John Howard

In the aftermath of the spectacle that was last night’s Sunday Night — featuring John Howard with Planet Janet orbiting him with an adoring wibble-wobble — the conservatariat are shouting about the ABC knocking back the “doco”. We hear that it was a simple matter of not being able to agree on rights and fees, but let the conspiracy theories bloom.

But having watched it, you can see why a non-commercial broadcaster would be wary, since Howard used the occasion to repeat two big lies. The first was that there was no way he could have known that United States “intelligence”, arguing that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, was false (it came from a single source, “Curveball”, who made much of it up, for money) — and that it was false to say that the Howard government had lied about the matter.

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But no one has suggested that the intelligence was wholly fabricated by intelligence agencies. What is being suggested is that the United Kingdom and Australian governments were so wilfully incurious about the truth of the intelligence that it amounted to a lie. Given that part of the UK government’s “secret dossier” was a master’s thesis they dragged off the internet, and that in Australia we had an actual intelligence agent — now independent MP Andrew Wilkie — coming out and saying that the intelligence was being misused, blind belief amounted to a lie to the public. Howard’s waffling statement that the Islamic State (also called ISIS or ISIL) arose in Syria is pathetic. IS is a splinter group from al-Qaeda, which used the Iraq insurgency as its university, training thousands of fighters. This ongoing disaster is on Bush, Blair and Howard, and thus will history remember it.

The second and related lie was Howard’s statement was that while he believed in a “multi-racialist” society — he meant “multiracial” or “multiethnic”,  but he spoke truer than he realised — he didn’t believe in a “multicultural” society. This is the same lie the Liberals have told for decades. During its decade in power, the Howard government cossetted the cultural “community” peak bodies as much as anyone, and ensured they received generous funding, were consulted and listened to, especially at election time. That is the essence of multiculturalism, and Howard knows it, and Planet Janet, had she wanted a real interview, should have gone in harder and asked him how it was that multiculturalism, as an ideology and social practice, emerged stronger and more dug in after a decade of Howard than it was before.

Nevertheless, there was one grace note — Howard noting with regret that the Abbott government hadn’t gone forward with abolishing section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act. You know, that legislation Howard left in place for a decade, including the two years he had control of the Senate. Ah, the Rodent — he made sure to make George Brandis pay for that remark. Imagine what it was like to work with this bloke.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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