The speeches of our former political leaders are influential as to how our nation will be remembered.
It’s in this category that one such book recently released contains selected speeches of former Prime Minister John Howard.
Howard – The Art of Persuasion, edited by David Furse-Roberts features speeches made by John Howard from 1995 to 2016.
David gave a Biblical underpinning to Howard’s prime ministership with this observation in the opening editorial to the book.
On the night of his historic election victory in March 1996, he pledged to serve the well-being of not only those who voted for him, but those who voted against him.
‘It was a generous vision for public service channeling that old Biblical injunction to seek the peace and prosperity of the city.’
‘The most noble public service’
Were these remarks just part of the political discourse of a newly-elected prime minister, or was Howard making a statement that reflected his personal integrity?
“I believe John Howard went into politics because he genuinely wanted to serve the Australian people.”
“He’s a patriot and he saw politics, in his own words as ‘the most noble public service.”
He committed his life to serving his side of politics, the Liberal Party, which he saw as the best platform on which to advance the welfare of all Australians.”
Was John Howard a speech-writer or was he reliant upon having speech writers write them for him?
David confirmed it to be the former.
He wrote the vast majority of his own speeches. 97 percent.
“He would deliver them extemporaneously essentially, in other words prepared in advance and presented without notes. But how he would go about it would be to write down some dot points of what he wanted to say.”
“He would think about what he wanted to say, and when he came to the lectern or the podium he would deliver his speech based on those dot points,” David said.
The small percentage of the remaining speeches were written by speech writers often with expertise in economics or some other specialist field.
However, when it comes down to politicians making speeches, what is written may be one thing but what is actually spoken is usually another. John Howard was no different.
As far as David’s research of John Howard’s speeches were concerned, most had been written down by a transcriber.
The speeches were already in written form when I edited them.
David admitted this made ‘The Art of Persuasion’ much easier.
‘Expeditions of his own political philosophy’ was how David described one of Howard’s two main areas of speech-making. It was in this context that Howard spoke about the Liberal Party being a broad church based on the Liberal conservative tradition.
“This emphasised the freedom and rights of individuals and their economic freedom but also the importance of the social tradition of order and faith in Australia’s institutions and values.”
Filtered and skewed
The other main area of Howard’s speeches covered the policy preoccupations of his government.
“Whether that was tax reform, foreign policy or social welfare reform and so on.”
Where this all leads to for Australia’s political history buffs is the discovery of what John Howard said to himself before it was filtered and skewed through the media.
You could say that in that pre-social media environment the speeches were a pre-Twitter form of Twitter if you like.
“By reading these speeches people will actually go to the original source to find out what Mr Howard actually said as prime minister,” David confirmed before he made a confession which was to do with his speech selection for the book.
I wanted to select speeches that gave voice to his own guiding philosophy and the set of principles he brought to politics.
“Second of all I wanted to feature speeches that reflected the main preoccupations of his government, and also the main events his government presided over.”
These included the Sydney Olympics of 2000, the Centenary of Federation 2001, the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Bali bombings and other momentous occasions on his watch as prime minister.
An earnest faith
Today there are those who hunger for a return of a John Howard-like era; the days when there was a steady hand at the tiller unlike the prime ministerial revolving door of recent years.
“John Howard was prime minister for over 10 years and led a very stable government and people yearn for that continuity and stability in our national leadership,” David reported.
On a spiritual note John Howard was raised a Methodist but identified with Anglicanism later on in life.
“His faith certainly had an impact on his worldview and although he was quiet about it, it was an earnest faith and it certainly shaped his understanding.”
“He was also very supportive of faith-based charities such as Wesley Mission and the Salvation Army who were a key plank of his social welfare reform.”
David also mentioned Howard’s education policy and its intention to expand faith-based schools.
Deakin, Menzies and Howard
“Lastly, he also spoke with reverence for Australia’s Judeo-Christian inheritance when he spoke about Australia’s history and national identity.”
David Furse-Roberts noted John Howard’s international reach particularly in the Western world as countries such as the US and Britain are soul-searching their historic identity, albeit Judeo-Christian and Classical heritages that underpin our Western civilisation.
As far as conservative forerunners to John Howard in the Liberal movement there were three preeminent political figures in David’s hall of reckoning for 20th Century Australia.
“The first being Alfred Deakin who was very much the architect of the Australian Federation.
“The second was obviously Sir Robert Menzies in the mid-Twentieth Century who founded the modern Liberal Party.”
David said it was Menzies who gave the Liberal Party its new shape and form ahead of the third significant Liberal leader, John Howard.
Howard gave new shape again to Australian Liberalism in the latter part of the 20th Century and the early 21st Century in Australia.
David alluded to a philosophical thread of continuity from Deakin to Menzies and then to Howard.
Editor David Furse-Roberts is Research Fellow at the Menzies Research Centre. He holds a PhD in history from the University of New South Wales and is the editor of Menzies: The Forgotten Speeches.