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John Howard

This is about John Winston Howard, Prime Minister of Australia. See John Howard (disambiguation) for other people with that name.

The Honourable John Howard
Appointed PM:March 11, 1996
Predecessor:Paul Keating
Date of Birth:July 26, 1939
Place of Birth:Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Political Party:Liberal Party of Australia

John Winston Howard (born July 26, 1939) is the current (twenty-fifth) Prime Minister of Australia. He came to power on March 11, 1996. He is the leader of the Liberal Party of Australia, which is in a Coalition government with the National Party of Australia.

John Howard is one of the longest serving members of Australia's lower house of Federal Parliament (the House of Representatives) with his Minister for Immigration Phillip Ruddock being the longest and current holder of the title "Father of the House".

John Howard was elected to the inner-suburban Sydney electoral seat of Bennelong in the election of 1974. He served as a minister from the commencement of the Fraser government, and as Treasurer from 1977-1983. After the Australian Labor Party (ALP) won government in 1983, he became Deputy Leader of the Opposition, but in 1985 successfully challenged Andrew Peacock[?] for the leadership of the Liberal party (and thus the title of Opposition Leader). Howard lead the Liberals unsuccessfuly at the 1987 election (see also Joh Bjelke-Petersen[?]). His position was weakened by a speech in which he claimed that Australia was taking "too many" Asian immigrants, and in 1989 Peacock replaced him. Finally, Howard returned to the Liberal Party leadership in 1995 and won the subsequent 1996, 1998 and 2001 elections.

Table of contents

Howard as Prime Minister

First Term: 1996-1998

The Liberal Party was in a precarious internal state before the 1996 election. Although the Liberals had once been the "natural party of governance" in Australia, ruling for all but three years from 1949-1983, they had at that point lost five successive elections. When Howard regained the helm in 1995, he was their third leader in two years.

The strategy for the 1996 election was to moderate the harsh image which had harmed the Liberals at the previous (1993) election. They released policies and pledges which were significanctly more environment- and welfare- friendly than their previous election platforms. The incumbent Prime Minister Paul Keating, was perceived as lacking empathy with the broader public with his intellectualised "big-picture" approach to politics and combination of harsh political tactics and perceived elitist tastes.

Although pre-election polls were read by many as showing a tight race, in part based on comparisons with a previous election won by the Australian Labor Party, the combination of a more centrist policy platform and Keating's personal unpopularity, gave Howard an unexpectedly strong victory.

Key events in John Howard's first term included:

  • Gun control legislation. After the Port Arthur massacre of 1996, he responded to public outcry by persuading often reluctant state governments to restrict the availability of semi-automatic rifles and shotguns more effectively. A national buy-back scheme somewhat reduced the political damage which Howard might otherwise have suffered among (predominantly Coalition-voting) gun owners.

  • Howard used a budget shortfall, which the Liberals blamed on the previous government, to implement a series of massive cuts to education, health and social services. This violated or appeared to violate many of the pre-election pledges he had made. When the press accused him of having lied, he stated that some of these had been "core" promises. "Non-core" promises would not necessarily be honoured immediately (or at all). In following years, when the budget surplus re-appeared, the money was applied to other purposes, such as a private health insurance rebate, or income tax cuts for people on high salaries.

  • A precarious situation in the Senate. Much of the Government's legislation (the partial privatisation of Telstra, increases in University fees (under the HECS[?] loan system), introduction of full "up-front" fees for some students, large funding cuts in the 1996 and 1997 budgets, a 30% private health insurance rebate, the extinguishment of native title[?] on pastoral leases[?] following the High Court[?]'s Wik decision) was opposed by the Labor party, the Australian Democrats and the Australian Greens, who together controlled 50% of the Senate. Howard was only able to pass the legislation by obtaining the support of independent Brian Harradine[?] and the disgruntled ALP Senator Mal Colston[?]. The Colston case was particularly controversial; the Liberals reached an agreement with him in which he left the Labor party to vote with the government, in exchange for their electing him Deputy President of the Senate (a position which carries significant prestige and a pay rise of approximately AUD $16,000). To opponents of the government, this seemed particularly egregious, because as a Senator, Colston was elected through the ALP party list, not an as individual representative; his actions were thus perceived as a serious breach of democratic faith.

  • Problems with conflicts of interest in his own government. Howard had tried to achieve a "clean governance" image by setting a strict ministerial code of conduct at the start of his term. This backfired, when a succession of five of his ministers (Jim Short, Geoff Prosser, John Sharp, David Jull and Peter McGauran) resigned following breaches or petty corruption. Another two ministers (John Moore and Warwick Parer) were saved after Howard simply dropped the code of conduct.

  • The 1997 defection of Democrat leader Cheryl Kernot[?] to the ALP, stating that she wanted to help bring an end to the Howard government, marked a turning point in the government's first-term fortunes. The Coalition's public support fell at that point, and remained low until after the 1998 election.

The 1998 election campaign was dominated by two issues. One was reform of the tax system, including a goods and services tax[?], a broad-based value-added tax; the other was the rise of One Nation, a right-wing party led by Pauline Hanson and widely perceived as racist or xenophobic. The environmental movement also ran a high-profile campaign against the government's support for the Jabiluka uranium mine.

The Liberal-National Coalition won the election, despite losing 49% to 51% in the two-party prefered vote. This result may have occurred because they raised approximately twice as much money as the ALP, and ran a more effective campaign in marginal electorates[?] ([confirm?] the Liberals had databases on the opinions of most voters in marginal seats, the ALP did not?).

