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Speech at the launch of Howard: The Art of Persuasion

Date: Thursday, 14 June 2018 2:42 PM
Location: Hotel Windsor, Melbourne

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Nick Cater, Executive Director, Menzies Research Centre: This is the next generation of Liberal leaders who will ensure that the Liberal tradition lives on and shines.

Liberalism, as Mr Howard points out in this book in so many places, is not an ideology, it’s a practical philosophy; it’s about doing.

And I think it is no accident that we have such a fantastic next generation ahead of us. It’s because they are the people that grew up and became inspired by politics, by looking not just at theory, but by liberal philosophy in action under almost 12 years of Mr Howard’s leadership.

This is, I think, the great legacy that Mr. Howard has bestowed upon us, people who will go on and lead this country into the future and ensure that the great philosophy, so well articulated by Robert Menzies, lives on in practical action.

One of those people is here tonight, who you will immediately recognise when I talk about the great leaders of the future. We have an outstanding example here. He has the great fortune to inherit from Sir Robert Menzies, the seat of Kooyong, and in so many ways shows himself to be a fine leader of the future. He is somebody who has learned his trade at Mr Howard’s feet, working in Mr Howard’s office. May I introduce you to the Member for Kooyong, Josh Frydenberg.

The Hon Josh Frydenberg MP: Thank you very much, Nick. And I join you in acknowledging the parliamentary colleagues here past and present, and also mention that Tony Staley who is here, a wonderful champion for our party, and Nick Minchin who I saw here, and Inga Puelich, to go with that long list of others who have come to pay their respects to our great former Prime Minister and this wonderful book.

Ladies and gentleman, it is very humbling to be here at an event for a centre that is named after Australia’s longest serving Prime Minister, and to be in the presence of our second longest serving Prime Minister.

Like many of the current crop of politicians, we look to John Howard for advice and for insights into the current political environment. It is not too dissimilar to how people in the cricketing world approached Sir Don Bradman long after he retired from the game. John Howard tells the story in one of these speeches, that long after he retired, a journalist went up to Sir Don Bradman and said “Sir Don, if you were playing today, what do you think your average would be?” He thought for a moment, reflected, and then said, “around fifty”. To which the journalist was aghast, “fifty?” he said, “do you think the players these days have improved that much?” And Sir Don Said, “well you have to understand, I’m over ninety years of age”. In the context of John Howard, he continues to be a sage for our party and a wonderful leader. Not just for the legacy he left, but for the continuing contribution he made.

David cited Winston Churchill, and another of Winston Churchill’s great quotes, was that it was said that he mobilized the English language and sent it into battle. After reading these speeches, in Howard: The Art of Persuasion, the same can be said of John Howard.

He used the many speeches that he made throughout his public life, to win the battle of ideas, to defeat his political opponents. And what he would say after leaving office, was that those who triumph politically are not just the ones who possess the policies that are superior, but those who triumph politically, are those who are best able to make a compelling case. And that is what John Howard used his speeches for.

What springs from these pages, is his courage, is his conviction, it’s his consistency of purpose and his common sense. They were the characteristics of his time in office.

When it comes to John Howard’s conviction, he possessed a clear, logical, intellectual framework. It’s easy to forget that he spent more than two decades in the Parliament before he ascended to the role of Prime Minister. And during that time, he came to understand the rhythm of the liberal party. He understood its beliefs, its history and its values. And it’s those values, beliefs and history of the liberal party, and of the role of government, that come through in his speeches.

The first speech you are presented in this volume, is in November 1996, when John Howard presents the Menzies lecture. One of the other early speeches you are presented with is a speech from June 1995, one of his Headland speeches, which was delivered to the Menzies Research Centre.

In those speeches, John Howard makes it clear that people are not looking to rid the role of government from their lives, but they do want it off their backs. He specifically rejects the approach of the Keating Labor government, which he said was focused on narrow, sectional interests. John Howard knew that the key to his political success, was to forge a political party, and a philosophy and a priority that focused on national interests, not the sectional interests. That was the key to his success. And he did all of this, while understanding, like Menzies that he cites in the Menzies lecture, that you needed a broad base to political philosophy to go with these ideas.

There is a wonderful speech in here titled “The Broad Church,” because John Howard brought together the two traditions; the conservative tradition of Edmund Burke, and the classical liberal tradition of John Stuart Mill. Through these speeches, and through those traditions, he was able to appeal to the mainstream. John Howard explicitly rejects in these speeches that he was ever looking for consensus or for the middle ground. He distinguishes the consensus and the middle ground from the mainstream, the beating heart of the Australian society.

In that Menzies lecture, there is an amazing paragraph, where he says that the liberal party coming to government, is coming to government at a time that there is a new constituency that is galvanized around liberal priorities. He talks about the battlers, they were his words, “the battlers.” Those families that were struggling with the higher costs of living, the small businesses that wanted to get ahead, the young and the old who were sick of the legacy of debt and deficit, and the bulk of Australians who didn’t want a government that was responding to a very loud minority. These were John Howard’s forgotten people. And these are expressly set out, just a few months after taking office, at the end of 1996 in that Menzies lecture.

