Companion of the Order of Australia (2008), The Order of Merit (2011)

11 March 1996 — 3 December 2007 11 years, 269 days

John Howard became Australia's 25th prime minister when the Liberal Party won office, replacing the Labor government led by Paul Keating.


26 July 1939
Sydney, New South Wales


Janette Howard



11 March 1996 — 3 December 2007 11 years, 269 days


John Howard digested lessons from his many years in parliament to become a highly disciplined and professional politician who left nothing to chance.

John Howard stands in the middle of a large crowd of soldiers.

Photo: Ray Strange/Newspix

Howard’s skilled use of rhetoric helped him communicate his vision of economic prosperity and social conservatism and become Australia’s most electorally successful prime minister since Menzies.  

Howard grew up in the Sydney suburb of Earlwood and became aware of politics from family discussions about the impact of petrol rationing on his father’s service station business. He left Canterbury Boys’ High School in 1956 to study law at the University of Sydney and joined the Young Liberal Movement in 1962. Howard became president of the New South Wales Young Liberals and won pre-selection for the state seat of Drummoyne in 1968.

He did not win the seat, but went on in 1972 to become vice-president of the state Liberal Party and work on Billy McMahon’s election campaign. In the 1974 election, Howard won the federal seat of Bennelong and soon became the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs and then Treasurer by 1977. Howard was Leader of the Opposition at the 1987 election, but his campaign was damaged by the push to bring Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen into federal politics.

Thereafter Howard was one of several contenders for the leadership and, at one point, likened his aspirations to ‘Lazarus with a triple bypass’. Howard’s time came again in 1995 when he was returned as Liberal leader. In 1996, Howard became prime minister and went on to secure another three terms in office. Howard would preside over one of Australia’s longest periods of economic expansion. When the end came, policy certainty became perceived as rigidity. 


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After only two months in office, Howard was confronted by the tragic shooting at Port Arthur in Tasmania. He responded decisively, introducing uniform gun laws and a gun buy-back scheme. After intensive bargaining with the Senate, Howard obtained the numbers to allow for the sale of up to half of Telstra.

Industrial relations reform was always a core issue for Howard and in January 1997 the Workplace Relations amendments were passed. After the High Court’s Wik decision the government enacted legislation to calm pastoralists’ concerns over Indigenous native title.

In the October 1998 election the Goods and Services Tax (GST) returned as the dominant issue of the campaign. Howard narrowly won the election and the GST came into operation from 1 July 2000. In 1999 the government supported the East Timorese independence push from Indonesia and Australian troops led the United Nations peace keeping force deployed to Timor. During the 2001 election campaign the Norwegian ship MV Tampa was prevented from landing rescued Afghan refugees in Australian waters.

This was soon followed by the ‘children overboard’ affair and led to the controversial border protection policy that remained prominent throughout Howard’s period in office. The issue of national security took on increased significance after al-Qaeda terrorists attacked New York and Washington D.C. on 11 September 2001. This ushered in the ‘war on terrorism’ and framed the remainder of Howard’s prime ministership.

Australian troops were sent to Afghanistan and Iraq in 2003 to support the American-led coalition.  Domestic security was heightened in response to the loss of Australian lives in the Bali bombing. Howard won a fourth term in 2004, but was weakened by the strong reaction against his WorkChoices reform.  

John Howard looks out at rally while he stands on an elevated platform to give a speech.

Photo: Fairfax

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