Australia won’t be sending a team to next year’s Beijing Olympics. Well, it won’t if John Howard—should voters be shameless enough to re-elect his government this year and he doesn’t get rolled by Maxine McKew—is to be consistent in his human rights policy. After all, what Howard thinks is good enough for Mugabe should be good enough for China’s ruling communist/capitalist schizophrenics ( what a thought: a combination of the worst of both worlds) .

In fact, if Howard had been consistent in his concern about human suffering, long ago he would have barred himself and his cabinet colleagues (especially Ruddock, Vanstone and Downer) from all international events on the grounds of his government’s appalling violations of human rights; violations of the basic human rights of all those defenceless people who arrived in our waters seeking sanctuary from violence and persecution—only to be incarcerated in concentration camps, on the mainland and in mendicant neighbours Papua New Guinea and Nauru. All the lofty words of the UN charter on human rights seem to have meant nothing to Howard and his cabinet colleagues. Why? Because a hard line on aliens seeking sanctuary here wins ``blue-collar’’ (read normally Labor-leaning) racist voters
It must, then, have come as a bit of a shock to worshippers of Iron Man Howard when he went to water this month on IR. Seems just a few really bad opinions polls are enough to bring a little self-serving compassion   back into his performance. And who was the polite, modest little man with the wry grin chatting with Kerry O’Brien on the ABC’s 7.30 Report on May 14? Not a spark flew between them. Even the ``clashes’’ were jovial.  Was this a man on the defensive, a man trying to reassure the public that he is ready to replace hubris with humility.

Don’t be deceived. It was the smile on the face of a tiger that knows it’s wounded but can’t quite sense where, or why. So, while it gathers its strength,  it is being ever so coy. Who, me! What have I done wrong? Can’t they see how good I’ve been to them?

This week, Howard is warning his people that the Liberal Party is bound for “annihilation”. Not surprising from a master in the art of the politics of fear. Cross my heart and hope to die, I haven’t any rabbits to pull out of my hat, he tells them in the party room. Come off it, Johnny, as if you would tell us if you had. And we’re sure you have at least one or two.

In the final half-year run-up to the federal election, what will be the fiendishly clever scare tactic, brilliantly timed, that he will spring on the public this time? I’m no good at dreaming up such scenarios, but I’m sure this man’s fertile mind still has compost enough to cultivate a prize specimen. Can’t imagine that it will be more WMDs (even Bush doesn’t still expect to find them somewhere out there in the shifting sands of the cradle of civilisation). Or refugees (surely another SIEV X or “children overboard” is not possible now that the Coalition’s brilliant “anti-people-smuggling” policies have the “illegals” threat firmly under control). But, rest assured, there will be something. I wouldn’t like to be a Labor strategist trying to guess what—and how to cope with it. Hope Labor does better than Beazley’s mob did.

Whatever happens, there is no doubt that the Coalition is suffering a possibly terminal political cancer; a cancer triggered by years of deception and lack of care for a society metabolism that demands openness, integrity and honesty — and hasn’t been getting it for a decade .

Howard’s IR policy ``adjustment’’  early this month was a classic volte-face that only an election year could extract. There was no such response to public disapproval when Howard and Downer, in the face of overwhelming public opposition, sided with the United States in bombing the hell out of Iraqis. Without the people’s permission, they blindly sent Aussie troops to help shore up George Bush’s   creaky ``coalition of the willing’‘; a coalition that would have collapsed had Britain’s Tony Blair done the right thing and refused to go along.

Which brings us to narcissist Blair’s late-autumn days. Now we watch him trying so hard to recapture some of that early-‘97 summer bloom. He admits to misjudgments over post-invasion Iraq but refuses to acknowledge that he was so disastrously wrong in his decision to play along with a deranged Uncle Sam in defying the UN Security Council and going ahead with the coalition’s murderous shock-and-awe onslaught.

So, as winter closes upon us, it’s one (almost)  down and two to go. We must wait to see if any of this trio will, one day,  ever acknowledge that every time someone dies in Iraq they are largely responsible for that death. Al Quaeda may have been active in many places before the second Gulf war, but it was not present in Iraq. Saddam Hussein, for all his faults, would have no truck with religious bigots. Only courtesy of George Bush’s illegal invasion of Iraq did Osama bin Laden’s disciples find another battleground upon which to promote their leader’s blind hatred of everything that America stands for.

Good riddance, Tony Blair, may your nation’s peers one day judge you for your decisions on Iraq. And that goes for George Bush and John Howard, too.

Bob Hawkins

Good riddance, Tony Blair, may your nation’s peers one day judge you for your decisions on Iraq. And that goes for George Bush and John Howard, too.