Howard Says We're Entitled To Believe What He Tells Us To Believe
The story goes that in the lead-up to the 2004 federal election, treasurer Peter Costello and a number of key advisors warned John Howard not to push the claim that his government would keep interest rates at "record lows" and "30 year lows" or even just "low".
It was a con, a bold-faced lie and everyone in Howard's inner circle knew it. Interest rates would go up as surely as they would go back down again, then up again. Don't do it, they supposedly told Howard, it will come back to haunt you. But Howard ignored them all. He went out there and pumped his "keeping interest rates low" promise like a speed-addled evangelical podium pounder granting all who believed him access to Low Interest Rates Heaven.
Howard then rubbed Costello's face in it by leaving it to him to launch the "keeping interest at record lows" ads, which he did, with a very grim face indeed.
Now that interest rates have done nothing but climbed since 2004, and are expected to go up again before election day, Howard is being put on the rack by nearly every journalist who interviews him. It should be excruciating for Howard. It sure is excruciating to watch, and hear. But he doesn't care. He's got a new promise to sell. Under his government, interest rates will be lower than they will be under a Labor government.
Liar, deceiver, prophet.
A few examples from the past week alone.
From the 7.30 Report :
JOHN HOWARD:…I mean interest rates will always go up and down and I’ve never guaranteed that interest rates would never go up.
NEIL MITCHELL: Well yeah, but your advertising did.
JOHN HOWARD: Well, well the advertising just very briefly in the early part of the campaign and then that was…
MITCHELL: It said, ‘keep interest rates at record lows’. Well that promise is broken isn’t it?
JOHN HOWARD: Yeah well, that particular advertisement lasted two nights and then it disappeared. And you didn’t get out of my mouth…
MITCHELL: No I didn’t but that promise was broken from that advertising wasn’t it?
JOHN HOWARD: Well, interest rates are not at record lows now. I understand that.
MITCHELL: And your advertising promised that.
JOHN HOWARD: Well the advertising did refer to that for two nights. I accept that.
MITCHELL: So it’s a two night promise then Prime Minister?
JOHN HOWARD: No, no well look you’re asking me the question…MITCHELL: Well you know Labor's going after you on the basis of broken promise...
JOHN HOWARD: Yes I understand that.
MITCHELL: And the advertising was, does now, look dishonest.JOHN HOWARD: Yes well, look I acknowledge what was said. I acknowledge that. But can I just say to you and to your listeners, that what really matters now is which side of politics is better able to manage an increasingly hostile financial environment. Isn’t that what matters?
MITCHELL: Well I guess it is. But you can’t promise to keep interest lows?
JOHN HOWARD: I'm not doing that
MITCHELL: What are you saying? Same as last time. You’ll be better than Labor, eh?JOHN HOWARD: Yes I am. I am saying that. …
KERRY O'BRIEN : You did say it as a fact, interest rates are now 2.25 per cent higher, as a fact, than when you made that promise. You were not able to keep that promise. Do you simply acknowledge that you weren't able to keep that promise?The Sunday program :
JOHN HOWARD: Look, I say again Kerry, people will make a judgment on what I said against what has occurred. But the big question they've got to ask themselves, whatever happened in the past, let's put that aside...it's the future that matters.
KERRY O'BRIEN: But you see, Mr Howard, you want us to put aside the past in relation to your comments, but not with regard to Labor. That is incredibly selective.
JOHN HOWARD: No, I'm perfectly happy to compare past performance as distinct from commentary.
KERRY O'BRIEN: Or past promises.
JOHN HOWARD: Look, leaving ... whatever you like. Look at what happened, look at where we are now...
LAURIE OAKES: Wasn't it a mistake to say that you would keep interest rates at 30-year lows?Activate 'Absolutely No Shame' mode, Mr Howard.
JOHN HOWARD: Laurie, what I said out of my own mouth...what I said was that they would always be lower under us than under Labor.
LAURIE OAKES: But didn't you actually say you would keep them low.
JOHN HOWARD: Laurie, what matters is precisely what happens in the future.
LAURIE OAKES: But people were, if you like, fooled into voting for you maybe, by what you said, about keeping interest rates at 30-year lows.
JOHN HOWARD: Laurie, the impression that people took from that campaign was that we believed and they believed it that we would do a better job in keeping interest rates down than the Labor Party.
LAURIE OAKES: ...on October 7, 2004...you said 'we don't assume the economy will continue at its own momentum, it will only continue if we continue to do the right things, keeping the budget in surplus, keeping interest rates low, keeping them at 30-year lows.' It did come out of your mouth, Prime Minister.
JOHN HOWARD: Well Laurie, if you look at the average interest rates under the last government, you look at them under us, they're four to five percent lower than what they were.
LAURIE OAKES: We're talking about whether people will believe you this time because you misled them last time.
JOHN HOWARD: You're asking me what I believe they took out of the last campaign and that is that we would do a better job on interest rates. And they'll make up their minds about that.
LAURIE OAKES: They're entitled to believe you or Liberal Party ads last time.
JOHN HOWARD: They're entitled to conclude as they should now that we'll do a far better job of keeping interest rates lower than Labor.
LAURIE OAKES: It's got nothing to do with what you promised at the last election?
JOHN HOWARD: But what matters is what occurs.
LAURIE OAKES: But in an election campaign what matters is whether people believe and can remember what you say.
JOHN HOWARD: But do you know what they believed out of the last election? They believed they should vote for us because we would keep interest rates lower than Labor, and they were right, and the evidence supports that. And the same applies in relation
LAURIE OAKES: Even though you said you would keep them at 30-year lows, they weren't supposed to believe that?
JOHN HOWARD: Laurie, they were entitled to believe that we would do a better job at keeping interest rates down than what the Labor Party would do, and they did. And they were right. And the same will apply in the future.
I particularly like the way he repeatedly tells people to forget about what he said last time around, like it doesn't matter a dolt, and to look to the future instead, and then tells voters they are "entitled" to believe what he tells them to believe.
Howard has probably, quite effectively, reduced the election day impact of another rise in interest rates by riddling the subject with a such a strong foundation of boredom, tedium. The more journos raise the issue now, the more likely the punters will switch off, even if it means more dollars out of their wallets.