It seems the Man of Steel — as America’s great liability, George W. Bush, describes him — had been told by fellow cabinet Liberals to put his clothes back on and rejoin the club.

Yes — but for pure political expedience — the Coalition suddenly has a team. It’s amazing how a bunch of yes-men, when faced with imminent political oblivion, can get their voices back and summon the temerity to say, “Hey boss, come to heel or we’ll kick out your steel.”

Holding a hand that seems not to have a trump in it, Howard has been made to see that “imperious” is out, “humility” is in; and now — in truly desperate circumstances — he’s just one of a team that can “save” Australians and their economy from the ravages of a bunch of untried, inexperienced, union-controlled Laborites.

I seem to remember, in 1996, Australia’s Tories cobbling together a cabinet of ministers with all the qualifications of today’s Laborites, the only exception being that they were corporate-controlled rather than union-controlled.

So, with parliamentary democracy once again faintly in evidence — and with the threat of de facto republicanism (by royal assent, course) and government by fiat having receded a tad — let’s have a look at this Coalition team John Howard reckons is so much better for the economic well-being of Australia than anything Labor has to offer. Only a few of the team need serious consideration:

JOHN HOWARD: Well, what good can be said about a man who is so proud to lead his nation that he sets up home in a palace in his own back yard rather than accepting the traditional, less luxurious but eminently comfortable Lodge in Canberra (which, many seem to forget, is our capital and was once, until it fell into the hands of de facto private management, a national showpiece of which Australians could be proud)?

What good can be said about a man who has never shown the slightest mercy for the human flotsam that tried to find sanctuary by drifting towards our shores in leaky boats, boats that no serious terrorist would every think of using lest his suicidal mission be foiled by premature drowning?

What good can be said about a man who allowed the man who condoned the incarceration of young children for years to become the chief lawmaker of our land?

What good can be said about a man whose allegiance to the simpleton leader of the world superpower was so total that he had to resort to deceit to persuade his own country to illegally invade a nation that had done no harm to us other than demand a backhander for allowing us to sell wheat to it?

What good can be said about a man whose hubris precludes any possibility of his acknowledging that he has been an accessory to conduct that has led to the killing of perhaps hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis; and to events that have irrevocably changed Iraq from an al Qaeda-free zone to an al Qaeda training ground?

What good can be said of a man who resorts to the use of the military in a parliamentary democracy, a democracy that requires that Defence forces are never used against Australian citizens? (Military personnel were standing by at APEC; and surely the role they have in the Northern Territory could be, and should be, handled by civilians.)

There is nothing good to be said about this man — unless thinking about one’s own good is now a virtue in this self-serving world.

PETER COSTELLO: Competently enough, he has presided as Treasurer through a period of almost hitherto unknown prosperity. There was not much that he could have got wrong. Yet not once since he got the job in 1996 has he come within a bull’s roar of estimating the budget surplus. (Usually he’s on the downside by a couple of billion dollars or so, billions that are a consequence of a rapidly rising tax take by a government that constantly reassures us it has cut taxes yet never mentions bracket creep or the 10 per cent of almost everything it takes in GST off the lower-paid every week.)

And not once have I heard this brother of a renowned campaigner for human rights and protection of the poverty-stricken raise his voice against the war crimes, child abuse and human rights violations perpetrated by his government. The man is a blustering wimp and not fit to lead Australia.

MAL BROUGH: Surely it should be Mal B. Rough? Here’s another man who believes, like his leader, that might is right; a man who marches soldiers into Northern Territory Aboriginal communities (in an election year) when what is needed is a caring, disciplined police presence to keep the peace while civilian professionals (teachers, doctors, nurses, counsellors . . .) get on with the job of providing for the needs of indigenous Australians and giving them a chance to decide for themselves whether they want to be “beneficiaries” of this government’s culturally genocidal assimilation policy.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Self-appointed minister for everything, and with a smattering of French. Just too silly for words.

PHILIP RUDDOCK: I know he’s been busy organising APEC security against all those dangerous, violent rabble-rousing Australian protesters, but have you noticed just how quiet today is this man who has been at the heart of almost everything ugly the Howard government has done? Some might think Australians have rumbled just how great a threat this man is to what is left of our once much-lauded democracy. If the party is to renew itself in a form acceptable to decent-thinking Australians, this man should be asked not to re-contest.

TONY ABBOTT: Not much more to be said after noting his shillyshallying as he desperately tried to make work his master’s populist grab for votes by snatching a Tasmanian hospital from state control and then insisting on due diligence when it was offered to Canberra for a buck. You never know what’s going to come out of Abbott’s mouth next. Possibly he doesn’t either.

BRENDAN NELSON: After a short stint at Education, he left it in a mess. He’s doing the same with Defence. Better he goes back to whatever doctoring the Dr stands for.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Hard to understand how this filthy rich merchant banker who made such a mess of leading the putsch for a republic (he got rolled in the process by the man he now serves) can consider himself a contender for the leadership of Australia. Mind you, he is doing it tough. It’s no secret that he and his boss aren’t exactly buddies. No friend hands a poisoned chalice like Environment to someone they want to see succeed.

JULIE BISHOP: Now, here’s a danger for Labor. She always presents neatly in a prissy Liberal sort of way. She’s engaging. She appears to think clearly. She talks in sentences. She isn’t physically or intellectually unattractive. In fact, she might just be the answer for a party whose men, irrespective of the awfulness of John Howard, offer nothing that resembles a successor to the man who has dragged Australia back to so many of the nastier aspects of mid-20th century Australia.

If there is anyone else worthy of a note I cannot think of him. And the Libs’ latter-day Maggie Thatcher seems to have disappeared altogether behind a camouflage of cosmetics, probably only too aware that her moment has well and truly passed.

But wait, we’re still this side of an election, so our wily PM yet has time to dream up more of his hallmark skulduggery.

Surely there’s nowhere new he could invade, occupy or “militarily assist”.

A possible, maybe, perhaps, imminent act of terrorism? Not likely — we’re all getting a bit blase about “could happen” terror events.

And though the Libs seem to be stuck in the groove in their carping about Labor’s economic incompetence, I bet they’ve still got a few Labor skeletons to roll out before the poll.

No, the skulduggery this time will have to be of hugely dramatic proportions.

Is it too fantastic to imagine a staged (of course, unsuccessful) assassination attempt? It’s a tempting thought, but on this tack I’d better be careful: there are probably a few nicely worded clauses in our updated anti-terror laws that could have me thinking my thoughts alone in the slammer for simply having been thinking. Now that’s really worth thinking about.

But, if there were an assassination attempt (bogus of course), would it be a vote-winner?

Even that’s debatable now in a country notorious for its tall-poppy-slashing propensities.

What is now crystal clear is that, if he is to survive, John Howard has to prove that we have not yet seen the limits of his uniquely perverse political ingenuity.


Bob Hawkins

AUSTRALIA,  without a prime minister since the 20th century, got back a sort of PM on Wednesday evening, the news coming to us via a John Howard-Kerry O’Brien exchange on the ABC’s 7.30 Report.

President John Howard of Kirribili, for a decade dictator of all policy, metamorphosed before our eyes ostensibly back into the type of prime minister most reasonable Australians would prefer: a man at the head of, and responsive to, a collaborative team.