All hail the emperor of snake-oil salesmen
By Mike Carlton
February 25, 2006
WHAT national rejoicing there will be next Thursday as John Howard celebrates the 10th anniversary of his prime ministership. Balls, parties, banquets, levees, parades, windy oratory, a torrent of extravagant praise from the Howardista media - I am hoping for an orgy of triumphalism unmatched since the King Emperor accepted the homage of the Raj at the Delhi Durbar of 1911.
Then again, maybe not. This Prime Minister, if not his more rabid acolytes, instinctively understands the political value of displaying an unassuming modesty. As the tributes rain down, Howard will affect an air of business-as-usual, more-work-to-be-done, blah blah. Nothing to frighten the horses.
Paul Keating famously said, shortly before he was tossed out in 1996, that if you change the government, you change the country. The change wrought by Howard has been profound, a tectonic shift to the populist politics of individual selfishness on one hand and corporate gigantism on the other, underwritten by the cheap credit explosion.
The megastore catalogues keep landing on the lawn in the Sunday papers, laden with their cargo cult promises of Italian leather furniture, leaf blowers and home theatre systems, nothing to pay for three years. So who cares about the war in Iraq, Aboriginal kids petrol sniffing in Arnhem Land, asylum seekers banged away indefinitely behind the razor wire, or Philip Ruddockbugging your telephone if he feels like it?
War, poverty, civil liberties, common decency: these are merely the vapid obsessions of the latte-sipping "elites", who the Howardistas have brilliantly demonised as the new class enemy of all right-thinking Australians.
"The average man doesn't want to be free. He wants to be safe," said my old friend Henry Louis Mencken. Wrapping himself in desert cammo and the flag at every possible photo opportunity, Howard has hijacked the Anzac legend to radiate an illusion of safety even as our lap-dog membership of the coalition of the willing makes us less safe.
Invoking threats from without and within, his stunning political triumph has been to get ordinary Australians to vote for him against their own best interests. Taxpayers' money is showered on wealthy private schools. Rich kids can buy their way into university, but the battlers are lumbered with HECS debts that will postpone indefinitely their chances of the home ownership we baby boomers took for granted.
A vote for Howard has been a vote for the withering of public hospitals and Medicare, with the squandering of billions on those who can afford private health insurance.
Obscene executive salary packages attract whopping tax deductions (and there are demands for still more) while the GST weighs heavily on the underdog. Boardroom incompetents are rewarded for their disasters, but we have voted for the end of a fair go in industrial relations.
And corporate gigantism? We scaled once unimaginable heights last week with the glittering apotheosis of Kerry Packer, God of Wealth, at the Opera House. In Howard's Australia we should make the anniversary an annual feast day, like Easter Sunday.
"THIS city is going to be torn apart by gang warfare the likes of which we have never seen before," announced Tim Priest, in his apocalyptic lecture to the Quadrant magazine mafia back in 2003.
Commonly but wrongly billed as a former detective sergeant turned police whistleblower, Priest blows only his own trumpet. He has long been the pin-up boy of the ratbag right, the rabble-rousers who screech, almost daily, that a police force gutted by the Wood royal commission has surrendered the streets to murderous Lebanese Muslim terrorists plotting to slaughter us all in our beds.
Priest has fed these fantasies, basking in the glow. After the Cronulla riots, the ratbags hailed him as a prophet. But his credibility took a heavy blow this week when the Herald revealed that the lurid centrepiece of his Quadrant rant was fiction. Priest hadn't, as he claimed, taken part in a drug raid in the home of a newly arrived Lebanese Muslim family of men, women and children who had wrestled and spat as they battled to conceal high-grade Middle Eastern heroin in babies' nappies.
My police sources tell me the bust, in suburban Croydon, was entirely peaceful. No kids, indeed no Muslims. The heroin was common low-grade, from Asia. The offender, a long-time Australian resident and Lebanese Christian named Tony, was quietly arrested outside his house and helped with inquiries, as they say.
Yes, there are gangs of Lebanese criminals, just as there are Vietnamese drug rackets, just as Italian mafiosi once ruled the Sydney markets. But the worst of them have been broken up, with their ringleaders behind bars.
Cronulla was sickening, no doubt. But it was not gang warfare. It was a clash of angry, racist youth on both sides, fed by wild rumours. Dogged detective work is rounding up the perpetrators. To trumpet that police have surrendered the city, as Priest and his disciples do, is a disgraceful slur on honest coppers doing their job.
A curtsy to a royal new wheat deal
HOW nice. Drinkies with Her Majesty at Buckingham Palace for 200 or so Australian prominenti living in London - Germaine and Clive and Rolf, all the usual suspects and more.
Germs, the ardent republican, sold out by curtsying to the monarch. She will almost certainly deny doing so (furious letter to the editor, scorching denunciation of vile, stay-at-home provincials, another tirade about her oneness with the Gurindji nation, etc). But I have read about eight newspaper reports, British and Australian, which confirm that she bent the knee.
She did try to redeem herself later, by slagging off her hostess's home. "The Duke of Buckingham's horribleness is expressed in every single cornice of this ugly building," she sniffed.
Too late, oh female eunuch.
Back in the colonies, local royalists are whipping themselves into a lather over the Queen's visit for the Commonwealth Games. The toadying Professor David Flint thinks we should buy her another royal yacht, to replace the late, lamented HMY Britannia.
"Not so long ago, several times in every year, the great and powerful in some distant harbour would give almost anything to come to pay tribute to The Queen and to be received on that great Royal Yacht, with the music and the pomp that can only surround the Throne," he gushed on his monarchist website.
Flint believes a new royal boat would be a wonderful vehicle for trade promotion. I agree. Our Queen must set sail for Basra immediately, with a cargo of Australian wheat.
You wouldn't think he was a dj on Radio 2UE would you?!