard, Mrs Howard, distinguished guests, colleagues, valued supporters.

Oh, and Malcolm.

We come together tonight to recognise the achievements of the man who led the Liberal Party and Australia for eleven and a half years, and to say thank you.

Firstly, I think I speak on behalf of everyone here tonight when I say thank you for driving us over a cliff last November. We all saw it coming, we all told you to let someone else drive, but you insisted that, if there was indeed a cliff, you were the best person to take us over it. Thank you, also, for your skill in unerringly locating that cliff and heading for it from miles away. It is a rare – almost unique – feat to lose office when the economy is growing rapidly, unemployment is virtually non-existent and the Government is wallowing in money from history’s greatest resources boom. But you found a way.

As you have noted in reference to your election record, 4-1 is not a bad scoreline in a Test series. Admittedly, several of those victories were against the political equivalent of Zimbabwe and Kenya, in the form of Kim Beazley and Mark Latham, and you almost contrived to lose one of those. But while it might be sacrilegious to say it, you truly are the Bradman of Australian politics, for like the Don, you too failed disastrously in your last innings.

Thank you, also, for jettisoning in office every one of your political principles and beliefs except the two that would inflict most damage on the party – a GST and industrial relations reform. One nearly made us a one-term government, and the other lost us what should’ve been an unlosable election. Sure you could’ve retained, say, your belief in small government, or continued denying global warming, but neither had the capacity to comprehensively junk our electoral hopes, so – good call.

And thank you for consistently allowing your personal animosities to take precedence over the interests of the party, not just once or twice, but over three decades. Your feud with Andrew Peacock condemned the party to years of Opposition in the 1980s. And your refusal to countenance Peter Costello becoming Prime Minister meant we were stuffed last year. Good work.

Incidentally, many people have asked why Peter isn’t with us tonight. As you all know, Peter is busy working with his father-in-law on his memoirs: John Howard: His Part In My Downfall. I asked him last week if he would be able to make it here and he explained that, given he’d never had dinner with Mr and Mrs Howard in nearly 20 years in politics, he wasn’t about to start now.

But I digress. It is not just the Liberal Party, of course, that is grateful to you. Many, many Australians also, I’m sure, want to thank you. High and middle-income earners will want to thank you for showering taxpayer largesse on them, no matter how ill-deserved, and giving them a sense of entitlement to welfare that has no rational basis. Our regional communities, too, will remember with affection the envelopes stuffed full of cash that regularly arrived from the National Party during your time in office.

And our trade union leaders are also grateful. Rather than letting them die a quiet death of economic irrelevance, your demonization of unions and attacks on workers made them look attractive and relevant to 21st century Australia.

But most of all, the Prime Minister of Australia thanks you. Barely eighteen months ago, Kevin Rudd was a little-known shadow minister routinely mocked even within his own party for his nerdiness and lack of appeal. But you made him look hip, youthful and fresh. You made him look credible and attractive to ordinary Australians. And in the many years of Prime Ministership that lie ahead for Kevin Rudd, he will never forget the enormous help you provided in getting him there.

So ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to charge your glasses – OK, we’ll just pause for a moment while the guest of honour has his shandy refilled – and thank the man responsible for where the Liberal Party is right now: to John Howard!

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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