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Great Australian political policy stuff-ups: Howard wins in a canter.

For those who have been following my posts of the Great Australian political policy stuff-ups, I have decided to, instead of continuing downs the path to a long excruciating conclusion, to bring my research to an abrupt if not obvious end.

The Liberal National Party has governed for the majority of the post-Menzies years and obviously, it would be they who would have made the most major policy stuff-ups.

So, to date, I had completed Menzies, Whitlam and a list from the IPA. Rather than letting my list linger like a bad smell, this post contains a list of my findings of the Greatest Australian political policy stuff-ups.

So let us start with Sir Robert Menzies.

Communist Party ban

The Communist Party Dissolution Bill was passed by parliament. After it was enacted in October, the law was challenged in the High Court and, on 9 March 1951, was held to be unconstitutional.

Referendum on Communism

A referendum to alter the Constitution so as to grant parliament the power to outlaw Communism was lost narrowly.

Nuclear testing

In September 1950 Menzies agreed, without any serious scientific or political consultation, to allow the British to test a nuclear weapon on Australian soil. On October 3, 1952, the British detonated a nuclear bomb on a ship — HMS Plym — off the coast of the Montebello Islands in Western Australia.

This was a site they had chosen themselves with no Australian consultation.

War in Vietnam

Perhaps the biggest ever cover-up in Australian political history is how we became involved in the Vietnam War.

On April 29, 1965, PM Menzies shocked the House of Representatives when he rose to speak. With gloomy voice, he said that he had received a letter from the South Vietnamese government to join the war.

It was a lie.

National Service lotteries

Cabinet decided to re-introduce compulsory military service, which had ended in 1960. The National Service Act enabled the government to conscript men for a two-year term with a further three years in the Reserve. Marbles denoting birth dates were drawn from a lottery barrel to select those who would be called up. Between the first ballot in 1965 and the last in1972, some 63,000 men were conscripted.

500 died in a war that was none of our business.

I have omitted Harold Holt, John Gorton and Billy McMahon.

Gough Whitlam

Whatever your political disposition there cannot be any doubt that he changed the nation, with many excellent policies, for the better.

As for the other side of the ledger, the economics, I would suggest that history is beginning to look favourably on the intellectual giant that he was.

Others who lived in his extraordinary times would disagree entirely, particularly with his economics. I concede this and leave you to your view.

Malcolm Fraser

His time in government could be considered uneventful along side Whitlam or any of those that followed. By placing economic management at the centre of politics he sought to explain how economic activity sat with the social life of a nation.

However, he never understood the new paradigm of economics that had begun under Whitlam. It was a policy fail of monumental proportion.

The then Treasurer John Howard understood it and wanted to implement what Hawke and Keating did later.

Bob Hawke

He defeated Malcolm Fraser and arguably became Labors brightest ever Prime Minister. A reformer who did more than any other to reform the Australian economy. He had such fine cabinets that policy errors are difficult to find.

His major error was that he clung to power for too long and in doing so prevented an orderly leadership succession.

Paul Keating

Keating was the big ideas man who couldn’t sell them. He had a vision of Australia becoming of a republic, justice for our first nations people, a larger connection with Asia, and his support for Marbo was set in stone.

His policy errors were that he believed in a GST but didn’t introduce one and that he amended the Migration Act to provide for mandatory detention of irregular arrivals that was to be a disastrous decision.

John Howard

During the decade of his Prime Ministership, he made many poor decisions.

He became Prime Minister in 1996. His legacy will be long debated. On the one hand, he was the consummate politician who read the public mood like no other. On the other hand, he was a sly conniving politician who pandered to popular sentiment. The lying little rodent as one of his ministers describes him.

It was in his rein that the decline in our democracy started. He introduced changes to the tax system and introduced a GST that affected pensioners and lower paid workers the most.

Much of the blame for the gas shortage that Australia is suffering from now can be blamed on Howard. He very irrationally sold it all to China at a bargain basement price. It is but part of the energy debacle that exists today.

Perhaps the decision to commit Australian forces to the second Iraq War is his worst. Without a scintilla of proof that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, without even asking if there were any he sucked our nation into a quagmire of terrorism. It was a decision to please George Bush and nothing more. The war on terror still continues today.


Domestically he increased the first homebuyers grant and increased immigration. All of which increased demand. Investors entered the market and years on we suffer from his idiotic decisions.