Second Term: 1998-2001

Despite Howard's essentially domestic focus, external issues intruded significantly into Howard's second term. The first occurred in 1998 and 1999 with events in East Timor, where Australia led pressure on Indonesia to uphold that country's offer to East Timor of a referendum on independence, and later contributed a significant peacekeeping/policing force to protect the inhabitants against pro-Indonesian militias. Most Australians and the rest of the Western world viewed this as a moral, principled stand, but it came at the cost of antagonising Indonesia and was probably the main factor in the fall of the Habibe government there. In doing so, Howard reversed a decades-old bi-partisan foreign policy of appeasement towards Indonesia which had been largely created by the Australian Labor Party and followed by governments of both persuasions until Howard.

Another major issue during Howard's second term was the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax [expand].

In late 2001, Howard made a bold move that, some people assert, stretched international law to its limit in a change of policy on asylum-seekers attempting to reach Australia from Indonesia. This involved an incident with the Norwegian freighter MV Tampa, requested by an Australian Government agency to rescue a group of asylum seekers, mostly Afghans, whose ship had sunk. Although the Tampa was within Indonesia's "zone of responsibility" for sea rescue, as agreed in 1990 between Indonesia and Australia, some of the asylum seekers threatened the captain that they would harm themselves if he took them back to Indonesia (and, by some reports, they threatened the ship). The captain decided to head for the nearest port, Christmas Island, on Australian territory, despite the fact that the ship was refused permission to enter Australian waters. An extraordinary standoff developed with the Tampa holding off-shore from that island for some days. The situation was eventually broken when Australian Special Air Service (SAS) officers (on Howard's orders) forcibly took control of the ship. The captain of the Tampa, Arne Rinnan, was later to say in a Norwegian documentary: "We asked for doctors, and they sent us commandos." The people on the MV Tampa were transferred to an Australian troop ship, the HMAS Manoohra, and then taken to the tiny Pacific Island of Nauru, with some being taken by New Zealand. This action without recent precedent was hugely popular in Australia, where distrust of asylum-seekers from Asian countries was already high, and increased with the 11th of September terrorist attacks in New York (which occurred only days after the Tampa incident). However, it is viewed by a minority of Australians and some liberal writers around the world as immoral and legally dubious.

The Australian Labor Party, the government parties' chief political opponent, found during the "Tampa Incident" that many of its working class voter core also backed the Howard line on illegal immigrants and asylum-seekers. The party was split between its left wing which supported the old policy and its right which favoured supporting the new one devised by Howard. This split (and the fact that a mood of insecurity naturally favours conservative governments) contributed to the Liberal Party's re-election in 2001.

Third Term: 2001 -

  • Children overboard

  • The Nelson Review

[ Is it worth mentioning a few scandals relating to paedophilia in various churches, or moments of doubt about stem cell research and joining the ICC? ]

  • The Bali bombing

  • War in Iraq


Howard and his supporters portray him as standing up for Australia's "battlers" - people struggling to maintain themselves without wider formal or informal support networks, typically lower-middle class small-business people of the outer suburbs and provincial towns, with similar conservative social values. This portrays a struggle against people perceived to be left-leaning unionised employees, tertiary-educated, inner-suburban so-called "elites", and fraudulent welfare recipients. Howard has demonstrated considerable instincts for identifying hot-button issues with the Australian people and using them to political advantage, backing his instincts against criticism from the non-conservatives and moderate intellectuals in academia, the media, and occasional elements within his own party.

As the self-proclaimed "most conservative leader the Liberal Party has ever had", Howard's political vision combines a laissez-faire economic policy with generally conservative social views. His government has emphasised a tight rein on many aspects of government spending and tight restrictions on welfare, examples of which include:

  • the introduction of "work for the dole" schemes that require the unemployed to participate in make-work projects
  • reductions in funding to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation
  • increased university fees
  • using the welfare and taxation systems to favour single-income families over childless and single people
  • when the Northern Territory introduced world-first legislation allowing legal voluntary euthanasia for the terminally ill, Howard supported a private member's bill introduced by Liberal MP Kevin Andrews[?] which overruled the Territory's move.

Later, Howard's Government was pressured but refused to adopt mandatory sentencing laws inspired by California's "three strikes" laws, despite heavy pressure to do so from outside his party and within it. The Howard government has used its customs powers to prevent state governments from trialling the prescription of heroin by doctors as a treatment for drug addicts.

Howard has expressed opposition to an Australian republic (Australia, although an independent country, remains constitutionally linked to Queen Elizabeth II as 'Queen of Australia'. ) He campaigned against the 1999 Australian republic referendum[?], a campaign in which some republicans blamed Howard for the controversial form of republic put to the electorate, and which the electorate rejected. He has been heavily criticised for his political positions with regard to Australia's indigenous people, and particularly for his refusals to apologise formally for the Stolen Generation or to create a formal treaty with the indigenous population. (A landmark court case in 1992 entitled Mabo ruled that the doctrine of Terra Nullius ("empty land") did not apply to the land of the Meriam[?] people. By precedent, it created a common law doctrine of Native Title, which was soon extended in the Wik Decision).

Previous Australian Prime Minister: Paul Keating
Next Australian Prime Minister: not applicable (John Howard is the current office-holder)

See also: Prime Minister, Prime Ministers of Australia

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