Howard reveals: What today’s pollies are lacking
Former prime minister John Howard has sounded an alarm about the rise of career politicians, revealing he is concerned particularly about state parliaments being filled with representatives who have had no prior life or work experience.
On the 25th anniversary of his stunning 1996 federal election victory, Mr Howard said the issue of life experience continued to concern him, pointing back to an era when cabinets included farmers and labourers who had "shorn a few sheep, fixed a few lights or built a few houses".
But Australia's second-longest serving prime minister holds an overall positive view of Australia and its leaders, saying "there's no country in the world of comparable character, composition, standard of living, culture … that has done better than Australia at handling the pandemic".
In a wide-ranging interview to mark the anniversary of his election as prime minister, Mr Howard encouraged leaders to press on with tax reform and cautioned against anyone hastening the phasing out of coal in this country. He heaped praise on Prime Minister Scott Morrison and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who he singled out as the best of the nation's premiers. He said credit must be shared nationally though, and he believed the federation had "held up well" with the exception of some "knee jerk border closures" and "silly comments" from parochial premiers.
Mr Howard said he had been concerned for some time about the rise of the political staffer career path, particularly in state politics.
"I worry about the growing number of members of parliament especially at a state level whose only pre parliamentary experience was working in politics," Mr Howard said.
"Before I entered parliament politics was something I did in spare time at night and on weekends. But now we've had over the last 40 or more years, the rise of the political staffer as a career path."
Mr Howard pointed to the Chifley Labor cabinet of 1949, where he said: "You had a couple of farmers, several who were soldiers, one was even tobacconist which is practically a criminal offence now … but the last Labor government didn't have one person with a bush background."
He said his criticism applied to both sides of politics but was "less pronounced at a federal level", declaring state parliament was particularly concerning. "When I went into parliament in 1974 there were a lot of people on the Labor side who were self taught men, and they'd all shorn a few sheep, fixed a few lights, or built a few houses. A lot of the union officials now skip that. The same thing happens (with Liberals)."
The former PM always considered two elements were key in selling reforms, and credits this approach with his ability to bring Australia on the journey to vote for a GST.
"The most important thing is that it is good for Australia that it will make us a better country. And the other thing is it has to be fair to the vulnerable," he said.
"The GST reform was the most major economic reforms that the country seen in the past 40 years. It was not the one that had the biggest impact, I've always believed was the floating of the dollar."
Mr Howard said he believed there was still room to reform the tax system and commended NSW treasurer Dominic Perrottet's efforts here.
"We always have to make our taxation system better and fairer. It's been a long time since we've done anything big on tax and I think Dom Perrottet is trying to do that."
The former prime minister cautioned against any fast phasing out of coal, saying he was "very sceptical" of those asking for the immediate demise of coal and gas.
"We are lucky that providence gave us coal or iron ore. The people running around saying we should ban coal don't realise the damage that would do in the short term. The idea that his country would make it harder for our coal or natural gas producers is just so against the natural interest."
When it was put to him that some in his own party push this, he said "I would say the same thing to them".
Credit must be shared among all leaders for Australia's success in the pandemic, Mr Howard said but he did concede there had been moments of bad behaviour.
He said he believed the federation was in a good state. "I think some of the border closures have resembled knee jerk reactions and I think some of the comments made were unfortunate," he said.
Mr Howard singled out Annastacia Palaszczuk, saying" "I think that comment from the Queensland premier about we have Queensland hospitals for Queenslanders, that was a silly comment and I'm sure on reflection she regrets having said that."
When asked about his fondest political memory, he said winning the 1996 election.
"It's 25 years ago (on Tuesday). I don't regard that as my greatest achievement, that's a personal memory.
"Winning an election, becoming prime minister of this fantastic country is a wonderful experience.
"I was very honoured and humbled to have the chance," he said.
"When I lost an election decisively I looked back and believed the country was stronger and prouder and more prosperous than it was when I was elected."
Originally published as Howard reveals: What today's pollies are lacking