We experienced a once in a century mining boom that resulted in untold budget surpluses. At the end of it, there was little left. Howard had squandered it on over-60 superannuation tax holidays, other super concessions, and family payments to middle-income households, age-based tax concessions, and lots of income-tax breaks for middle to higher-income households.

Most of these presents came in the budget of an election year to buy votes.

All he achieved was increased inequality and making the rich richer.


He had an almost fetish like need to pamper to the rich by increasing Federal funding to the richest schools which they have spent on non-educational luxuries.

Like his other concessions they have all been difficult to remove and they, to this day, remain a burden on the budget.

The Republic

Being the royalist that he is he played a “divide and rule” role with the 1999 Republic referendum instead of leading the nation through it?


He eroded Medicare by mischievously misdirecting money into tax deductions for inefficient private health insurance. In doing so he tried to return Medicare to a 1960s style healthcare system.

Gold reserves

Howards Treasurer Peter Costello sold two-thirds of Australia’s gold reserves for the rock-bottom price of $US306 per ounce (Today, gold is about $US1590 per ounce).

Kevin Rudd

He was blessed with a prodigious intellect and will best be remembered for the apology to our indigenous “Stolen Generations” and his handling of the World financial crisis. He also coined the phrase “the greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time” in reference to Climate Change.

Home insulation scheme

The Pink bats’ scheme because of its poor administration became a policy disaster for Rudd. Reports of house fires, possible fraud and the deaths of four young insulation installers led to numerous enquiries.

After a Royal Commission instigated by Tony Abbott, Rudd accepted his Government’s responsibility for systems failures that led to the deaths, describing them as a “deep tragedy” and acknowledged the pain of the families involved.

Building the Education Revolution

This saw 23,670 school building projects around Australia rolled out in quick time.

Tony Abbott continuously complained about cost blowouts resulting in an enquiry headed by Brad Orgill, the former CEO of UBS Australasia.

3% of complaints about the scheme were proven, but the commission found that most projects were an advantage to the school and the community. Ask your local Primary School Headmaster what he or she thinks.

Julia Gillard

Gillard followed Rudd and so began the revolving door politics of the last 10 or so years. She led a minority government and Abbott, the Murdoch press and the shock jocks immediately began attacking her on the basis of her sex.

She had some handsome policy victories such as the Royal Commission into Child Abuse, the National Broadband Network, putting a price on carbon, the National Disability Insurance Scheme and reforms to education. Not bad in anyone’s book.


On the other side of the ledger in terms of policy stuff-ups her failure to stop unemployment from rising clearly went against her.

Sure this was complicated by the GFC that we were still recovering from but also from a silly obsession with a budget surplus.

Tony Abbott

Abbott came to power after 6 years of the most negative opposition the country has ever seen. If nothing else he was the most professional liar to ever walk the halls of parliament.

His negativity was famous. It both gained him government and lost it for him. He was the worst Prime Minister the country has ever had and came into power without any policies and left without any.

He did have success in stopping the people smuggling trade but it divided the nation.

He removed the price on carbon, a terrible decision only based on politics, and the minerals resources tax.

That said there is nothing more to say about this characterless man of no redeeming features. His greatest success was that he turned his party from its Liberal beginnings into the far right conservative one it is today.

Malcolm Turnbull

Malcolm Turnbull entered through the revolving door and instantaneously chucked all his principles into the nearest rubbish bin. In doing so, he became the greatest hypocrite of a Prime Minister the country has ever seen. He also fell into the lying mindset of Abbott.

The policies on the many things he had carried with him like Climate Change he gave over to the far right of his party. He might lay claim to Marriage Equality but that was undoubtedly people led.

Scott Morrison

It is too early to judge Scott Morrison but he too has thrown away policies on energy, climate change and many others.

He shows all the qualities of Abbott and Turnbull. Of one who wants the rich to become richer in the expectation that they will share some of their riches with their fellow humans. Fat chance.

My thought for the day.

“In the recipe of good leadership, there are many ingredients. Popularity is but one. It, however, ranks far below getting things done for the common good.”


Previous instalments:

Great Australian political policy stuff-ups (part 1)

Great Australian political policy stuff-ups (part 2): The Menzies years

Great Australian political policy stuff-ups (part 3): Whitlam – how does history judge him?


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  1. David Fitzpatrick

    Keating was a clueless economic rationalist. Get it right, and have the nerve to publish critical comments.

