Monday, December 08, 2008

The lying ways of John Howard

The final episode of The Howard Years (shown on ABC on Monday night; available here) was a rather pleasant experience - if you don't mind running through a rogue's gallery of cabinet members from Howard's time as Prime Minister. It was a condensed riffle through the final times of one of the more dishonest PMs Australia has ever had, enabling us to savour the end of him again.

A politician, yes, and so he was adept at bending his words when it suited. But there are few who have been so willing to distort the truth in such words as to satisfy himself that he wasn't telling an outright lie... when he was, really.

He won the 2002 election by exploiting 'national security' and effectively lying about a boatload of refugees that were so heartless as to threaten to throw their own children overboard. So Howard characterised it.

He lied about his intention to commit Australian troops to Iraq. He had fully intended to send them off months before the announcement.

He lied privately and publicly about his agreeing to hand over the reins to Peter Costello.

These are not a comprehensive catalogue, nor perhaps his most egregious set of lies. But they were arguably the lies that defined his time in office.

One more significant detail was added to the litany by The Herald's Phillip Coorey here. Coorey outlines the tale of a monument to Robert Menzies, Prime Minister for 16 years. At the time, Howard's tenure was approaching the ten-year mark. The plaque was to note that Menzies was Australia's longest-serving Prime Minister since Federation. Howard was quite insistent on adding the words 'so far', and would not back down. Finally a compromise was reached, and the words 'to date' were added.

It is thoroughly significant that Menzies was one of John Howard's biggest heroes. He would never have had any intention of belittling Menzies - per se. But as witnesses recalled, this was an obvious signal that Howard - whose aim in life was only ever to be Prime Minister, and who clearly desired for his mark to be recorded on history - was fully determined to break Menzies' record. This puts some perspective on his thoroughly stubborn attempt to cling to power when all the signs were against him. So much so that he lost his own seat.

This would not stand up in a court - somewhat characteristic for this ex-lawyer. Yet to avoid being caught out directly is not always enough to win the case in court. History will not be as kind to him as he wishes.

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