Election win and first term
By the time the writs were dropped for the 1996 election, the Coalition had been well ahead of Labor in opinion polls for over a year. The consensus of most opinion polls was that Howard would be the next Prime Minister.
With the support of many traditionally Labor voters—dubbed "Howard battlers"—Howard and the Liberal-National Coalition swept to power on the back of a 29-seat swing. This was the second-worst defeat of an incumbent government since Federation. With a 45-seat majority—the second-biggest majority in Australian history (behind only Fraser's 55-seat majority in 1975)--Howard came into office in a strong position. By this time, as he put it, he had "very clear views on where I wanted to take the country". At the age of 56, he was sworn in as Prime Minister on 11 March 1996, ending a record 13 years of Coalition opposition. Howard departed from tradition and made his primary residence Kirribilli House in Sydney rather than The Lodge in Canberra.
Early in the term Howard had championed significant new restrictions on gun ownership following the Port Arthur massacre in which 35 people had been shot dead. Achieving agreement in the face of immense opposition from within the Coalition and some State governments, was credited with significantly elevating John Howard’s stature as Prime Minister despite a backlash from core Coalition rural constituents.
Howard's initial silence on the views of Pauline Hanson—a disendorsed Liberal Party candidate and later independent MP—was criticised in the press as an endorsement of her views. Howard said that she was entitled to express her opinion, that many others would share it, and that to denounce her would "elevate it". Howard repudiated her views seven months after Hanson's controversial maiden parliamentary speech.
Following the Wik Decision of the High Court in 1996, John Howard's government moved swiftly to legislate limitations on its possible implications through the so-called Ten-Point Plan.
From 1997, Howard spear-headed the Coalition push to introduce a Goods and Services Tax (GST) at the 1998 election. Before winning the Prime Ministership, Howard said that he considered the Coalition's defeat in 1993 to be a rejection of the GST, and as a result it would "never ever" be part of Coalition policy. A long held conviction of Howard’s, his tax reform package was credited with "breaking the circuit" of party morale—boosting his confidence and direction, which had appeared to wane early in the Government’s second term. The 1998 election was dubbed a "referendum on the GST", and the tax changes—including the GST—were implemented in the government's second term after amendments to the legislation were negotiated with the Australian Democrats to ensure its passage through the Senate.
Through much of its first term, opinion polling was disappointing for the government and its members at times feared being a "one-term wonder". The popularity of Pauline Hanson, and the new restrictions on gun ownership drew many traditionally Coalition voters away from the Howard government. Also unpopular with voters were large spending cuts aimed at eliminating the budget deficit (and Howard's distinction between "core" and "non-core" election promises when cutting spending commitments), industrial changes and the 1998 waterfront dispute, the partial sale of government telecommunications company Telstra, and the Government's commitment to a GST.
Howard called a snap election for October 1998, three months sooner than required. The Coalition actually lost the national two-party preferred vote to Labor, suffering a 14-seat swing. However, the uneven nature of the swing allowed Howard to win a second term in government, with a considerably reduced majority (from 45 seats to 12). Howard himself finished just short of a majority on the first count in his own seat, and was only assured of reelection on the ninth count. He ultimately finished with a fairly comfortable 56 percent of the two-party preferred vote.
In 1998, Howard convened a Constitutional Convention which decided in principle that Australia should become a Republic. At the convention Howard confirmed himself as a monarchist, and said that of the Republican options, he preferred the minimalist model. Howard outlined his support for retaining the status quo on the basis that it had provided a long period of stability and whilst he said there was no question that Australia was a fully independent nation, he believed that the "separation of the ceremonial and executive functions of government" and the presence of a neutral "defender of constitutional integrity" was an advantage in government and that no republican model would be as effective in providing such an outcome as the Australian constitutional monarchy. Despite opinion polls suggesting Australians favoured a republic, a 1999 referendum rejected the model chosen by the convention.
Although new Indonesian President B.J. Habibie had some months earlier agreed to grant special autonomy to Indonesian-occupied East Timor, his subsequent snap decision for a referendum on the territory's independence was triggered by a Howard and Downer orchestrated shift in Australian policy. In September 1999, Howard organised an Australian-led international peace-keeping force to East Timor (INTERFET), after pro-Indonesia militia launched a violent "scorched-earth" campaign in retaliation to the referendum's overwhelming vote in favour of independence. The successful mission was widely supported by Australian voters, but the government was criticised[who?] for "foreign policy failure" following the violence and collapse of diplomatic relations with Indonesia. By Howard's fourth term, relations with Indonesia had recovered to include counter-terrorism cooperation and Australia's $1bn Boxing Day Tsunami relief efforts, and were assisted by good relations between Howard and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Throughout his prime-ministership, Howard was resolute in his refusal to provide a parliamentary "apology" to Indigenous Australians as recommended by the 1997 “Bringing Them Home” Report. Howard argued this was inappropriate, because "Australians of this generation should not be required to accept guilt and blame for past actions and policies." Howard did offer this personal apology before the release of the Report: "I feel deep sorrow for those of my fellow Australians who suffered injustices under the practices of past generations towards indigenous people. Equally, I am sorry for the hurt and trauma many here today may continue to feel, as a consequence of these practices”.
