No tactic is too low for Howard. His speciality lies in demonising people, particularly the hopeless. You won’t see any sympathy for Iraq families who have Bush’s goons crashing into their houses in the night, terrorising the occupants and dragging men away who might, or might not be guilty of defending their country. No regrets for the thousands of innocents slaughtered by the military and the mercenary in the streets, in their houses, from the air, and in the gulags. For Howard, talking tough, for whatever political benefit it may bring him, means that refugees are dehumanised, that Aboriginals are threatening to take over 80% of the country, and that trade unionists who fought for justice for the thousands of victims of the James Hardie asbestos industry, are nothing but ‘union thugs’.
Nothing is more expendable for Howard, than the rights of individuals. Thus David Hicks could have rotted forever in Guantanamo Bay without charge, were it not for the political pressure brought to bear on him, finally seen as a threat to his re-election, and the only reason he acted on the issue. An Indian doctor distantly related to some terrorists in England? Never mind a complete lack of evidence, as revealed by the Keystone cops record of interview released by Mohamed Haneef’s lawyer. Never mind selectively leaked and incorrect information designed to influence the Haneef case, such as his SIM card being used to detonate a bomb. Even when all of this duplicity is exposed, Howard’s attack dog, Kevin Andrews, chooses to deport Dr Haneef. Why? Because he’s a foreigner, because he’s a muslim, because Howard sees a political advantage, and because little people with funny names don’t really matter.
Perhaps Howard’s greatest skill as a politician is reflected in his ability to couch his contempt for the minorities and the oppressed in language which disguises his true prejudices, while striking a chord with those he is targeting. So “We will decide who comes into this country, and the circumstances in which they come..” sounds decidedly more statesman-like than “We will march refugees off at gunpoint, lock them away for years in off-shore islands, and accuse them of throwing their children into the sea.” The real John Howard showed himself, most extraordinarily, at, of all venues, a nationally televised reconciliation conference. Enraged when members of the audience turned their backs on him, principally because of his dismissal of the stolen generations report, and a refusal to say sorry for the suffering of children taken from their parents, Howard lost his temper, waved his clenched fists, and railed at the reconciliation audience in a loud and angry voice. His recent foray into Aboriginal affairs purports to have the interests of Aboriginal people at heart. This subject requires a dedicated blog of its own, but suffice to say, as John Howard has often said of himself “At least people know where I stand.”
Yes we do John. Nothing could be clearer than the way you expressed yourself on that day of reconciliation, before you closed the whole reconciliation process down. May your humiliation be total, your retirement relaxed and comfortable, and may we never lay our eyes on you or your ilk again. Australia deserves better.