What also comes through in this book and these speeches, is John Howard’s courage. You will all remember during his time in opposition that he greenlighted some of the key economic reforms the Labor party were putting forward, like the floating of the dollar or lifting some of the tariffs. But when it came to the significant economic reforms that characterized the Howard government; and I’m talking about tax reform and the GST; I’m talking about reforms to industrial relations and the waterfront which are totemic for the Liberal party; and I’m talking about mutual obligation and social welfare. In each case he had to succeed in the floor of the Parliament through the teeth of opposition from the Labor party. That was the distinction between the Howard years and their economic successes, to that which he saw from opposition during those Labor years.

He had the courage when it came to national security as well. There is a wonderful speech here about John Howard’s approach to gun laws in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre. You can see in the words of this speech that he’s grappling with his internal instincts, which are as a Liberal not to put new regulation. But he was able to read the mood of the public, and he recognised that this was the eye of the needle that he had to thread, and this was the window of opportunity that he had to seize, and of course, it has been a lasting legacy for us.

Border protection is exactly the same. Again, there was a very loud minority who were against what he put forward on border protection. But today, Howard’s border protection policies are the gold standard for successive governments, Liberal or Labor. And of course, Iraq, 9/11, Bali. What I took from these pages and these speeches, which I couldn’t put down, was that John Howard combined not only the courage of decision making to stand with our allies at their time of need, but with the innate compassion for the Australian people. When you read how he spoke at the Bali commemoration – indeed I was working for him at the time, and I remember in the great hall people just crying all over the place, and John Howard holding it all together and giving us a sense of purpose. Bringing us together, Liberal or Labor, because we were Australian.

There is this wonderful speech, a week after he returns from the United States, where he was present when the World Trade Centre bombings happened. He comes into the chamber, and John Howard talks about the terrorist challenge that we face. But there is this wonderful line in that speech, how he says to the people of Islamic faith in the Australian community, these were his words, I put my arm of friendship, the “hand of friendship” to you, because your values have been offended by what has transpired, just as mine has. That took great courage, it took great compassion, and we would expect nothing less from a leader.

Finally, what comes through in these pages in addition to the conviction and in addition to the courage, is the consistency of view and the common sense. We pick up the papers today, and we see these ridiculous arguments put forward by our universities about the teaching of western civilisation. But what comes through in these pages, was that the tenets of western civilisation were fundamental to John Howard’s earliest political thought. There are a number of speeches here – there is a speech where he accepts the Irving Kristol Award, there is a speech which he gives in Western Australia, the Paul Hasluck lecture, there is a speech on the fiftieth anniversary of the Quadrant Magazine, and there is an amazing, significant speech, given in 1998, to the Federation of Ethnic Communities in Australia.

In each speech he talks about western civilization, and why is that speech in 1998 so significant? Because in that speech, John Howard says that we here, in Australia, “project,” they are his words, “western civilization in this part of the world.” But he doesn’t say it in a way to diminish multiculturalism or cultural diversity, in fact in that speech, he talks about it as being a strength for Australia and a source of understanding to what is happening in the region. He talks about Western Civilization and its importance to the Association of Ethnic Communities because he says, this is what binds us together regardless of where you come from.

So ladies and gentleman, this is a remarkable book for one reason, because these words came from a remarkable man. John Howard didn’t need a speech writer. In fact, most of his speeches were given and delivered ex tempore, off the cuff. There is a breadth and a depth of these speeches, that give you a sense of why the Howard years were so successful – courage, conviction, common sense and consistency of purpose.

And finally, as John Howard said in of these speeches of someone who came before him, Margaret Thatcher, “she got the big things right.” There will be people who try to poke holes in John Howard’s legacy, because they come from the view of identity politics, or they think that he needed to make an apology or they don’t agree to him on the Republic. But at the end of the day, John Howard never pretended to be someone he wasn’t. He knew who he was and he gave life to that as a Prime Minister. He got the big things right and he has left Australia a wonderful legacy. Thank you very much.

John Howard OM, AC: Thank you very much, Josh. I think I agree with everything he just said. You have been incredibly gracious, but Josh, thank you. Can I say that politics is always about renewal. Tonight, inevitably, we get a bit nostalgic and reflect on the past, as we should. As Edmund Burke famously said, “society is a contract between the past, the present and the future.” And that is so true. The future is represented for the liberal party by people like Josh Frydenberg and others, who have come into politics more recently. They’re not exactly the same as their predecessors and they shouldn’t be. I wasn’t exactly the same as Bob Menzies. When Bob Menzies retired, he said centralized wage fixing was fantastic. I don’t think any such remark has dropped from my lips, but it didn’t alter the fact that we are a part of a long continuity, and Josh is a part of that long continuity. I am absolutely touched that he should be asked to launch this tonight.

Ends

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