THE recent release of the 1996-97 cabinet papers is a reminder of a political truth ignored or forgotten by many Canberra incumbents: history will eventually be your real judge.
When John Howard lost government and his Sydney seat of Bennelong in the Kevin Rudd-inspired landslide in 2007, the common view was that Mr Howard had revealed himself to be a spent force and a self-saboteur; a man who in holding on too long had ruined his reputation and battered his legacy.
The people had rejected Mr Howard and the rejection, at the time, seemed absolute and final - as it did when the people rejected Paul Keating in 1996 or Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott were rejected by their own colleagues.
But of course, that is never the end of the story, only the first drafting of it.
More than 10 years after the 2007 election that swept Labor to power, the nation's view of Mr Howard, as happens with every ex-PM, Labor or Coalition, seems to have softened, relaxed, become more fully formed.
Time and distance has thrown Mr Howard's successes and his failures into sharper relief and provided context and tempered emotions in deciding his place in the political history of the nation.
It's happened before (Mr Keating left office having been definitively discarded by the voting public, but has been lionised in recent years) and will happen again (the 10th anniversary of the global financial crisis led to a new interest in Mr Rudd's part in protecting Australia from the worst of the fallout – possibly the first stirrings of a re-examination of his prime ministership).
Politics is practised and played faster than ever these days and it can sometimes seem that our representatives struggle to look much further than the next opinion poll.
Our 24-7 media cycle encourages theatricality and bombast, stunts and high emotion, and we all must accept our responsibility for that.
But our politicians should remember that their decisions matter, their votes in the parliament matter, their internal arguments about the government’s direction matter – they matter as they happen, of course, but they will matter in years to come as well as historians sift over them.
As our Canberra inhabitants consider their next move, weighing up the risks and the benefits, the optics and the pitfalls, it's worth them keeping in mind this one thing: the cabinet papers will eventually come out.
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