Thursday, March 02, 2006

Howard’s ten-year anniversary

Funnily enough, a few potted asides from recent media coverage of Howard’s Decade, has given me some succinct, non-trivial insights.

Fact one: John Winston Howard and I worked at the same law firm (Stephen Jacques and Stephen, a Sydney firm which merged with a Melbourne firm in the 1980s to become Mallesons Stephen Jacques)

Not at the same time, of course. But in law firm culture, change happens at glacial pace. Evidently, young Johnnie didn’t stay long at SJS – though I assume that he did at least complete his one year articles there. While my own stint at MSJ also wasn’t long - one year articles, plus one year as junior solicitor – I’m guessing that I actually outlasted Howard in this respect. So take that, Johnnie – you flighty, job-hopping little GenYer, way ahead of your time.

On a related note, Mike Steketee notes that Howard was thus far from being a mere suburban solicitor – “aspiring to being a law partner while still in his mid-20s was more the mark of a high flyer” (same URL). Hah! Note that by his mid-20s, Howard was already on to his third, law-firm employer – this being a small firm that posterity seems to think is best left unnamed. If this was “high-flying”, in comparison, my own legal career as a 20-something was stratospheric: at 29 (a year after leaving MSJ), I was a Level B lecturer (on $70k, in current dollars), who designed and taught four subjects from scratch for a brand-new LLB program.

Oh, and for Steketee’s benefit, any junior lawyer who doesn’t aspire to becoming a partner (although admittedly this is more true of large firms) is either naïve or clinically insane. This (which BTW is the reason I happily left MSJ, i.e. I had no ambition to become partner) is because junior lawyers are the lowest-paid workers (notional hourly wage once unpaid overtime is taken into account) in the whole building, period. Therefore, the fact that Johnnie stepped from partner-track (but short of actual partnership) to the relative easy-street of a parliamentary safe seat at 33 years of age, speaks volumes: feeling exploited as a fairly long-term junior lawyer (partnership typically takes 7-12 ceaseless years of 80 hour-weeks), Howard decided that someone owed him something, and so Hello, preselection for Bennelong.

Fact two: John Howard’s parents’ business involved what would now (at least) be considered the rorting of a public asset

Cue the violin strings: as a boy, Johnnie used to pump petrol for no pay, weekends included, at his “father’s” (sic: I’d bet there was a family trust involved) Dulwich Hill servo in Sydney’s inner west*. As a photo, presumably from the time of Howard’s boyhood, makes clear, the bowsers for this servo were right on the kerb, meaning that cars filling up with petrol would necessarily do so from the taxpayer-funded public road. Now, I accept that such an arrangement was probably common at the time (you still see it in remote country towns), but by modern standards, the Howard family business was a variant on those pesky intersection windscreen-washers. Admirable entrepreneurialism, yes – BUT GET THE FUCK OFF THE ROAD, AND BUY/RENT YOUR OWN LAND IF YOU’RE RUNNING A BUSINESS, NOT A SCAM.

Fact three: John Howard’s reflex pro-Americanism (and pro-cartelism) was embedded early, but remained long-dormant (mostly)

Australia’s petrol industry since at least WWII has been a notorious dual hotbed of multinationals and oligarchy. Accordingly, the Howard family’s servo was inevitably aligned with a multinational oil company: the USA’s Mobil, as it happens (same photo, above). As a boy, Johnnie presumably saw Mobil as a generous, paternalistic sort of company – an uber-Dad. His choppy legal career, above, confirms that even well into adulthood, John Howard had something of an authority-void in his life, when without a Big-as-Texas protector of/over him. Fortuitously for the psychic well-being and stamina of the much older Howard-as-PM, 2000’s election of Dubya brought his boyhood comfort feeling of Being Protected full-circle, and home.

* Brad Norington, “My path from bowser boy to IR reform” Australian 25 February 2006 (no URL)

Ah - so is this the connection to Bush - the love of oil and money??? oh.. and of course the easy to forget far right evangelical authoritorian tendencies???

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