Australians ended the political career of Prime Minister John Howard, sending his Liberal/National Party coalition to a landslide loss. Howard was gracious in defeat, recounting the successes of his government and wishing his successor, Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd, well:
"My fellow Australians, a few moments ago I telephoned Mr Kevin Rudd and I congratulated him and the Australian Labor Party on an emphatic victory,” Mr Howard told the crowd.
Mr Howard said he harboured no ill will to Mr Rudd.
"I wish him well in the task that he will undertake,” Mr Howard said.
"We bequeath to him a nation that is stronger and prouder.”
Mr Howard spoke of the economic prosperity Australia had enjoyed under the coalition.
"I’ve led a government that has taken this country from deep debt to strong prosperity,” he said.
"I’ve led a government that has never shirked the difficult decisions.
"I’ve led a government that has reformed the Australian economy and left it the envy of the world.”
"Can I say to all of you it has been an immense privilege every day of my life over the last 11 and half years to have been prime minister of this beautiful country,” Mr Howard said.
He said he wanted to thank the Australian people for that privilege.
"It’s something that has really been the most unbelievable experience.
"The Australian people are the greatest people on earth and this is the greatest country on earth.”
I think Americans owe John Howard a debt of thanks, too, appropriately enough for Thanksgiving weekend. After 9-11, Howard placed Australia in her traditional role alongside the United States, ready for a fight. Both in Afghanistan and Iraq (the latter not without controversy in Australia), Australian special forces played crucial roles. True to Australian form, Mr. Howard was refreshingly plainspoken and forthright about the threat from Islamic fascism and wasn’t afraid to tell Islamists in Australia where they could go. Among the Anglophone nations, Howard had become a respected leader.
Nor was he willing to "go along to get along" when it came to climate change, sharing President Bush’s skepticism for the Kyoto Treaty.
The West could use more leaders like John Howard.
I’m certain the American Left, the so-called "Progressives," will interpret this as a repudiation of the aggressive Bush approach to terrorism by the Australian electorate. Before they pop the champagne corks (or crack open a Foster’s), I would remind them of Tip O’Neill‘s dictum: "All politics is local." While I haven’t followed Australian politics, I’m willing to bet domestic national issues played the key role, and maybe just public fatigue after 11 years under John Howard. No matter how successful a government may be, sometimes the electorate just wants change.
(I still shake my head at the British throwing Churchill out of office in 1945, for example.)
Furthermore, while the pro-Bush leaders after 9-11, Aznar, Blair, Koizumi, Berlusconi, and now Howard, are all gone, so too are the anti-Bush crowd: Schroeder, Chirac, and Chretien, as Mark Steyn points out. It’s hard to spot an anti-Bush trend here.
So, thank you John Howard. You’ve been a good friend and a stalwart ally, and I imagine you’ll go down in the books as one of the most successful Prime Ministers Australia has ever had.