In 1999 Howard negotiated a "Motion of Reconciliation" with Aboriginal Senator Aden Ridgeway. Eschewing use of the word "sorry", the motion recognised mistreatment of Aborigines as the "most blemished chapter" in Australia's history; offered "deep and sincere regret" for past injustices. Following his 2007 loss of the Prime Ministership, Howard was the only living former Prime Minister who declined to attend the February 2008 apology made by Kevin Rudd with bi-partisan support.
Howard did not commit to serving a full term if he won the next election; on his 61st birthday in July 2000 he said he would consider the question of retirement when he turned 64. This was interpreted as boosting Costello’s leadership aspirations, and the enmity over leadership and succession resurfaced publicly when Howard did not retire at the age of 64. In the first half of 2001, rising petrol prices, voter enmity over the implementation of the GST, a spike in inflation and economic slowdown led to bad opinion polls and predictions the Government would lose office in the election later that year. With Howard telling Cabinet he would not be "sacrificed on the pyre of ideological purity", the government announced a series of policy reversals and softenings which boosted the government's fortunes, as did news that the economy had avoided recession. Following the Liberal Party win at the Aston by-election, Howard said that the Coalition was "back in the game". The government's position on "border protection", in particular the Tampa affairwhere Howard refused the landing of asylum seekers rescued by a Norwegian freighter, consolidated the improving polls for the government, as did the 11 September 2001 attacks. Howard led the government to victory in the 2001 federal election with an increased majority.
Howard had first met US President George W. Bush in the days before the 11 September terrorist attacks and was in Washington the morning of the attacks. In response to the attacks, Howard invoked the ANZUS Treaty and said that the invocation of the treaty"demonstrates Australia's steadfast commitment to work with the United States.” In October, he committed Australian military personnel to the war in Afghanistan. Howard developed a strong personal relationship with the president, and they shared often similar ideological positions – including on the role of the United States in world affairs and their approach to the "War on Terror". In May 2003, Howard made an overnight stay at Bush's Prairie Chapel Ranch in Texas, after which Bush said that Howard "...is not only a man of steel, he's showed the world he's a man of heart."
Howard responded to the 2002 Bali bombing, in which 88 Australian citizens were killed, by calling on Australians to "wrap their arms around the people of Indonesia" and said that, while affected, Australia remained "strong and free and open and tolerant". Howard re-dedicated his government to the "War on Terror", saying the Bali bombing was proof that no country was "immune" to the effects of terrorism.
In March 2003, Australia joined the US-led "Multinational force in Iraq" in sending 2,000 troops and naval units to support in the invasion of Iraq. Howard said that the invasion to "disarm Iraq...is right, it is lawful, and it is in Australia’s national interest." He later said that the decision to go into Iraq was the most difficult he made as Prime Minister. In response to the Australian participation in the invasion, there were large protests in Australian cities during March 2003, and Prime Minister Howard was heckled from the public gallery of Parliament House. While opinion polls showed that opposition to the war without UN backing was between 48 and 92 per cent, Howard remained preferred prime-minister over opposition leader, Simon Crean, and his approval dropped compared to before the war.
Throughout 2002 and 2003 Howard had increased his opinion poll lead over Labor leader, Simon Crean. In December 2003, Crean resigned after losing party support and Mark Latham was elected leader. Howard called an election for 9 October 2004. While the government was behind Labor in the opinion polls, Howard himself had a large lead over Latham as preferred Prime Minister. In the lead up to the election, Howard again did not commit to serving a full term. Howard campaigned on the theme of trust, asking: "Who do you trust to keep the economy strong, and protect family living standards? Who do you trust to keep interest rates low?" Howard attacked Latham's economic record as Mayor ofLiverpool City Council and attacked Labor's economic history saying: "It is an historic fact that interest rates have always gone up under Labor governments over the last 30 years, because Labor governments spend more than they collect and drive budgets into deficit ... So it will be with a Latham Labor government... I will guarantee that interest rates are always going to be lower under a Coalition government." The election resulted in a five-seat swing to the Coalition, netting it a majority almost as large as in 1996. It also resulted the first, albeit slim, government majority in the Senate since 1981. For the second time since becoming Prime Minister, Howard came up short of a majority in the first count for his own seat. He was assured of reelection on the third count, ultimately winning 53.3 percent of the two-party preferred vote. On 21 December 2004, Howard became the second-longest serving Australian Prime Minister after Sir Robert Menzies.
In 2006, with the government now controlling both houses of parliament for the first time since the Fraser era, industrial relations changes were enacted. Named “WorkChoices” and championed by Howard, they were intended to fundamentally change the employer-employee relationship. Opposed by a broad trade union campaign and antipathy within the electorate, WorkChoices was subsequently seen as a major factor in the government’s 2007 election loss.
