It is in the nature of human beings to remember the past with rose-coloured glasses. Remembering the good bits and not dwelling on the bad is a healthier way to live.
That being said, the reality of the past can help inform us about the present so we can make better decisions for the future.
The following is an article published on July 19, 2007, four months before the election that saw the end of the Howard era. The italics are my comments.
TREASURER Peter Costello has given Prime Minister John Howard a negative assessment as an economic manager in a new biography, comments which are set to reignite leadership tensions in the federal coalition.
(Leadership tensions? Poor economic management? In the Coalition government?)
In a frank interview with the authors of the Prime Minister’s biography, extracts of which are being published in Fairfax newspapers, Mr Costello said Mr Howard’s time as treasurer in the Fraser government was “not a success”.
“The Howard treasurership was not a success in terms of interest rates and inflation,” Mr Costello told the book’s authors.
(Howard was Treasurer in the Fraser government from 1977-83. In 1982, wages rose 16 per cent across the country resulting in stagflation; unemployment touched double-digits and inflation peaked at 12.5%. Official interest rates peaked at 21%)
Mr Costello continued the criticism today during a radio interview.
Asked on ABC Radio whether he believed Mr Howard’s time in the treasury was wasted, Mr Costello said: “I think a lot of Liberals would say they hoped that the outcomes would be more ambitious”.
Mr Howard earlier today dismissed anonymous calls by two Liberal MPs for him to retire before the election and suggestions that he was too old for the top job.
(Howard was 68 at the time. Bronwyn Bishop turns 73 in October.)
Howard ‘no reformer’
According to the extracts of the book, Mr Costello says Mr Howard was “not a great reformer”.
(Reform takes ingenuity and courage – something we are even less likely to see from an Abbott government)
On his failure to deregulate the financial system under Mr Fraser’s prime ministership, as recommended by the Campbell inquiry, Mr Costello said: “He (Mr Howard) would say to you now, ‘Oh well, I was always in favour of it and Malcolm stopped it.’
(The familiar blame game)
“You know the truth of the matter is if he had really wanted to push it he could have pushed it.”
Mr Costello also takes issue with Mr Howard’s record as a fiscally responsible treasurer, questioning the Prime Minister’s subsequent statement that he threatened to resign in protest at Mr Fraser’s profligacy.
“He was threatening resignation a long time after the event but there was no evidence at the time,” Mr Costello said.
(When cornered, rewrite history. Unfortunately for Abbott, people have gotten very good at retrieving deleted speeches)
Concerns at PM spending levels
The authors say Mr Costello expresses concerns at the sustainability of the amount of money the Federal Government is spending at the Prime Minister’s insistence.
(“Fiscal profligacy” according to the IMF)
“I have to foot the bill and that worries me,” Mr Costello said.
“And then I start thinking about not just footing the bill today but if we keep building in all these things, footing the bill in five, and 10 and 15 years and you know I do worry about the sustainability of all these things.”
(Take heed Abbott, Hockey and Cormann. The Treasurer of the day admits that the unsustainability of our future is due to the profligacy of John Howard during the boom– not the Labor government who successfully steered us through the Global Financial Crisis. Compare the results of their response to the GFC to Howard’s response to the economic crises of the early 80s.)
Twelve months ago a bitter row erupted after Mr Costello revealed Mr Howard, now in his fourth term as Prime Minister, had struck a deal with him to stand down after a term and a half.
The Prime Minister told Liberal MPS several days later he intended to contest a fifth election this year.
(Ambition before integrity seems to be something Howard and Abbott share – and Abbott wants to run the election campaign on trust? As Bill Shorten would say – bring it on – the film clips of broken promises, lies and backflips will be endless)
‘Leaked memo’ claims
In the new biography by Peter van Onselen and Wayne Errington, Mr Costello has suggested Mr Howard deliberately leaked a memo in 2001 to damage him.
“I read it as an attempt to finger me for the Government’s maladies at that point,” Mr Costello said in reference to the 2001 publication of a memo about his possible leadership challenge.
The memo was from then federal president of the Liberal Party, Shane Stone, to Mr Howard.
“Allegedly, only one copy was ever written by Shane and it was given to John Howard,” Mr Costello said, adding an investigation into the leak by two senior Howard staffers was still going on as far as he knew.
(Leaking to the press to damage your opponents wasn’t invented by Kevin Rudd)
The publication of Mr Costello’s comments come as senior Liberal MPs back Mr Howard to remain in the top job, despite the coalition’s poor showing in recent opinion polls.
(It didn’t work then for them and sticking with Abbott is an even bigger gamble)
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Mr Howard had the capacity to lead the country for years to come.
(As Foreign Ministers do – it’s a sweet gig that you wouldn’t jeopardise, hey Julie?)
Mr Howard is reported to have “bared his throat” at a cabinet meeting on Monday, inviting his colleagues to blame him for the poor polling, but sources said they gave him their support.
(Will 2007 repeat itself? The lead-up is looking similar – poor polling, leadership tensions, treasurer unable to implement reform)
Never a Howard-Costello foursome
The extracts also reveal that while John and Janette Howard have dined privately with various ministers and their wives during the Prime Minister’s 11 years in government, there had never been a foursome with Mr Costello and his wife Tanya.
“It might be a Sydney thing,” the Treasurer says.
(Aside from those hideously awkward photo shoots of Tony and Joe looking at over-sized graphs, I wonder if the Abbotts and the Hockeys get together after Tony took the leadership Joe thought was his)
Even knowing all this about John Howard, I never felt the horror for him that I feel about Tony Abbott. Howard was arrogant and wasteful – Abbott is incompetent and dangerous.
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