John Howard calls Independents ‘groupies’

Apr 30, 2022
John Howard
For Howard, and so many of the current Liberal Party, to dismiss the motivations of Independent candidates shows just how out of touch they are. Image: Flickr DFAT

Former Prime Minister John Howard has been called out for his appalling and sexist language in describing the “teal” Independents as “groupies”. Surely Howard knew the negative connotations of the word “groupie” – commonly used to describe young women who follow around rock groups and celebrities to offer them sex.

Howard’s off-the-cuff comment adds further weight to the claim that the appalling treatment of women in Parliament has a long history. Although casual sexism, sexual harassment and mistreatment of women is now being called out, there’s a long way to go. Who can forget Scott Morrison’s message to Australian women who gathered for the March 4 Justice rallies? “Not far from here, such marches, even now, are being met with bullets.”

Howard also claimed at the weekend that the aim of the Independents was “to hurt the Liberal party, not to represent the middle ground of their electorates.”

Again, he is clearly failing to read the room.

The current Liberal party has moved so far to the right that Malcolm Fraser would not recognise it. Australians in the “middle ground” are in fact disgusted by the federal government’s pork barrelling, their lack of transparency and accountability and the corruption of the political system, which is why calls for a federal anti-corruption commission are so loud.

Three in four Australians (75%) support setting up a Commonwealth Integrity Commission, according to a poll conducted by The Australia Institute, with support highest among Coalition voters.

John Howard’s comments had particular resonance for me. It was Howard, and his 1997 Aged Care Act, that was a turning point for aged care policy in Australia and has proved such an abject failure. This Act unleased the corporatisation of aged care, opening the flood gates for private investment, with the result being the rampant abuse and neglect of older people.

It is why I have been spending the best part of a decade fighting the secrecy, and the lack of transparency and accountability, in aged care. I have been resolute in my calls for older Australians to be shown dignity and respect in their twilight years.

I have taken hundreds of phone calls from distressed families, desperate to know how to support their loved ones and/or navigate a complex aged care system. I have spoken to exhausted staff trying to provide excellent care under difficult circumstances. I am constantly contacted by people for advice, support and requests to intervene on their behalf with aged care providers and the regulator.

It is also the reason I put my hand up to run as an Independent candidate against the now retiring Aged Care Minister Greg Hunt in the seat of Flinders. Because although aged care is finally an election issue, it is clear that much more needs to be done. Instead of fighting for incremental improvements from the sidelines, I will be much more effective with a seat at the table. And while I am the Voices of Mornington Peninsula endorsed candidate I am entirely community funded. I receive no money from Climate200 or any other big donors. My supporters wear ocean blue, not teal.

The secrecy and lack of accountability in aged care is extraordinary. The federal government now spends some $30 billion a year on aged care. Yet, without financial transparency, we don’t know if providers spend government subsidies on direct care of residents or executive salaries.

And from all the horror stories that were revealed long before the Royal Commission it is clear that a lot of money was not going where it was intended. Indeed, it has just been revealed that two large religious providers of aged care, Anglicare and Uniting, have raided nearly $50 million of their aged care government subsidies to spend on settling child sex abuse claims. Both providers have then complained they aren’t receiving enough federal money to look after elderly residents appropriately.

For Howard, and so many of the current Liberal Party, to dismiss the motivations of Independent candidates shows just how out of touch they are.

Dr Sarah Russell is the Voices of Mornington Peninsula endorsed Independent Candidate for Flinders.

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