Howard’s Last Round-Up?

While the problems facing George Dubya and Parson Blair, are receiving world-wide attention,the rising sea of problems surrounding their Australian ally, John Howard haven’t been widely reported outside Australia, although they are now starting to follow a similar pattern.

Howard, it will be recalled,was the most passionate and sycophantic of Bush’s allies in the co-called Coalition. of the Willing. In this he followed the past traditions of Australian conservatism,which has always been more than ready to respond to the call of the Imperial Power whether in London or Washington. Howard is in many ways, a man of the 1950’s, still recalling an Australia that has long since vanished.

Never at home with the multi-cultural nation that has emerged in the past generation, Howard was happy to profit from the meteoric rise (and later fall) of the far-right, racist One Nation Party and its populist leader Pauline Hanson. Later of course one of Howard’s Ministers, Abbot (know as the Mad Monk to his critics), masterminded an attack on Hanson, which eventually saw her jailed for electoral fraud, then cleared on appeal.

Howard has rejected an apology to the Aboriginal people, an idea widely supported by the previous Labor Government, and he led a clever campaign which saw the referendum on the Republic defeated because of divisions amongst the republican movement.

When he came to power in 1996 Howard and Bill Clinton had a rather cool relationship, and indeed on the occasion of Clinton’s visit to Sydney in 1998, there was a famous clash between Hilary Clinton and Howard’s extremely conservative wife Janet, over the guest list for a Sydney function, which Hilary quietly subverted. The original guest list having been stacked with conservative friends of Mrs Howard,while Hilary Clinton wanted to meet a swath of Sydney’s left-liberal and feminist groups.

When Bush came to power Howard and Dubya became instant best buddies (Howard also warmed at the same time to Silvio Berlusconi which says a lot about his political tastes). By a quirk Howard was in Washington on 9-11, and was afterwards filled with an almost religious zeal for the Bush-Rumsfeld Agenda. He supported the plans for the war with Iraq and committed troops in the teeth of the largest anti-war demonstrations ever seen in Australia, and overwhelming opposition in the opinion polls. He even was emboldened to claim that Australian Intelligence input played an important role in shaping the US-British decision to go to war, a statement which has now come back to haunt him Howard showed clever footwork after May 2003.

Taking Dubya’s proclamation of an end to hostilities as his base, Howard removed the Australians from Iraq, save for a small presence still there. This, he must have assumed, would save him from the troubles resulting from the continuing hostilities. However he has been caught up in the growing debate at home and abroad about the WMDs. His line has been to say that Australia doesn’t actually gather much intelligence information, but relies on our great and powerful friends, a disingenuous argument now beginning to become hard to defend, as it tends to paint Australia as the dumb, junior partner in the Coalition.

Worse, the Labor Party opposition in a recent party coup, dumped its rather lack-lustre leader Crean,and went for a maverick, Mark Latham, who in the debate in the House of Representatives on the war last April, described Bush, as “the most dangerous, man ever to be president of the USA” and his Cabinet as “a Conga Line of Suckholes.” (Yes. Australian politicians have a rather earthy style!) These statements brought cries of protests from the US Embassy in Canberra, when they were made. Little did the Ambassador know that within months Latham would be Labor leader.

Latham’s first months in office have been marked by a Honeymoon with the media and the voters, and the latest polls put Labor 8% ahead (54-46), with an election looming later in the year.

A few days ago Latham got a standing ovation from the national Convention of the Australian labor Party,w hen he said “Australia will be nobody’s Deputy”. This was a direct shot at Howard’s notorious statement last year when he said he would be Dubya’s Deputy in South east Asia, a remark that brought outrage from Asian leaders who detest Howard by and large, and which came only months before the Bali bombing, which killed many Australian tourists, and seems to have been a terrorist attack clearly intended to target Australians.

Howard now faces demands for an Inquiry into a whole range of Iraq related matters,and will certainly face trouble in the Senate, where his Government if outnumbered by the Labor Party and several other minor parties on the centre-left. Howard must be hoping wistfully for some assistance from his now beleaguered friends in London and Washington, assistance which is unlikely in the months ahead as Australia moves towards a federal Election.

BRIAN McKINLAY is an Historian,and author of a number of books on Australian History,most notably a three-volume “Documentary History of the Australian Labor Movement” and “Australia,1942: An end of Innocence.” He can be reached at: