The Network

The Network
This blog is no longer updated. Please click the picture to hop across to The Network

Friday, October 12, 2007

Howards's backflip? More a reverse triple pike with tuck and twist***

All of a sudden, out of the blue, John Howard has announced that within 100 days of being returned to Parliament and to the Prime Ministership that he will introduce a bill into Parliament of Australia for a preamble to the constitution in relation to Aboriginal people.

This announcement has made headlines across the world: here, here

Howard's announcement is being portrayed as a backflip. In Miss Eagle's view, it is not so much a backflip as a reverse triple pike with tuck and twist.*** And because Howard seldom executes a backflip, let alone attempting such a dramatic one, Miss Eagle predicts a great splash and low, if any marks, from judges who know their stuff.

***Diving terminology: Straight - with no bend at the knees or hips; Pike - with knees straight but a tight bend at the hips; Tuck - body folded up in a tight ball, hands holding the shins and toes pointed; Free - Some sequence of the above positions.

The electorate is being taken for mugs once again. It is taken for granted that we have short memories - or, for that matter, no memories whatsoever.

So, dear Reader, let us take a little trip back in time. 9 years and 9 days ago, Australia elected the Liberal Party, with John Howard as Prime Minister, to its second term.

One year before, at the 1997 Reconciliation Conference during which the Bringing Them Home report brought out by Sir Ronald Wilson was launched, John Howard's reputation in Aboriginal Australia reached a, then, all time low. This was when Howard, most unusually, blew his cool in a speech and when Aboriginal people silently expressed their displeasure with John Howard by standing up and turning their backs on him.

This latter incident was to be repeated by many, many more people when John Howard spoke at the Sydney Opera House at Corroboree 2000. This happened the day before 250,000 Australians - with Peter Costello and without John Howard - marched across Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Bridge-marching in support of Aboriginal rights and asking John Howard to say sorry to the stolen generations took place for months to come across Australia.

So back to 1998. On election night in 1998, John Howard committed himself to achieving reconciliation by 2001. He failed. Last night he said:
"I recognise now that, though emotionally committed to the goal, I was mistaken in believing that it could be achieved in a form I truly believed in."

Again John Howard takes us for mugs with no memories. You see, Miss Eagle, for one, remembers Gatjil Djerrkura's invitation back then to John Howard to visit him in his home at Yirrkala in the Northern Territory. Gatjil was then the Chair of the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC). John Howard accepted and went to Yirrkala.

Now, Gatjil's political views were not left of centre. He was a paid up member of the NT's Country Liberal Party. Gatjil's idea was a good one. An ignorant and powerful PM. Take him to the country of a powerful Aboriginal nation, speak to him privately, show him the culture, the people at a most personal and intimate level. But nine years later, Howard says that he was not emotionally committed to the goal of reconciliation.

It has been quite clear by word and deed that John Howard has NOT been committed to the goal of reconciliation in spite of his election night words - and it is clear that the visit to Yirrkala did not touch Howard either in heart or in spirit. He came the closest to Aboriginal Australia he was ever likely to get and he was untouched, unmoved, and unmotivated.

So what brought about the military intervention of 21 June 2007? A militarist Minister of Indigenous Affairs in Mal Brough; an election year; political point scoring; and the constitutional ability to give full rein to his centralizing views in the Northern Territory.

And what has brought about his announcement on a preamble?
History, dear Reader, history.

The Presidents of the United States of America always have one eye on history. One of their post-presidential entitlements is to the building of a library. Such libraries provide a rich resource relating to the individual president and his time in the White House. Documents and personal memorabilia are installed there and can provide rich pickings for researchers.

In Australia this does not happen. But Prime Ministers, like Presidents, do give thought to how history will view them. Howard has been particularly conscious of this. One of the reasons that Howard has hung on so long to power is because he has emulated, to some extent, and compared himself with Sir Robert Menzies whom some Liberals promote as a great Australian statesman. Therefore, if one has to be seen as distinctive in the eyes of history, length of office is not necessarily sufficient.

Howard launched a military adventure in the Northern Territory which is doing things - on a small scale. The fanfare and rhetoric have not delivered quickly and in spades what was promised. In fact, the whole thing could fail.

Miss Eagle's view is that it is an ill wind that blows nobody any good so there will be some good things to report - but how much and how long it will be sustained will have to be judged further down the track. And the discussion will always be about lost opportunity and how things could have been done better.

So the preamble announcement is Howard's insurance policy for history.

Parliament is scheduled to sit within days. This is unlikely to happen because a whole lot of goodbyes and farewell speeches might have to get a re-run! So it is likely that within the next 24-48 hours the 2007 election will be announced.

So last night was almost the last chance for Howard to do something positive in relation to Aboriginal issues. He has tried to make himself look sincere even if he has had to eat humble pie. If he loses his seat and loses government, both of which are distinct possibilities, he will look as if he has tried. If he is returned to government, he has guaranteed only to introduce a bill for a preamble. The preamble is only words. It has no legitimacy. It cannot be used as a constitutional amendment from which rights and entitlements might be derived.

And yet again we are taken as mugs without memories - because Howard has form on the matter of a preamble. In 1999, Howard presented a poorly imagined and drafted preamble to the people of Australia. It failed.

Sorry, John Howard. You won't say sorry - and now it's time to go. You have had eleven years to heal this country, to bring reconciliation, to advance some of the most powerless and poverty-stricken in this nation.

Instead, you have not only failed to take these things forward, you have taken back many things already in place and you have actively impeded good people doing good and valuable things. No, John. As this blog has said time and again, chickens are coming home to roost.

You have to face the consequences of your actions and inactions. You have to be held accountable by the people of this nation.

Miss Eagle hopes and prays that the Australian people are up to it - but the opinion polls are saying they are. Miss Eagle hopes and prays that when you go, John, we really do get a government that is up to the task ahead which will also be held accountable by the Australian electorate.