Though his tenure in office is weirdly viewed with a tint of rose nowadays – mostly because the Liberal leaders that have followed have had the collective worth of a stepped-on plum – it’s absolutely worth remembering that John Howard was, is, and forever will be full of piss. The inexorable march of time has not eroded the dunes of Howard’s piss, and the former Prime Minister’s appearance on the ABC’s Australia Talks special last night is proof of that.
Howard was grilled on a spate of questions by host Nazeem Hussain (who a TV guide managed to confuse with Waleed Aly), responding to a survey statistic that revealed some 76% of Australians believe there is “a lot of racism” in this country.
Referring to comments made at the time of the 2005 Cronulla Riots, Hussain quoted Howard as saying that “there is no underlying racism in Australia.”
“Yet today, 76 per cent of Australians say there is a lot of racism in Australia. Are they wrong?” Hussain asked Howard.
In response, the former PM asserted: “Well, that has not been my experience. I have to respectfully say to that 76 per cent, I don’t think there is underlying racism in Australia. I think there are racists in Australia.”
When pressed about his view of the Cronulla Riots, given the benefit of time, Howard again doubled down and said “I don’t alter my view” on the infamous incident.
“My view about the Cronulla riots was it was not an example of underlying racism. I think that is a supremely pessimistic view of the Australian community and I’ve seen so many examples of where people of different races have worked together in a seamless fashion for the common good. I think that’s a hugely pessimistic view of the Australian community,” Howard said.
Former Prime Minister John Howard has denied that Australia has underlying racism, pushing back against the claim that the Cronulla riots were an example of this. pic.twitter.com/bIs0QpxQPN
— 11 Network Australia (@11NetworkAU) June 21, 2021
The Cronulla Riots, which occurred just 16 years ago, saw days of unrest spread across the streets of the Shire, sprouting ugly scenes involving large groups of (predominantly white) people violently setting upon people of Middle Eastern appearance at random. The riots were sparked by a beach fight between a group of Lebanese men and off-duty lifeguards in December 2005, and was hugely exacerbated by an out-of-control text message campaign that circulated among residents and overt media inflammation from the likes of Alan Jones.
But according to Howard? “Not an example of underlying racism.”
So that’s that then.