Saturday, November 8, 2008

John Howard flew solo on big decisions

THREE of the biggest decisions of the Howard years - the GST, the intervention in East Timor and the Pacific solution - were decided with virtually no consultation with cabinet, it can be revealed for the first time.
A new television documentary, which is based on more than 20 hours of interviews with John Howard and 180 hours of interviews with key players in Australia and overseas, confirms how dominant the former prime minister was in running the affairs of the nation for almost 12 years.
Former foreign minister Alexander Downer reveals how one of the most controversial policies of the Howard years - the so-called Pacific solution under which asylum-seekers from Australia were moved to neighbouring island nations - was devised.
Mr Howard had told him: "Go and find someone who will take them."
Mr Downer said: "So I went back up to my office and got my staff together there and said: 'Well, now we are literally going to have to think up a country to send these people, that'll take them.'
"One of my staff, she said: 'Well look, you had that call from Rene Harris, the President of Nauru, a week or so ago pleading for two or three hundred thousand dollars, so he could pay for some oil, what about ringing him?"'
The interviews are from The Howard Years, a four-part series to begin on ABC TV on November 17.
Filmed and edited in the style of Labor in Power, which chronicled the Hawke and Keating years, the series contains scores of admissions and revelations about some of the most contentious issues during Mr Howard's term.
Mr Howard says he regrets having worn a bullet-proof vest at a gun rally, saying he felt like "a goose"; businessman Chris Corrigan, who divided public opinion when he brought guard dogs on to the waterfront to Australia, says "the dogs were my idea"; and Peter Costello says the words from a leaked internal party memo describing the government as mean and tricky "didn't come back to haunt me so much as to haunt John Howard". But the predominant theme of the series is the all-pervasive influence of Mr Howard over key decisions of the time.
Apart from the Pacific solution not going to cabinet before it was constructed, the GST and East Timor also were decided upon without cabinet consultation. Former Howard chief of staff Grahame Morris says there was "no great discussion" about a GST because the government feared that if it got the bureaucracy to work on it details would leak.
"He (Mr Howard) felt there had to be change to the tax system but there was no great discussion about this," Mr Morris says. "There was no great plan - 'Hey, fellas, if we do a GST andwhat not, what will that mean? Let's have the bureaucracy work on it', all that sort of stuff - because the minute you start doing that those sort of things leak."
Supporting that lack of consultation about the largest tax reform in Australian history, then finance minister John Fahey reveals he was shocked when Mr Howard announced on television that he was going to introduce a tax system with a GST.
"I will never forget the moment I listened to the PM on Sunday television announcing that we're about to embark upon a new tax system underpinned by a GST," Mr Fahey says.
"I suspect at that moment that the expletive that came out of my mouth came out of the mouth of many colleagues around Australia and I remember saying to my wife when I finally composed myself, 'Fasten your seatbelt, we're in for a rough ride' - and that was pretty true too."
Howard adviser Arthur Sinodinos made it clear the office knew how radical a GST was.
According to a colleague, Mr Sinodinos said: "We've taken a boat, we've sailed it down the coast of Africa and we've gone into the jungle and pulled out the meanest, nastiest gorilla we could find, sailed back to Australia and let it loose on the streets."
That same lack of consultation is clear regarding Mr Howard's historic letter of December 19, 1998, to then Indonesian president BJ Habibie telling him Australia was changing its policy and backing for the first time an act of self-determination for East Timor. Says then deputy prime minister Tim Fischer: "Let me tell you something: the most important letter ever written during the Coalition government's period of office, leading to the creation of East Timor, never went to cabinet."
The ABC has interviewed US President George W. Bush, who, in reference to the events of September 11, 2001, says of his relationship with Mr Howard: "In many ways our friendship was forged in fire, the fire of war."
Mr Bush says of Mr Howard: "He may not look like someone who plays on the scrum of the Australian rugby team but believe me he's plenty tough."
Shortly after the interview, as he is taking the ABC crew on a tour of the White House to show them a picture of his mother, Mr Bush says: "That prime minister of yours, he's a tough little dude."
Mr Costello's bitterness comes through. In reference to the famous memo written by then Liberal Party president Shane Stone that said the government was seen as mean and tricky, Mr Costello says: "Why write it? That's incompetent. And why leak it? That's treachery.
"Look, if there was one copy and it was written by Shane (Stone) and given to John (Howard), the leak's come from one of those two sources." (theaustralia)


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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