POLITICAL drama will be at a level not seen for a generation this year.

Most journalists will be observing the most intense political contest in their careers. The internet will play a critical role in this election for the first time. The drama will be more intense because of what is at stake for John Howard, who will become a tragic figure, if the present opinion polls are anywhere close to being reflected at the election.

From today’s vantage point there is a high probability that not only will the government lose, but Howard will lose his seat. This will happen if only a third of the swing in present opinion polls eventuates on election day.

This possibility is not lost on Howard and the added tension is already showing in his demeanour.

To understand why John Howard could become a figure of tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, his life story needs to be understood. The Liberal Party has been John Howard’s life. He joined the party about the time of his eighteenth birthday in 1957, and so he will have his 50th anniversary this year.  The best indication of his commitment and that of his mother was an action taken by them in 1968 when he was still living at home. Howard was endorsed as the candidate for the state seat of Drummoyne.  In order to enhance his chances, his mother sold the family home in Earlwood and rented a house with him at Five Dock, a suburb within the electorate. When his bid failed, John Howard and his mother returned to Earlwood, moving together to a house in the very same street that he grew up in.

He was eventually elected to Parliament in 1974; became Liberal leader for the first time in 1985 and then came back to win the 1996 election to become Prime Minister. He now is closing in on Robert Menzies’ record for the longest serving Prime Minister in Australian history.

If John Howard had resigned last year he would have gone out as a hero of the Liberal Party — the party to which he has devoted all his adult life. He didn’t and now faces the battle of his life. The drama of this battle is being played out every day publicly via the media and internally in the Liberal Party.

His opponent Kevin Rudd is by far the most formidable he has faced.  He is intelligent and driven. An indication of his commitment occurred a month or so ago when John Howard put out a media statement which was to be embargoed until 12pm on a Sunday night. At 12.10 Rudd was actually on the phone wanting to respond on the ABC!

He is no Mark Latham and will not be accident prone. The first day of this year’s sittings showed how intense the contest would be.  One of the motions was a condolence for the late Jim Killen who had died between the House rising for the Christmas break and February. Rudd upstaged Howard’s rather pedestrian speech with an entertaining yet appropriately dignified speech and Howard knew it; his body language said it all. 

There is no doubt that John Howard is a formidable campaigner but there hasn’t been a campaign he has had to fight that has gone on for as long as 7 months and he is 67. Many people think he will be able to pull a rabbit out of a hat and win through. Because of this, the tension of the unfolding drama will be maintained to the very end.

For John Howard, tragedy will take the form of waking up, the day after the election, with the knowledge that his final legacy is to have lost government, lost his own seat and not have one Liberal government in a state or territory in Australia.

The winners: (TT writers got two!!!!)

Matthew Denholm, The Australian, won Tasmania’s top media honour, the Keith Welsh Award for outstanding contribution to journalism. He also won the award for best news story.

Simon Bevilacqua, Sunday Tasmanian,  won the award for excellence in reporting on science, technology and health.

Sue Neales, Mercury,  won the award for excellence in print, online and wire service journalism.

Angus Hohenboken, Mercury,  took out the Alan T. Cane memorial prize for cadet journalists.

Chris Kidd, mercury,  won the award for photography.

Award for Excellence in Sports Reporting: Jocelyn Nettlefold (ABC).

Award for Excellence in Electronic Journalism: Jocelyn Nettlefold (ABC).

Award for Excellence in Reporting on Arts and Culture: Ben Wild (The Advocate)

Award for Excellence in News Camera Work: Brent Costelloe (Win Television).

Award for Best Journalism Student: Wesley Young (Tasmanian Times, Crikey).

Award for Excellence in Reporting on Social Equity: Margaretta Pos (Tasmanian Times).

Award for Excellence in Reporting on Cultural Diversity in Tasmania: Jocelyn Nettlefold (ABC).

Award for Excellence in Reporting on the Environment: Airlie Ward (ABC).

Speech by Michael Field, The Media Awards, Saturday, March 17.

Michael Field

To understand why John Howard could become a figure of tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, his life story needs to be understood. The Liberal Party has been John Howard’s life. He joined the party about the time of his eighteenth birthday in 1957, and so he will have his 50th anniversary this year.  The best indication of his commitment and that of his mother was an action taken by them in 1968 when he was still living at home. Howard was endorsed as the candidate for the state seat of Drummoyne.  In order to enhance his chances, his mother sold the family home in Earlwood and rented a house with him at Five Dock, a suburb within the electorate. When his bid failed, John Howard and his mother returned to Earlwood, moving together to a house in the very same street that he grew up in.