Throwback: John Howard, the ghost of elections past

John Howard
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John Howard’s recent appearance on the campaign trail brings back memories of his own 2004 election campaign. Another example of an on-the-nose PM attempting to ferment anti-LGBTIQ+ bigotry to win votes.

QNews spoke to former Senator Brian Greig about John Howard’s 2004 amendment to the Marriage Act and its relevance to the current election.

Australia’s current far-right pentecostal Prime Minister describes himself as a moderate.

Compared to who?

Former Liberals Pauline Hanson and Craig Kelly? Perhaps Torquemada?

Always happy to embrace the religious right, Morrison began his election campaign by personally installing  Katherine Deves as the Liberal candidate for Warringah. The unknown Deves stood no chance against the popular independent incumbent. However,  Morrison saw a chance to dogwhistle bigots in other seats and gain their votes.

It might have worked if Morrison’s captain’s pick stuck to the contentious issue of transwomen and female sport. But a trove of recovered social media posts revealed her ‘concern’ about female sports as mere cover for deeper bigotry. The potential for stoking a nationwide electoral rebellion against ‘wokeness’ faded with revelations that the rainbow flag triggered the prize candidate. Obvious lies about irreversible surgery on children and countless Nazi references didn’t help either.

Despite his continued support for Deves, Morrison hedged his bets. We never, for example, saw the pair photographed together. And by the time of the Liberal launch on Sunday, the Prime Minister obviously gave up on his Deves strategy. Her absence from the launch telegraphed that.

Without a knock-out blow against Labor — and absent Scotty from Marketing‘s mythical election-winning prowess — the LNP now desperately needs every vote it can find. Even in the ‘teal’ seats that Morrison previously seemed so keen to sacrifice.

Heeeere’s Johnny

So, heeeere’s Johnny. Former Prime Minister John Howard knows a thing or two about harvesting votes from bigotry.

In 2004, a tired and on the nose Howard government faced a difficult election campaign. In his government’s early years, Howard lost numerous ministers due to breaches of the ministerial code of conduct.

Yes! Believe it or not, unlike Alan Tudge, ministers once quit or were fired over integrity issues. Several of Morrison’s Cabinet would be out on their arses if our government still abided by traditional principles. But tradition is now malleable. Something to be hammered into whatever shape proves useful for battering demonised minorities, frequently the LGBTIQ+ communities.

In 2004, Howard could no longer rely on beating his chest on national security to win the election against a resurgent Labor under Mark Latham. (WTF was Labor thinking?)

The failure to find the imaginary Weapons of Mass Destruction used to justify the invasion of Iraq diminished Howard’s credentials on security matters. And by 2004, the Australian public knew the government lied to win the 2001 election. Howard, along with his defence and immigration ministers claimed in the lead up to the election that refugees threw their children overboard into the Indian Ocean to effect an Australian rescue. A Senate inquiry later found the government knew, prior to the election, that never happened.

Howard needed to conjure a new election issue.

Senator Brian Greig

Openly gay Senator Brian Greig of the Australian Democrats figured prominently at the time as the main opponent of the Howard government’s regressive LGBTI policies.

“Howard wanted an issue to wedge Labor. He seized on same-sex marriage. The Marriage Act of 1961 allowed the recognition of marriages in foreign countries. But in 2004, two Australian same-sex couples who married in Canada sought legal recognition of their marriages in Australia.

“John Howard had found an issue which would energise his conservative base and wedge Labor.”

Survival of the species

Howard raised the spectre of same-sex marriage endangering the very survival of humankind.

“Traditional marriage is one of the bedrock institutions of our society and I don’t want anything to occur that further weakens it.

“Marriage, as we understand it in our society, is about children, having children, raising them, providing for the survival of the species.

Then Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group spokesman Rodney Croome joined Senator Brian Greig in opposing Howard’s proposed amendment to the Marriage Act.

“Excluding gay and lesbian people from marriage is just as morally reprehensible as excluding women from the vote or making black people ride at the back of the bus.

“The purpose of marriage is to recognise, celebrate and reinforce values like love, commitment and support.

“They are not values that heterosexual couples have a monopoly over.”

Liberal conservatives versus the moderates

Brian Greig told QNews yesterday that the current civil war in the Liberal Party between the right and moderates over LGBTIQ+ issues was nothing new.

“A sympathetic Liberal senator told me that when Howard brought up the subject of amending the Marriage Act in the party room, there were audible groans.

“There were always Liberals with progressive social views.

“Way back in 1973, former Liberal Prime Minister John Gorton co-sponsored a federal motion calling for the repeal of anti-gay laws.

“But Senator Eric Abetz and fellow conservatives successfully moved the party to a position of almost automatic opposition to LGBTIQ+ rights.

“Howard saw an advantage in adopting the tactics of the American right. In doing so, he moved the party away from its former liberal values.

“Morrison has exacerbated that move to the right. Hardly a surprise from a politician who so loudly proclaims his pentecostal beliefs.”

Former Senator Greig said Labor in 2004 — as in 2022 — decided on a small target strategy by not opposing Howard’s amendment.

“Greens Senators Bob Brown and Ketty Nettle joined me in moving amendments against the change to the Marriage Act. However, Howard’s amendment passed with Labor support.

“In the end, it made little difference to the 2004 election when voters failed to see Mark Latham as the new Messiah.”

Rights never guaranteed

Brian Greig said rights are never guaranteed.

“Morrison and Howard both demonstrate that there will always be politicians who see electoral advantage in demonising minorities. The recent leak of the American Supreme Court decision on abortion shows us that reforms we take for granted can be reversed.

“Labor has still not learned that full-throated support for LGBTIQ+ people is not a vote loser. The national postal vote on SSM was evidence of this. And Joe Biden became US President while unashamedly championing our rights.

“This is an important election. But every election is important. The forces allied against LGBTIQ+ rights will never give up on opposing equality.

“Every member of our communities should remember that when they cast their vote.”

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  1. 21 May 2022

    Little Johnny Howard said c. 2004 “Marriage, as we understand it in our society, is about children, having children, raising them, providing for the survival of the species.” To which I say, so why not just let LGBTIQ people raise children (which are often their own offspring) — problem solved.

  2. Peter Turner
    26 May 2022

    Hindsight is always 20/20 but the Australian electorate showed Morriscum that he had underestimated the compassion voters.

    Of couse he also underestimated women and the desire for more action on Climate Change and the establishment of a Federal ICAC with teeth.

    And now some in the Liberal Party are echoing the Murdoch press calling for the Party to move to the Right.

    Have they not learned anything??

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