  2. Judith A Bacon

    Naaah, the worst hypocrite is Morrison, by a country mile. To say he cried on his knees in prayer for child asylum seekers while keeping them in detention and denying them medical care makes him the worst. Way worse than Turnbull who is just a spiv with a posh accent.


    Howard didnt introduce the capital gains tax. Hawke and Keating did that. A capital gains tax (CGT) was introduced in Australia on 20 September 1985, one of a number of tax reforms by the Hawke/Keating government. From 20 September 1999, the Howard Government introduced a 50% discount on the capital gain for individual taxpayers.

  4. Florence Howarth

    Morrison does not believe in the common good.

  5. John Lord

    Thanks for the correction Stuart.

  6. Stephengb

    Hawke did one thing that was good and that was to reintroduce universal health care, (even though he also allowed the Private health system to exploit the public health system).
    HAWKE was a so called economic rationalist (now called NEOLIBERALIST, but Keating was is the real Neoliberalist of the pair.
    Then Hawke made the biggest blunder since the 1870s, he restricted the Right to Strike, rendering the union mvement almost toothless.

    Keating only did one thing right, he floated our curency making us a soverign currency issuing nation.then he too showed his true colours by privatising geovernment services, paving the way for Capital to get its hands on Monopolies and Duoplolies.

    The pair of them launched Austrslia on the path of the so called “Economic Rationalism”, “the so called “Free Market”, and what we now call the “Neoliberal Agenda”.

    The pair of them were a disgrace to the Workers Party.

    There I said It – the truth about our so called dynam8ciduo.

    And so we see Albo following a similar path of appeasement of the Right Wing Elites, I can almost see the doffing of the cloth cap.

  7. wam

    Wow, lord!
    I used to enjoy your opinions ‘the week that was’ but the ’70 years that was’ is a little indulgent?

    As much as I admire keating, I curse the birthday cake that gave us the most vicious narrow-minded, dishonest, arsehole of a prime minister and have had a similar surge of sad anger at the sight of a birthday cake for the last 26 years. The mind-icing will have senile bob’s face on it?
    Not so sure about your thought but my rabbottians agree with you that scummo is ;getting things done for the common good.”’
    ps remember these words of this PM?
    If Fraser got in, it would be a disaster. He is extreme right-wing. The Liberal Party can’t be a right-leaning affair?
    or this bill?
    In October 1973, Gorton introduced a motion in the House of Representatives calling for the decriminalisation of homosexuality,
    pps Black Jack was left out of the left outs?

    Stephan a good ‘outing’ of labor now give bobby and the loonies efforts against carbon price and for the timing of his caravan to glean cash.

  8. David Bruce

    Do you know who actually signed the Australia Act 1986?

    The copy I have shows the signature “Elizabeth R” on the top of the title page.

    That would have been during the Bob Hawke times?

  9. Grumpy Geezer

    “It is too early to judge Scott Morrison”. I’ll have to disagree with that John.

    It’s not just his immediate tenure as PM we can use to judge this smirking gobshite. It’s also his Machiavellian plotting & the transparently dishonest plausible deniability that got him the gig. It’s his phoneyness – from hard man asylum seeker tormentor to Shouty McShoutyface look-at-me posturing, to goofy pie-gobbing, beer-knecking suburban dad to his current disguise as the champion of “quiet Australians” – straight from the Morrison NewSpeak & Glib Catchphrase handbook ($9.99 at the Horizon Church and Bookstore).

    His lying, hypocrisy and dissembling, his avid pro-coal stance in the face of climate collapse, his hiding from scrutiny and his shady past says much about FauxMo. His feculence has a long history; it’s not just limited to an Engadine Maccers once-off.

  10. Mike

    Er… the No Bloody Network /NBN is a positive?

  11. Stephengb


    On carbon pricing

    Gillard was absolutely right.

    The RWNJs, were and continue to be so so stupid,. I see it this way.

    Supposing, just supposing all the scientist pushing for climate control action are absolutely wrong.
    But they convince the world to spend huge sums of money, and they all get up,the emissions and pollution from our air, land and sea.

    But What they are wrong? We spent all that money for a clean planet, when we could have kept our dirty polluted one without spending the $$$$$$.


    On the other hand suppose the scientists advocating the big clean are Right but we do nothing and save all those $$$$$$$$$$$ ?

    Bloody he’ll we sure saved a shot load of money – but hey! We are dying of chronic pollution.

