When there is close to full employment, individual contracts are likely to be favourable to workers and even better than award. When unemployment increases, the workers are over a barrel in negotiation. Howard recognized this and responded too late with a fairness test—so the voters punished the government accordingly.
Other questions of honesty and decency in public life are also addressed in Gittins' article. I agree with him when he says this:
I believe standards of honesty and decency fell under Howard. They were hardly very high under his Labor predecessors, but they declined further under a man who, to all outward appearance, radiated respectability. He was a tricky man, leaving you with a certain impression but then later protesting that you had failed to read his lawyerly words carefully enough.
How many times were we misled? There were the non-core promises, the children overboard, the Tampa (which, for all Howard's ministers knew, may have been carrying terrorists), the weapons of mass destruction and the probably illegal invasion of Iraq, the AWB scandal (which no minister had any knowledge of) and the promise to keep interest rates at record lows.
Howard was never told and so was never responsible. The buck always stopped elsewhere. As to decency, we had the brutal treatment of asylum seekers, the trampling of the legal rights of David Hicks and others, the shameful treatment of Dr Mohamed Haneef.
The Howard Government ruled by fear and behind-the-scenes bullying of bureaucrats, journalists, business economists and business people. It raised the abuse of incumbency to new heights, especially taxpayer-funded market research and political advertising.
In all these things, it had two standard defences: first, you may care but the electorate does not and, second, our Labor predecessors did it, too.
I would like to believe this election shows that, in the end, the electorate does care about declining standards of public morality.