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... And at least another ten years to undo the damage

By Lyn Allison - posted Thursday, 2 March 2006

Holding the office of Prime Minister for ten years is definitely a noteworthy personal achievement. But being in power for a long time does not in itself mean that this reign has been for the good of all Australians and the future of Australia.

Many attribute Chairman Mao's long reign in communist China to his clever use of propaganda. Mao convinced students and workers to revolt against the bureaucrats of the Chinese Communist Party, killing thousands and injuring and imprisoning millions. Obviously Australia is a far cry from the 1966 Cultural Revolution, but there are no doubts that Australia's values and culture have changed over the last ten years, primarily as a result of the Howard Government's propaganda.

I agree that John Howard is a skilled politician, not so much for his economic management, but rather for his success in imagery, and reframing language and public discourse to reflect his conservative agenda. Put crudely he is a con artist, and a skilled one at that.


If you need convincing, look at the definition of propaganda under the Wikipedia encyclopaedia on the Internet, which lists the techniques of propaganda such as appeal to fear, oversimplification, scapegoating, common man, and virtue words. All used in Australia successfully over the past ten years by John Howard and his government.

Take Howard's continuous use of mate and mateship. This is a blatant use of the common man technique to appeal to average Australians by using their language. But we have seen few images of John Howard actually out and about with his mates, and it is unlikely you will see him down at the local drinking with his mates.

Also read George Lakoff's book Don't Think of an Elephant, which details how the conservatives have employed progressive language to change the way the media report and the public see the world, which leads people to accept the conservative agenda.

Think of the antithetical titles of bills and policies; "work choices", "clean coal technology", and "fair dismissal" and the cleverly accusatory “politically correct”.

Lakoff argues conservatives have realised that issues need to be set in an overall moral and ethical perspective for them to resonate. While Lakoff talks predominately about America, the parallels for Australia are pronounced.

The Conservatives in Australia have appropriated fundamental Australian values with virtues such as mateship, freedom, choice and decency and have given them conservative definitions. Advocates, ministers and media commentators are using this language so public discourse takes place within the conservative framework and the underlying agenda goes unquestioned.


That Australians appear satisfied the Howard Government has protected them against terrorism and interest rate rises is a measure of the success of that discourse. In both cases the Howard Government successfully used a propaganda campaign of fear. The Howard Government has convinced Australians that terrorism is the biggest threat facing Australians, despite the fact that death from smoking, driving and even climate change are a good deal likelier than being killed by terrorists.

As a result of the fear instilled in the community, Australians have been willing to relinquish substantial rights and freedoms, something we would not have contemplated ten years ago.

On the issue of the economy, while some credit can be given to the Howard Government for economic growth, lower rates of unemployment and higher incomes for many workers, it was not achieved unaided. The Howard Government capitalised on the Hawke-Keating microeconomic reforms, and only succeeded in early tax and IR reforms after the Democrats bought back balance and fairness to these radical agendas.

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About the Author

Lyn Allison is a patron of the Peace Organisation of Australia and was leader of the Australian Democrats from 2004 to 2008.

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