    But don’t worry – we saved the $$$$$$$$$$ !

    Now that’s what I call pure bloody stupid

    By the way, it is a fact that the world can print, mint, or simply credit electronic accounts with as much money as is needed.
    And no the tax payers do not foot the bill.

    We will ALL just make a shot load of money cleaning the planet .HURRAY !

  12. Vivienne Mendham

    Howard did not introduce a Capital Gains Tax. Keating did that. What Howard did was reduce that tax by half. Keating used the CGT to improve revenue and avoided a consumption tax. Howard buggered it up and introduced the GST to increase revenue.

  13. totaram

    “..What Howard did was reduce that tax by half. ” for any asset more than one year old. This was supposed to be a “substitute” for indexing, but as you can see it made capital gains a rort. It drove the boom in “investment properties” that were negatively geared. Private debt ballooned from around 50% of GDP to over 150%, allowing Peter Costello to deliver his “budget surpluses” and lay his claim to being the most wonderful treasurer of all time. What he actually did was introduce huge structural deficits in “the budget”, allowing future governments to cut all spending on the welfare state, while claiming there was “not enough money”. It also led to an unsustainable bubble in housing prices which we are suffering from today. In actual fact this was a complete fraud on the people since we now live in a fiat currency regime, where the currency is no longer backed by gold. He must have known that, otherwise he wouldn’t have sold off the gold reserves for a song. And his surpluses were therefore in a fiat currency, that the government can produce at will (especially if it is to be “saved” and not spent). But that part is too hard for most people to understand, so it will remain for future historians to point out how everyone was bamboozled.

  14. Max Gross

    The LNIPA wet dream is to disrupt, degrade and destroy all social security while fattening the coffers of the tits on top. The Bombastic Bogan has three years to do so. Or at least until Obergruppenfuhrer Kartoffelpuffer knifes him and takes up the bloody mantle for himself

  15. Aortic

    Anyone who considers that scumbag snake oil salesman Brian Houston as his mentor and manipulates branch stacking in a very unchristian way to gain pre selection says it all for me. A failed advertising tyro, a scheming bastard who while patting his predecessor on the back had the knife in his hand whilst doing so. Always intrigues me about those who have ” faith” and use it only when it suits their particular purpose. Also amazes me how this mob got into power with no policies. At least Abbott had negative ones which was something. Time for drinkies.

  16. Andrew Smith

    Remember former VIC Lib Premier Dick Hamer from ’70s?

    Socially progressive and was a factor or foundation for future govts, including Labor who made economic reforms Conservatives were too timid in enacting.

  17. RosemaryJ36

    In fairness to Malcolm Fraser, he was generous to the Vietnamese refugees.

  18. Zathras

    It was Howard as treasurer under Fraser that left Keating the biggest deficit (as a percentage of GST) in history and later as Prime Minister, sold off all our revenue generating public assets and left us with a $30billion revenue shortfall to be made up by taxpayers.

    Despite claims of him leaving behind a surplus ,that surplus declared in his final mid-year budget was all but spent in the pre-election November vote-buying frenzy and what he really left behind was a divided xenophobic society and a perpetual involvement in a never-ending war.

  19. wam

    Laughing my head off at your reply and $$$$$$$$$$$$$-£€£$££€$#$£€$€£$€£€£€$ an image of greed exacerbated by the ad on tele as I was reading your words: ‘queen I want it all and I want it now!’ Sadly the bastards have it and the fossil fuelers have enough shareholders to frightened the shit out of pollies.
    It seems stupid that last century we were leaders in solar and csiro is again leading but howard wasted so many years and howard killed the csiro research into renewables, indeed anything for the good of the planet was pretty well killed. So stupid because we could have been sellers not buyers.
    You are right lord and Zathras, howard left us with a sickening legacy. of what is right and acceptable political behaviour.

  20. johno

    Rekon GG has summed up fakemo in a nutshell.

  21. b

    Very interesting article John! One of the biggest blunders Hogwarts tried to introduce would surely be his attempt to get rid of the Union movement etc with his ill-fated “work choices” crap. I was a Unionist & a worker back then. All Unions back then had to spend lots of hard earned money & countless hours of meetings, rallies etc all over Australia, to counteract the crap Hogwarts was using & saying, trying to pull the wool over not just workers but ordinary Australians as well. I was never so proud of all workers & Unionists in Australia as I was back then! Thank goodness that his crap did not get accepted.

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