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John Howard joins 730 -

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Former Prime Minister John Howard speaks to Chris Uhlmann about the current state of the political
landscape.

Transcript

CHRIS UHLMANN, PRESENTER: No one knows better than John Howard that making bold predictions in
politics is fraught. Otherwise he wouldn't have called his autobiography Lazarus Rising. And yet he
is sure of this: the next election will deliver a clear victory to one of the major parties as
people reject the so-called "new paradigm". He delivers that verdict and other reflections on
politics in 2011 in a new chapter of his book. He is here to speak to us today. John Howard,
welcome to 7:30.

JOHN HOWARD, FORMER PRIME MINISTER: Great pleasure.

CHRIS UHLMANN: You write at the end of your book that Australians are longing for a return to
normalcy.

JOHN HOWARD: Yes.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Why?

JOHN HOWARD: Because the experiment of a new paradigm - this hung parliament, this cosmopolitan
Coalition - hasn't worked, and I predict at the next election - and I've made this prediction for a
long time now - that there will be a clear outcome. I don't think they want the indecision and the
influence of minorities that we've had over the last year.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But government continues: 180 bills or more have been passed, there will be changes
to the mining tax, the carbon tax - so government hasn't ground to a halt.

JOHN HOWARD: You don't measure the worth of the Government by the number of bills it passes. In
some respects the fewer the bills passed by governments, the better.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Spoken like a Liberal, though.

JOHN HOWARD: Ha! But, you know, people want governments to get out of their lives, not to be too
into their lives, so I think I will put that to one side. There is a sense of drift. The biggest
problem that the current Prime Minister has is that she lacks authority, and even if you are an
unpopular Prime Minister - and I went through periods of unpopularity; all of us do as prime
ministers - you have to retain authority, and I think this is her biggest problem, because she
didn't win the last election outright and - having taken the job of a popularly-elected Prime
Minister - she really needed to win outright to have authority.

CHRIS UHLMANN: If you lose that, can you win it back?

JOHN HOWARD: Very hard. But she never really had it. If you've had it in the first place and you
lose it, it's easy to get back, but she has never really had it, because in a sense she was on
trial at the last election. You've got to remember that there are only three Labor leaders who have
taken their party to government from Opposition since the war - Whitlam, Hawke and Rudd - and they
knocked off Rudd before he had a chance to face the people, so it was an extraordinary thing to
have done. And all this talk about how he was rude to his colleagues and everything, I'm sure it
was right, but that was not something that was apparent to the entire Australian community.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Do you think politics is more brutal at the moment than you've seen it in the past?

JOHN HOWARD: No. I was there in 1975. It was pretty brutal then. And it was fairly brutal at
various stages of the Hawke government, so I don't think it's any more brutal. I think we have to
preserve a sense of perspective. But I will say this: that this charge that Tony Abbott is too
negative is hypocritical. None of the big reforms of my government, none of them, were supported by
the Labor Party in Opposition; they opposed every single thing of any consequence.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But Tony Abbott has said he would prefer pragmatism over policy purity every single
time. Is that always the best choice?

JOHN HOWARD: You need both. I used to say to my...

CHRIS UHLMANN: But he doesn't have both at the moment.

JOHN HOWARD: Well, he has. I have a very clear idea of the kind of Australia Tony Abbott would like
to have. I mean, he has a very strong commitment to family, he has a very strong commitment to
lower taxation, he has a very strong commitment to maintaining the momentum of economic reform, and
has a very strong social conscience. They're four pretty important things.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Looking at one of those things that was very important to you, which was industrial
relations, why is the Coalition mute now on industrial relations? Did you make it harder for them
through WorkChoices?

JOHN HOWARD: No, I don't think so. But how they handle the tactics of Opposition is for them. I'm
sworn off, I've taken a vow of silence when it comes to talking about the detail of tactics. That's
a matter for them. I'm not there. I'm the past as far as parliamentary tactics are concerned, but I
do know that at some point this country has to wind back the re-regulation of the labour market.