In April 2006, the government announced it had completely paid off the last of $96 billion of Commonwealth net debt inherited when it came to power in 1996. By 2007, Howard had been in office for 11 of the 15 years of consecutive annual growth enjoyed by the Australian economy. Unemployment had fallen from 8.1% at the start of his term to 4.1% in 2007, and average weekly earnings grew 24.4% in real terms. Howard often cited economic management as a strong point of the government, and during his Prime Ministership, opinion polling consistently showed that a majority of the electorate thought his government were better to handle the economy than the Opposition.
In 2006, Ian McLachlan and Peter Costello said that under a 1994 deal between Howard and Costello, Howard would serve one and half terms as Prime Minister if the Coalition won the next election before stepping aside to allow Costello to take over. Howard denied that this constituted a deal; and there were calls for Costello to either challenge or quit.Citing strong party room support for him as leader, Howard stated later that month that he would remain to contest the 2007 election. Six weeks before the election, Howard said that, if elected, he would stand down during the next term, and anointed Costello as his successor. Peter Costello commented, in 2007 whilst still in government, that "The Howard treasurership was not a success in terms of interest rates and inflation... he had not been a great reformer," and questioned Howard's account of his conflicts with the Prime Minister Fraser.
The Coalition trailed Labor in opinion polls from mid-2006 onward, but Howard still consistently led Labor leader Kim Beazley on the question of preferred Prime Minister – and was even described as a "revolutionary" in his opposition to unionism. In December 2006, after Kevin Rudd became Labor leader, the two-party preferred deficit widened even further and Rudd swiftly overtook Howard as preferred Prime Minister. Howard chaired APEC Australia 2007, culminating in the APEC Economic Leaders Meeting in Sydney during September. The meeting was at times overshadowed by further leadership speculation following continued poor poll results.
2007 election defeat
Leading up to the 24 November election, the Coalition trailed Labor in the polls since the Labor party elected Kevin Rudd as party leader in late 2006. In the election, Howard and his government were defeated, suffering a 23-seat swing to Labor, which was almost as large as the 29-seat swing that propelled him to power in 1996. Howard lost his seat of Bennelong to former journalist Maxine McKew by 44,685 votes (51.4 percent) to Howard's 42,251 (48.6 percent). The final tally indicated that McKew defeated Howard on the 14th count due to a large flow of Green preferences to her; 3,793 (78.84 percent) of Green voters listed McKew as their second preference. Howard told a former colleague that losing Bennelong was a "silver lining in the thunder cloud of defeat" as it spared him the ignominy of opposition.Howard is the second Australian Prime Minister, after Stanley Bruce, to lose his seat in an election. He remained in office as caretaker Prime Minister until the formal swearing in of Rudd's government on 3 December.
Federal Liberal Party director Brian Loughnane said "it was the failure of Kim Beazley's leadership that had masked voter concerns about Howard". Media analysis of The Australian Election Study, a postal survey of 1873 voters during the 2007 poll, found that although respondents respected Howard and thought he had won the 6-week election campaign, Howard was considered "at odds with public opinion on cut-through issues", his opponent had achieved the highest "likeability" rating in the survey's 20-year history, and a majority had decided their voting intention prior to the election campaign.
In January 2008, John Howard signed with a prominent speaking agency called the Washington Speakers Bureau, joining Tony Blair, Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, and others. He will be available for two speeches, Leadership in the New Century and The Global Economic Future.
The Australian and New Zealand cricket boards jointly nominated Howard as their candidate for president of the International Cricket Council. However, his nomination was rejected by the ICC's executive board in Singapore after members from six countries signalled their intention to block the appointment. Howard is currently the chairman of theInternational Democrat Union, a body of international conservative political parties, and in 2008 was appointed a Director of the Foundation established to preserve the legacy ofDonald Bradman.
As a result of an anaphylactic reaction to an anaesthetic used during dental surgery, Howard was rushed to hospital in 2009 and spent two nights under observation in the hospital before being released.[importance?]
Howard's autobiography Lazarus Rising: A Personal and Political Autobiography was released on 26 October 2010.
- Recognised as Australian Father of the Year in 1997
- Received the Woodrow Wilson Award from the Woodrow Wilson Center of the U.S. Smithsonian Institution on 22 August 2005 in Sydney
- B'nai B'rith International bestowed its Presidential Gold Medal on Howard in May 2006
- Irving Kristol Award, the highest award of the American Enterprise Institute, 5 March 2008
- Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service in Government, 6 April 2008
- On 26 January 2008, he was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) "for distinguished service to the Parliament of Australia, particularly as Prime Minister and through contributions to economic and social policy reform, fostering and promoting Australia's interests internationally, and the development of significant philanthropic links between the business sector, arts and charitable organisations".
- On 1 January 2012 Howard was invested as a Member of the Order of Merit (OM) by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.
- On 1 January 2001, he was awarded the Centenary Medal.
- On 15 June 2005, he was awarded the Star of the Solomon Islands (SSI).
- On 13 January 2009, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by the President of the United States George W. Bush.
- In December 2008, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for "outstanding statesmanship and leading role on the world stage in promoting democracy and combating international terrorism" and his "remarkable understanding of, and exceptional support for, the State of Israel and his deep friendship with the Australian Jewish community"