Another Howard act
Just one complaint about Mike Seccombe’s chronicle of the sins of the Howard government (“It’s all John Howard’s fault”, December 23, 2017–January 26, 2018): not enough space was devoted to it. To do the subject justice would need an entire edition of The Saturday Paper. One personal favourite that missed out: in 2006 the Electoral Act was amended so that the rolls closed on the day writs were issued for an election, rather than the previous timing of seven days after the election was called. The effect was to disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters who would be more likely to support the other side of politics. So much for the commitment to democratic ideals that conservatives like to boast about. The amendment was ruled unconstitutional by the High Court in 2010. Howard’s government was the most destructive ever in the memory of this 65-year-old politics tragic. Tony Abbott’s may have been more incompetent, but it was not as influential.
– Geoff Skillen, Cook, ACT
Doling out the stigma
Mike Seccombe’s incisive article articulated thoughts that many of us have had over the past two decades. I would like, however, to add a further dimension to Howard’s legacy: the simultaneous launch of what could be seen as attacks on the status of the unemployed and on the separation of church and state. Prior to 1996 the Commonwealth Employment Service (CES), a federal government department, provided support and services to unemployed Australians. The Labor government addressed both unemployment and skills deficiencies through the Working Nation program that included a system in which many unemployed people received both training and a training allowance. Working Nation provided dignity and a potential future for people who were trying to get sustainable work. One of Howard’s earliest “reforms” was a fourfold attack on this group of people: the abolition of the CES; ending Working Nation and its training focus; contracting and funding religious-based charity bodies to operate the systems to assist and control the unemployed; and rebadging financial support for the unemployed as “Work for the Dole”. In one fell swoop, Howard blurred the separation of church and state by employing and funding church groups as its administrative arm for a range of vital support services, and stigmatised unemployed people by requiring them to seek assistance from charity organisations and by formally tarring their financial support as “the dole”.
– Chris Todd, Lindisfarne, Tas
Keating played his part
Really? In celebrating Howard’s “achievements” why no mention of the single biggest contributor to his “success”? Paul Keating’s whole-of-economy interventionist recession deliberately destroyed the country that had lived before. Economy, market forces, rationalist language were the mantra around dogma of cost. Every mechanism Howard relied upon was conceived, built, curated and protected by Keating. Inequality, poverty, exclusion, a fractured sense of purpose and obligation were traded for the right to compete. Keating’s toxic masculinity, bullying, intimidation and a desolate bleak internal wilderness matched the state of those parts of the country that have never recovered from recession. In this hypercompetitive lonely place, ordinary citizens lost capacity and means to influence policy. The mediocrity and mendacity of the battlefield in which we all now sit, lost in wars around the only theorised point of difference between the two – the wasteland of weaponised culture.
– Janine Foley, Chigwell, Tas
ACT police must look at rape case
I was doubly shocked by “How the Greens failed me over rape” (December 23, 2017–January 26, 2018). Here was a violent, predatory rape. The perpetrator should be in jail. The crime, in the presence of a third person sympathetic to the victim, should have been immediately reported to the police. Inexplicably, your adult, articulate and anonymous correspondent did not do so for many months. Whatever their strengths or shortcomings, the ACT Greens could not and should not have been expected to substitute for the criminal justice system handling such a heinous crime. Community organisations cannot and should not be expected to supplant the police, courts and jails of Australia. I am a friend of Greens minister Shane Rattenbury. He is a very decent and considerate man. After the anonymous pillorying of him in The Saturday Paper I phoned him and, while expecting anger or dejection at the article, found that his foremost concern remains that your correspondent has not found justice. The Australian Capital Territory police should reopen their investigation on what reads as an open-and-shut case of rape, or else make public the reasons for failing to lay charges. Meanwhile, The Saturday Paper might take another look at the MEAA Journalist Code of Ethics.
– Bob Brown, Cygnet, Tas
Response to Henderson quotes
Alex McKinnon in his article (“Front page pews”, December 23, 2017–January 26, 2018) quoted me in direct speech on a number of occasions with respect to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. He alleged that I have claimed that media reportage around the commission acted “as if it were an inquisition into one church” but provided no source. I am not aware that I have ever said or written anything linking the commission to an “inquisition”. Despite a number of requests, neither The Saturday Paper nor Schwartz Media has been able to support Mr McKinnon’s assertion with evidence. On the other hand, he was correct in quoting me as saying “sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is essentially a historical crime”. If he has read Justice Peter McClellan’s report, he will know this is an accurate statement.
– Gerard Henderson, Sydney, NSW
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jan 27, 2018. Subscribe here.