CHRIS UHLMANN: And that will be a job for the Coalition?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, it won't happen under Labor because Labor is run by the unions - even more so
now than they were when I was Prime Minister.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Without going to the tactics or it though, certainly at some stage the Coalition is
going to find its voice?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, it's blindingly obvious that one of the worst mistakes Julia Gillard has made is
to re-regulate the labour market. It is affecting our productivity and it will therefore affect our
competitiveness.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Do you think that self-interest alone will guarantee that this government hangs
together for the next two years?

JOHN HOWARD: I think it's very likely they will go the distance. I don't think any of the
Independents are going to change.

CHRIS UHLMANN: So what happens in that time? If, as you say, the Government is adrift now, surely
at some stage the game must change a bit, and it finds its feet. That's the tactic of the Labor
Party anyway?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, let's wait and see. No current Parliament is ever quite like the one that went
before it, and every situation is different. And even somebody who was in politics for a long time,
like myself, has to allow for unexpected development.

CHRIS UHLMANN: You think that the Greens have peaked?

JOHN HOWARD: Yes.

CHRIS UHLMANN: All the evidence that we have so far is that the Greens are on the rise and
certainly they're taking votes from the Labor Party. Why wouldn't that continue?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, they've made a couple of fundamental mistakes which have revealed their extreme
nature. They have a deep anti-Israeli streak in them which frightens and concerns a lot of people.
I mean, we saw the reaffirmation by Senator Rhiannon on her views on that. They have some very
way-out foreign policies and way-out social policies. Australians don't like extremists. They don't
like extremists in any spectrum of politics, and I think the Greens are increasingly seen as
extremists. They didn't do so well in the last New South Wales election, and one of the reasons for
that, of course, was this absurd attitude many of them have about Israel.

CHRIS UHLMANN: What's your expectation about what will happen to the Independents then at the next
election?

JOHN HOWARD: I think both Oakeshott and Windsor, if they run, will lose their seats. If you look at
the pattern of the Victorian election, the country Independents did less well there, and if the
Victorian Liberal Party does what I hope it does and puts Adam Bandt last on the Liberal Party's
how-to-vote card, the Labor Party will regain the seat of Melbourne at the next federal election -
which I would like to see happen.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Surely then you're talking about tactics now?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, perhaps I am on that.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Didn't take you long to break your vow of silence.

JOHN HOWARD: No, no, alright. You haven't lost your touch.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But surely that is a sign that the Labor Party is really having difficulty with the
Greens, if it needs the Liberal Party support in order to win a seat like Melbourne?

JOHN HOWARD: No, I look at it from a point of view of principle. And the principle is that Green
policies are worse than Labor policies. I think Labor policies are bad enough, but Green policies
are even worse.

CHRIS UHLMANN: We stand now less than a fortnight away from the anniversary of September 11. Do you
think it was a mistake to invade Iraq?

JOHN HOWARD: No.

CHRIS UHLMANN: What about the fact that we bled then-forces away from Afghanistan?

JOHN HOWARD: Oh, that's not a theory I accept because the initial task in Afghanistan had been
completed and the Taliban had been routed, and there had been an alliance formed behind Hamid
Karzai, so there was reason to believe that the task in Afghanistan had been substantially
completed.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But clearly it wasn't.

JOHN HOWARD: No, but I don't think you can blame the commitment in Iraq for that.

CHRIS UHLMANN: How has the world changed, do you think, since September 11? Everyone at the time
said this would be an epoch-changing moment. How did the world change because of that?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, we've become more cautious. I think we're more alive to the fact that conflict
is not just defined in the old terms of armies rolling across borders; that terrorism and threat of
terrorism is a reality we all have to face. There are the daily inconveniences - that most sensible
people fully accept - of airline and other travel. There is a realisation, also, that the thing
that binds countries together are common values and common beliefs, and the takeout of mine over
the last 10 years is that the strongest bonds between nations are shared values and shared
attitudes more than anything else.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Which is why you were so keen on the alliance with the United States?

JOHN HOWARD: Yes, I believe very strongly that what brings countries more closely together than
anything else is our shared values. That is why, despite the economic significance of China - and
it is very significant - America and Australia will always be closer than China and Australia
because we have shared values. That's not to be critical of China or downplay the importance of the
relationship, but just to emphasise that it's values that drives the strength of an alliance more
than anything else.

CHRIS UHLMANN: John Howard, thank you

JOHN HOWARD: Thank you.