Monday will be the 25th anniversary of one of the most prophetic speeches in Australian political history.
Then prime minister Paul Keating told the National Press Club: "When the government changes, the country changes ... but what we've built in these years is, I think, so valuable - to change it and to lose it, is just a straight appalling loss for Australia."
He was dead right.
The legacy of John Howard's government is the opposite of the picture he painted on election night in 1996, when he restated that "united Australians were infinitely more important and more enduring than the things that divided Australians".
Instead, he favoured the well-off, the strong and big business over the vulnerable, the less wealthy and wage and salary earners. He divided, rather than united, across a broad range of policy areas.
Let us look at them.
Howard ramped up federal allocations to private schools, under the banner of "choice".
The result was large amounts of money going to concert and assembly halls, chapels, swimming pools, chaplains, and bloated salaries for principals who became chief executive officers. The money was under the budget heading "education", but a lot of it was not spent on education. To the contrary, it sucked money away from real public education, where there is no spare cash for anything but education itself.
As a result, Australia's educational achievements on every national and international measure have fallen since 1996, particularly PISA. It is a legacy hard to reverse because of the politically effective squeals of the private education industry - and it is an industry.
The Howard government introduced several carrots and sticks to browbeat people into taking out private insurance - penalties for waiting to take it out after you are 30; Medicare surcharges if you are on a high income and have no private insurance. It diverted a lot of money to private insurance, 14 per cent of which goes on administration, including directors' fees and profits. Medicare, on the other hand, spends just 3 per cent of income on administration.
The Howard government deliberately starved Medicare, reducing the rebate to such a level that many GPs could not survive on it and had to charge a levy on top. The result was fewer people seeing a GP when needed, and greater long-term costs to the public system.
The starving of funds to public hospitals blew out waiting lists. Specialists could charge what they liked, because people with private cover and wealth were always willing to pay to jump the queue.
But it is now at crisis stage, where middle-class, highly insured people cannot afford the scandalous "out of pocket" specialist fees to jump the queue for their operations.
Again, higher "real" spending under the heading "health", but less spending on real health.
In a grab for the grey vote, Howard introduced a "cash back" system for share dividends. Anyone who got a dividend from a company that had paid tax could get a cash back tax deduction for that tax, even if they had paid no tax in the first place.
In the first year it cost $500 million. Now it costs $7 billion and rising.
Then we have the 50 per cent tax discount on capital gains. Under Howard, if you earned money by the sweat of your brow or body, you paid full tax. If you sat back and let capital do the work for you, you paid tax at half the rate. A damnable legacy that has proved impossible to reverse.
Defence & foreign affairs
Howard's defence policies have had a catastrophic legacy too. Going in to Afghanistan and Iraq cost Australia blood, treasure and international respect for no gain. This horrific legacy survives in the war-crimes allegations which Australia now has to grapple with, and the huge cost of veterans' rehabilitation.
In foreign affairs, Howard's Timor policy, which opposed independence until the Americans said it was no longer acceptable, bore a great cost in East Timorese lives and suffering. And the Howard government's deceitful spying on independent Timor for financial gain in the form of oil resources has stuck Australia with the brand of "hypocrite" when we try to assert the values of a rules-based international order.
The legacy has been unwindable, as the Witness K case attests.
Howard's denial of an apology to the Stolen Generations and his turning around of the spirit of the 1967 referendum to legislate against Indigenous interests by imposing the intervention added to the legacy of white racism that has pervaded since 1788.
Immigration & refugees
Howard's policies gave licence to the great immigration Ponzi scheme. He ramped up immigration which favoured the property industry, big business, and big retail against the interests of the existing population, who had to struggle with the consequent congestion and failure of infrastructure to keep up.
Once weaned on to the Ponzi policy it has become near impossible to reverse. It was compounded by Peter Costello's government subsidy for overpopulation, with his slogan "One for Mum, one for Dad and one for the nation". Make that "one to help destroy the planet".
On refugees, the most generous thing you could say is that it was mean-spirited. In reality it was inhumane criminality with indefinite detention for people who committed no crime. Howard spawned One Nation's racism by not calling it out at the earliest opportunity, as Malcolm Fraser would have done.
Howard knew something had to be done and did nothing.
On governance, Howard starved every accountability governmental organisation from FOI, audit and human rights, and crushed every voice on the left side of the nave of his so-called "broad church".
Even now we struggle with JobSeeker because Howard replaced wage indexation of the dole with CPI indexation.
Everywhere you turn in public policy you can see how Australia turned for the worse in 1996, and how difficult it has been to reverse. Labor at present does not have the political courage. Earlier, Kevin Rudd squibbed it.
People say Billy McMahon was Australia's worst prime minister. Not so. At least he did nothing. Howard, on the other hand, did lots of things that made Australia worse.
Yes, he did the guns. But he got far too much credit for it. With 35 dead bodies on an iconic historic site, strict party discipline, and no National Rifle Association, any non-Howard Liberal government - or any Labor government - would have done it just as well. But we would not have had to bear the quarter-century legacy of the worst government in Australia's history.
- Crispin Hull is a former editor of The Canberra Times and a regular columnist. crispinhull.com.au