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Published: ABC The Drum Unleashed

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Listening to ‘a surprised’ John Howard taking a tough line against the decision of the ICC to exclude him from contention of Vice President of the organisation, one is struck by how little he learnt or understood from his time as prime minister.

And for that we are all to blame.

Grovelling or perhaps not too bright commentators have said of Howard that the corrupt Indian administrators of the game had knocked him back because they would not want someone of his fierce and principled reputation appointed to a position where he might make life difficult for them.

What about the AWB, Children Overboard, the Intervention and his backdoor entry to the war in Iraq? None of these issues have been properly investigated and we the Australian people have shown no stomach or determination for them to be examined. The British have conducted an inquiry into why they went to war in Iraq, but not us. Sweep it under the carpet; that is the extent of our determination. Meantime our moral resolve gets steadily white anted by our collective desire to praise, irrespective of the merits of that praise, all things Australian.

Isolated by an inferiority complex that can only process praise, we refuse to face certain unpleasant facts about Australia. And if there is one person who represents all that is now lacking with regard to race and human rights it is Howard and his prime ministership, with his appalling philosophy of whatever it takes and the lengths to which he took it.

Do we really believe we live in a vacuum? The Indian government, media, people and other organisations, including the Indian Cricket Board are well aware of his shortcomings. The ICB is unwilling to put its views forward, but the leak to the respected Indian media outlet “Times Now” says it all. The problem for them is John Howard and his unrepentant racism, dating from his support of Apartheid through to the appalling attack on Mohammed Haneef, the Indian doctor based in Queensland.

Haneef is the issue which has beached Howard’s run for the ICC and he, and we should have seen it coming. Who are these naive Australian cricketing officials who put Howard up? Have they no idea what people in Asia and Africa have been saying about Australia behind our backs for the last twelve years or more.

Clearly Rudd was in the same boat with his silly and ill-advised quest to get a seat on the UN Security Council. We have no chance and will be lucky to get enough votes to save face.

Five, six, seven thousand refugees by boat and we make it into an election issue. Spare me, particularly when the people we should be concerned about from organised crime and sharpsters come in by plane, on forged visas and stolen passports. And how many do this? It is hard to get reliable information because it is smothered by the rackets and corruption surrounding these entrants.

Haneef will haunt Howard for the rest of his days. Not long after this appalling event occurred I went to see the Indian High Commissioner in Canberra. He was livid and if he was livid you can imagine the reaction in India. Attacks on Indian students have only played into earlier perceptions. If India did not want our uranium they might have said a lot more. But Howard no longer holds power, feelings can be vented and they have been.

I have just returned from South Africa. I was posted there as a diplomat. Amongst other things I was a people smuggler for individuals facing torture and death under the Apartheid regime. I have travelled often to the country. I ran a program bringing Black South Africans to Australia for training.

There is no sense of subterranean racism in South Africa, what you see and hear on the street, in pubs, restaurants and lounge rooms is what you get.

There is nothing underhand or furtive in relation to issues of race and racism in South Africa. There are no codes or Masonic signals surrounding and defining racism as there is in Australia.

Howard used racism for political ends whilst denying its existence. It was nudge and wink racism in public, encouraged more blatantly behind closed doors. It went hand in glove with the secrecy that Howard fostered in response to the fear he sought to engender and use in response to what he termed international terrorism.

Sneaky, subterranean racism rises to the surface in sulphurous, surprising bursts. Recent vitriolic musings in club surrounds from AFL and NRL luminaries give a glimpse into what some select sub-groups consider acceptable, if not normal in their social discourse.

It is an offshoot of the flag draped racism of Howard, where the language and symbolism of his peculiar brand of jingoistic nationalism was deployed to devastating effect against refugees and Muslims.

Brough under Howard instituted a major attack on the rights and self respect of Aboriginals for the same political purpose as Children Overboard. No respect, no dialogue, separate development, a Bantu Board solution in Australia.

This is Howard’s legacy; this is what he is reaping. Did he really believe it would go unnoticed?

Tragically for us the framework of his legacy was embraced by Rudd and now Gillard.

Chasing seats in the Western Suburbs of Sydney, Gillard has decided to pull the race card and lay refugees low.

Refugees arriving by boat have been woven into a modern day Australian narrative by risk averse manipulators within both major parties as, selfish, calculating, usurpers of the life-style and rights of ‘ordinary working Australians’.

Many in the media and putative victims have accepted the narrative. It has been too easy and rewarding for the major political parties to embrace, for political advantage, the short term appeal of Howard’s, ‘we will decide who comes here’ without factoring in the long term damage to the social fabric and moral fibre of the country. Howard’s and now Gillard’s policy is the political and social asbestos that Australia will have to deal with in the future. It is toxic.

Boat people are the political and social scapegoats for all that is wrong with, and lacking, in badly planned, rapidly deteriorating and dysfunctional urban Australia. Lack of money and opportunity is what the marginal seats are saying, but it is all together too easy to avoid these big issues by hiding behind the smokescreen of a sea borne invasion of undeserving queue jumpers.

Gillard, like Rudd takes us for a fool. She seeks to spin.

The sand in her timer is rapidly running out. The polls are no indicator of what is being said on the street. She and Swan are seen as part of the old regime and vilifying refugees will not overcome that legacy.

She will lose more support than she gains. She will never please the ill informed, narrow and ugly Right that she proposes to chase, but she will alienate the decent centre of her own party. She will deliver votes in spades to the Greens, because this is not just about the proper treatment of refugees, it is about what sort of Australia we want to live in.

Wooden, self-focused and unimaginative, Gillard has been seduced by Howard’s modus operandi; the world wonders at the selfishness, insularity, insecurity and gutlessness exhibited and projected on our behalf by a political leadership concerned only with whatever it takes to get re-elected.

Gillard’s ‘reforms’ will push public debate and Opposition policy further to the Right.