John Howard Deserved His Honorary Doctorate

The rest is academic.

30/09/2016 10:02 AM AEST | Updated 30/09/2016 10:00 AM AEST
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"What is indeed deeply scandalous is that a man who, despite being liked by some and hated by others, and who led Australia by conscience and conviction, should be vilified in such a way."

'Deeply scandalous'.

That's how Sydney University lecturer Dr Nick Riemer described his employer's decision to honour our second longest serving Prime Minister, John Howard, with an honorary doctorate.

His reasoning? That Mr Howard's time as Prime Minister exhibited a 'disregard for the social good'.

The problem with this premise is trying to work out exactly which 'social good' Mr Howard is supposed to have disregarded.

It couldn't be making our suburbs and towns safer. When Australia suffered our most hateful and deadly mass murder in April 1996, a newly elected Prime Minister Howard took immediate action. Risking the ire of his own political support base, and that of the Nationals, the Howard Government implemented federal legislation to ban all assault style weapons and restrict all other semi-automatic rifles to rural landholders deemed to have a genuine need to manage feral animals.

The gun amnesty and buyback came at a significant cost to the federal budget bottom line and, at the next election, around a dozen Coalition Members of the Parliament lost their seats, in no small measure due to the stand the Government took on gun laws.

The price was worth it. Since 1996 there have been no repeats of the mass murder perpetrated at Port Arthur, while at the same time, the rights of recreational shooters to own firearms have been upheld.

Mr Howard's 'disregard for the social good' couldn't be referring to helping stimulate the economy during the Asian economic crisis and, at the same time, helping people into their first home through the First Home Buyers Grant.

Mr Howard also spear-headed the military missions to East Timor or the Solomon Islands to secure the former's freedom and restore order to the later.

He brought the insidious and often deadly practice of people smuggling in our region to a virtual stand-still.

He orchestrated the paying back of $96 billion in government debt and leading our nation into arguably the most prosperous period in a generation.

None of this strikes me as 'deeply scandalous' or showing a 'disregard for the social good'.

What could be considered scandalous is the view that universities are some sort of, in Dr Riemer's words, 'counter power' to government, rather than a place of higher education.

'Scandalous' could be used to describe a situation where an institution that encourages independent thought and espouses tolerance, is the site of a political ambush based on embedded bias against a former Prime Minister.

The manner in which Dr Riemer appears to dismisses our democratic process could be thought of as 'deeply scandalous', when he says 'It's true that Howard was elected but...' as if the fact that Mr Howard presented himself to the Australian people as Prime Minister at five elections, and was given the nod at four of them, means nothing.

What is indeed deeply scandalous is that a man who, despite being liked by some and hated by others, and who led Australia by conscience and conviction, should be vilified in such a way.

The only question that remains is whether the same protest and petition will be launched when former Prime Minister Bob Hawke is honoured in the same way by Sydney University in the near future.

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