The passing of Bob Hawke has brought to the community the need to consider his legacy and how we could learn from his style of leadership.
There has already been a great amount of praise heaped upon him and his ability to build a consensus around areas like wages, industrial relations and the various achievements of his government. All of it deserved.
What Hawke achieved was that magic ability to be popular with large sectors of the population, no matter his politics. He managed to capture a larrikin, “everyday bloke” image despite the reality of him being a Rhodes scholar and a highly successful and ruthless political operator. That image helped him when times were tough and made the comparatively radical changes made in the early 80s more palatable. It helped that the man who was famously teetotal whilst PM (except during the America’s Cup victory) was known to like a beer.
I say that the Hawke government’s changes were comparatively radical because the changes being suggested by Bill Shorten and Labor in this election are in no way as significant or will bring as much change as the ones undertaken by Hawke and Keating. And yet in this campaign, they have been characterised as little more than socialism in so much of the media coverage.
There’s a reason for this. The election campaign style of flat out lying perfected by Tony Abbott has become the new normal.
For perspective, this has been the shape of this campaign:
- Labor have continued to tell the story of what they want to change, which is really not all that much:
- Better pay for workers
- Better penalty rates
- Stopping the rort provided to self funded retirees that no other nation provides
- Rolling back the ridiculous negative gearing incentive to dabble in existing property markets, so it’s focused only on new houses
- Modest climate targets including the bleeding obvious, that electric cars will provide the main way people move around – sooner than we think
- The Liberals, in contrast, have lied the entire way through this campaign, conducting the most mendacious, nastiest campaign in living memory. The lies have come thick and fast from the most hollow iteration of the party
- Every tax imaginable – we’ve had car tax, death tax (even though no party is actually suggesting any death duties), retiree tax (not a tax, the stopping of a rort), and all the rest
- Saying there’s a surplus when there’s not as yet
The campaign has been covered as an even contest, where both sides are presenting a “case” for re-election. Yet the Liberals have only a cupboard that is empty except for their lies. It’s been one of the most frustrating experiences to see how such a sham of a campaign has mostly lacked levels of basic scrutiny of the policies and messages of the campaign – it resembles the way Abbott was allowed to suggest whatever he liked during 2010 and 2013. Interviewers and journalists continuing accepting the phraseology of everything being a “tax” being one such example.
The other legacy of Abbott is his pea hearted, shallow political partisanship, as displayed through his “tribute” to Bob Hawke, which has suitably being ratioed by people outraged by his attempt to claim that Hawke was in any way a Liberal.
When Abbott realised how ridiculous this made him look, the next step was to scramble to find a photo of him with Hawke. But even this photo put up on his twitter feed captures the difference between the men. Abbott trying to explain something while Hawke being much too polite whilst having to put up with Australia’s worst Prime Minister.
Even Scott Morrison, for his faults, knew how to show dignity at such a time. There may be little else to suggest about Morrison’s legacy other than his ability to read a room and craft a reasonable message.
And then there’s John Howard, the man who had to wait for Bob Hawke to go before winning on the back of his act of being an “everyman” who was anything but.
One of the most infuriating reports of this campaign came late, with a Jacqueline Maley piece having a headline praising Howard for “deliver[ing] the campaign’s most potent attack on Bill Shorten. This is what is considered “potent”:
“I detect in the community a lot of growing suspicion that Bill Shorten is after your savings,” said the former prime minister, who was there to support the local member and his “friend of 30 years”, Tony Abbott.
“They don’t want it taken away through taxes by Mr Shorten.”
Then Howard appealed to the voters of Warringah, on Sydney’s northern beaches.
“They’re not the big end of town. I mean, that is an insult to every successful small businessman who has worked hard accumulated a bit and wants to leave it to his kids,” Mr Howard said. “I mean that’s what this country is all about!”
It was vintage Howard – a nod to Menzies’ forgotten Australians, a paean to suburban values, indignation for those who denigrate diligence, and yes, just a little bit old-fashioned in his gendered pronouns.
“That’s what people aspire to do! And this fella Shorten is after those people, and he sneers at them, says, ‘You’re the big end of town’, and his putative treasurer Chris Bowen says if people don’t like it, don’t vote for us.
“Well I hope that people don’t like it and don’t vote for it.”
There was applause, and not all of it was from the Liberal Party faithful who had gathered for the Howard/Abbott mall walk.
There’s nothing potent about this. It’s Howard’s reheated rhetoric that the Liberal Party is the party of small business. History has shown that both major parties are the parties of small business, in terms of support, taxation policy and the rest. Howard, as always, is just a political sportsman, with signature moves that helps him get away from his opponents. And this move is a well-worn and tired one.
The comment from Maley wasn’t analysis, it was just a nostalgic admiration for the old moves. All of it was pure positioning, not based on facts and the history of the Liberal Party and its continuing assistance for the wealthy in our community. There’s little consideration that this was just a message that may have some specific meaning for the wealthy, unrepresentative people of wealthy, upper middle class Warringah, who may see themselves as battlers, but contextually are anything but. Yet that messaging is seen as “potent”, rather than being broken apart as the empty messaging that it is.
That is Howard’s legacy, empty rhetoric, as well as profligate policies such as franking credits and capital gains tax discounts. His is also a legacy of division, of Tampa, children overboard and the rest. Not that this matters in the face of him walking around comfortably off, privileged areas such as Warringah, telling the locals that they should be offended by the Labor Party wanting to increase funding for hospitals and schools in areas other than Warringah.
Whilst we are talking legacies, this broken, nasty campaign of lies can best be summarised by these two Dave Pope cartoons. The clown Morrison doing a deal with the sham merchant and the Daily Telegraph helping to make Shorten more human. Personally, I’m glad this farrago of a campaign is about to be over. Campaigns really were better when Hawke was around – at least policies were debated, not all characterised as taxes.