Editor-at-large of The Australian, Paul Kelly, is doing an amazing job spruiking his new book, The March of Patriots — the Struggle for Modern Australia, and getting his pal, former PM John Howard, back in the media.
So what have we learnt from Kelly’s new book? Here are a few of the different story angles picked up in the News Limited press and elsewhere (though not, we note, in Fairfax publications).
It was one of the biggest issues of the 2001 election, but was Howard aware of the falseness of the story before he went to the polls? Former top aide Max Moore-Wilton says yes.
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Moore-Wilton revealed he told Howard three days before the 2001 poll the latest advice was that the event had never happened. Howard denied this alleged conversation, which has not previously been disclosed and which implicated him in a cover-up… Moore-Wilton insisted on his account in three separate phone discussions with the author solely about this event and despite a discussion in which Howard tried to persuade Moore-Wilton that his recollection was wrong and urged him to reconsider. — Daily Telegraph
East Timor’s independence:
Howard and Alexander Downer were secretly planning for East Timor’s independence.
The Howard government decided in early 1999 to work for East Timor’s independence but concealed this from the Indonesian government, John Howard and Alexander Downer have revealed… However, this Howard-Downer stance was not widely recognised within the Australian government. The Defence Department was not privy to such views and acted on the official policy: that East Timor should remain within Indonesia. — Paul Kelly, The Australian
But there’s some criticism of the Howard-Downer memory of this recent history:
The story begins in early 1999 with the Australian government developing an agenda for Timorese independence. Nonsense: it was Jakarta in late January 1999 who announced it was considering giving Timor independence (possibly without a referendum). Australia reacted to this. Everyone knew that Timorese would vote for independence, and this was surely the context in which Downer related those words to Paul, rather than confiding of some secret agenda. — Peter Brent, Mumble
John Howard meets Tony Blair — and is not amused :
James Campbell at The Spectator (UK) picks up on the parochial angle from Kelly’s book — the “nice account” of Howard’s first meeting with British PM Tony Blair:
At one point John Howard, trying to be clever, asked Tony Blair: ‘What are you going to do with the Thatcher legacy?’ Blair paused, he sat up straight, extended his arms and broke into a huge grin. ‘I’m going to take the lot, he chortled. Blair laughed but Howard seemed stunned. It wasn’t the answer he expected. On his return to the hotel Howard was fuming. ‘That man’s a bloody chameleon. He doesn’t stand for anything,’ Howard declared.
In 2007, Indigenous leader Noel Pearson sent Howard a letter outlining potential plans for re-election, including a referendum on a republic and a paradigm shift from a welfare state to an opportunity state (both of which Howard rejected).
With John Howard facing political oblivion in September 2007, Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson delivered him a potential re-election strategy in an unprecedented letter… This means Pearson was the real architect of Howard’s election pledge to hold a constitutional referendum on the recognition of the nation’s indigenous people. — Paul Kelly, The Australian
From this one letter, The Australian editorial concludes that Labor is not necessarily the only party for indigenous Australians:
For generations, Labor looked like the party of choice and natural home for Aboriginal Australians. Proof that these old verities are under challenge, comes with the revelation of the extraordinary dialogue between Noel Pearson and John Howard before the 2007 federal election. That Mr Pearson believed only the Coalition could save Aborigines showed his desperation over the disastrous state of indigenous life at the time. The revelations in Paul Kelly’s book The March of Patriots show, too, the tragedy of the lost Howard decade when the prime minister was isolated from the ideas and support of indigenous leaders still smarting over Paul Keating’s demise. — The Australian
The Howard government “actively discouraged” official defence advice on whether or not Australia should enter into the war in Iraq.
The disclosures show the dominance of ministers in the Iraq war decision and their insistence that advice concern “how” to wage the war, not “whether” it was right for Australia. Defence Department head Ric Smith said: “The message from ministers by that time (November 2002) was that they did not want strategic advice from the Defence Department. This reflected a conviction that ministers knew the issues and would take the decisions for or against the war.” — Paul Kelly, The Australian
But Howard was just doing his job, and doing it well, argues The Oz editorial.
Rather than reflecting any stubbornness on the part of the then prime minister, the decision for war was made on the basis of Australia’s system of government, our strategic circumstances at the time and the immutable fact that single-issue morality is irrelevant in practical politics. It is the job of the prime minister and those of his ministers he consults to decide defence policy.
Howard had a few things to say about his PM-in-waiting Peter Costello as well. None of them nice.
Mr Howard says the negotiations with the Democrats over the GST in 1998 led him to distrust Mr Costello. “If I had left it to him (Costello), he’d never have negotiated a deal with the Democrats or talked to the Democrats,” Mr Howard says. He says in the book that he found Costello’s judgment “faulty” and that he was resistant to political reality. — Herald Sun
It seems the two men are no closer since Mr Howard’s retirement from politics. They say time heals all wounds. But perhaps not political ones. — Herald Sun