National Indigenous Times. Issue 113 – 7/9/2006
Now that the hullabaloo surrounding Prime Minister Howard’s decision to remain as Leader of the Liberal Party has died down, the background to that decision can now be revealed. John Howard spoke exclusively to National Indigenous Times about his reasons for staying.
There is a widespread public perception that Howard was desperate to regain the Party’s leadership after Dr John Hewson’s Fightback ended in a knockout and Alexander Downer demonstrated he was not credible on domestic violence by referring to wife-bashing husbands as “the things that batter”.
The Prime Minister assured this intrepid reporter that he never really wanted to lead the Liberal Party again and that the only reason he agreed to do so was to give the Party time to find someone decent to take the helm. Howard revealed that back in 1995 he had considerable qualms about his capacity to provide humane leadership to his Party and the nation.
“I tried then to get Peter Costello to demonstrate to his colleagues and public that he was a capable and courageous leader. I told him that many of my ideas were fast becoming worn-out remnants of a by-gone age and that one and a half to two terms was all that I was prepared to serve” John Howard said.
Mr Howard went on “You may well ask why I am still Leader. Clearly, no-one, who has been watching the way I’ve responded to desperate asylum seekers fleeing persecution in overcrowded boats, would suggest that such policies are a humane response for a civilised, affluent country in the 21st century. Again, when it comes to the stolen generations, self-determination, native title or Indigenous health, any objective observer would declare my response to be more in line with 18th or 19th century thinking than that of the 21st century.”
Your intrepid reporter put it directly to the Prime Minister that Peter Costello had claimed that Howard was desperately clinging to power because he feared that once he stepped down he would lose his relevance. The Prime Minister scoffed “Do you think that any political leader who feared losing office would privatise Telstra, introduce a GST and provide generous tax cuts to the rich at the same time as he was cutting welfare benefits to lone parents and disability support pensioners.”
The Prime Minister raised himself to his full height, declaring “I did all these things trying to alert the Liberal Party to need for a change in leadership. They have not woken up but I have not given up hope, particularly since my new Work Choices campaign directly sets out to attack the battlers.”
Mr Howard added “I have spent most of the last decade desolately searching for someone…anyone capable of replacing me. At one stage, I became so despondent I even considered Tony Abbott…but just imagine Labor going on day after day about the comedy team of Abbott and Costello leading the Party. Bronwyn’s kerosene baths knocked her out of the running. Admiral Nelson had to have two goes at bringing one dead soldier back from Iraq.
“But Mr. Howard”, your reporter insisted, “if you really wanted to hand over the reins to someone else why not just resign and let the Liberal Parliamentary Party vote for a new leader?”
Tears whelmed up in the Prime Minister’s eyes as he confided “I don’t want to make the same mistake as Sir Robert recklessly did when he handed over to Harold Holt. The Liberal Party must be run by a strong leader and that is why I have been trying to groom the Treasurer as my successor. He’s passed many of the tests I have set for him and I’ve told him there is only one remaining hurdle for him to cross. It is a test which will finally prove whether or not he has the stamina to swim against the tide. I have told Peter I will step down if he passes…but he is reluctant to take the test.
“What is the test Mr. Howard?” your reporter inquired.
The Prime Minister said “I want him to demonstrate that he is capable of going spear-fishing at Cheviot Beach, near Portsea, on a day of my choosing.”
Copyright © 2021 John Tomlinson