Forgetting Johnny Howard


They say you finish up with the face you deserve. I’m not sure that’s right. It seems to me that most people who deserve bad faces are either so rich that they can afford a special cream to smooth out the wrinkles, repair DNA, increase brain function and lose weight, or they have no idea they have been bad in the first place (George W Bush, for example, seems to have no regrets about anything).

I know it seems like ancient history now, but there was, was there not, a federal Liberal government in power from 1996 until the end of last year? I ask because increasingly it seems to have become one of those forgotten periods of history, like the Dark Ages.

Just last week there was a report on the increasing incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in Australia and a call for increased research funding. The news item ended with the statement: "Funding was previously reduced by Canberra".

"By Canberra? No, no!" I wanted to shout at the television (as I often do). "Reduced by the Howard government!" I had shouted the previous week, too, when the findings of the investigation into equine influenza simply blamed the quarantine service, and not the ideological context of the last 11 years in which it had to operate.

And then a few days ago, there was Dick Smith, blaming "Canberra bureaucrats" for the billion dollar loss on the Seasprite helicopters. "No, no, Dick," I called again, vainly at the TV, "not bureaucrats, the minister and prime minister of the Howard government made that decision. Ministers make decisions, bureaucrats do as they are told and implement them."

So it seems the former government is home free. Its legacies in those areas as well as in the huge gap between rich and poor, young people priced out of houses, underfunded public schools, our involvement in Iraq, the rising toll of global warming on our farmers, the failing hospital system and many others will be, it seems, forgotten – the decisions merely attributed to "Canberra".

Already forgotten too is the ideological context: the obsessive de-regulation; the privatisation; the deliberate winding down of the public sector; the deliberate winding up of religion; the tax cuts for the rich; the subservience to the US; the attacks on unions; the disparaging of scientific and other expertise. All forgotten, it seems, even as we live with the consequences (the media, for example, also makes absolutely no connection between the Iraq War and oil prices).

But if individuals get the faces they deserve, then so do countries. And Australia is showing the frown lines, the scowl lines, the sneer lines, the dishonesty lines, the "fawning up and kicking down" lines, and the lines of ignorance and prejudice that are the legacies of 11 years of ruthlessly applied neoconservative ideology.

Perhaps we should look in the mirror. In remembrance of times past.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.