John Winston Howard

John Howard (b.1939) served for the second-longest prime ministerial term after Robert Menzies. When he lost the seat of Bennelong in 2007, he also became the second Australian prime minister to lose his seat, the first being Stanley Melbourne Bruce in 1929. Like his hero Robert Menzies, John Howard lost and subsequently regained the leadership of his party. First elected Leader of the Opposition in 1985, he was overthrown by a party room coup in 1989. He regained the leadership of the Liberal Party in 1995, and became Australiaís twenty-fifth Prime Minister with a landslide win in the federal election of 1996. His government saw major changes in many areas of Australian life, including domestic areas such as gun ownership and industrial relations, and in Australiaís foreign relations, maintaining our strong ties to the United States and adopting tough approaches to illegal immigration. Howard grew up in the Sydney suburb of Earlwood, where his family ran a garage. He joined the Young Liberals at the age of 18 and entered the House of Representatives in 1974 after working as a lawyer. Within little more than a year after his election he was a minister in the first Fraser government. From 1977 to 1983 he was Treasurer.

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11 March 1996

John Howard becomes Prime Minister

The Liberal–National coalition defeats the Labor government of Paul Keating at the federal election and its leader John Howard becomes Prime Minister. The Howard government introduces strong gun control legislation following the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, gradually privatises Telstra, institutes significant industrial relations reforms including Australian Workplace Agreements, commits Australian forces to Afghanistan and Iraq, and introduces a federal goods and services tax (GST). For more information, visit the Australian Prime Ministers Centre.


John Howard.
27 May 1997

Australian Reconciliation Conference

Almost 1800 people attend the Australian Reconciliation Conference to discuss Indigenous issues. Although the conference is overshadowed by a controversial address by Prime Minister John Howard, it focuses on the aims of the official movement towards national reconciliation started in 1991 with the establishment of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. The Council’s key goals include educating Australians about Indigenous issues, improving economic and living standards for Indigenous people, and acknowledging the unfair and often inhumane treatment of Indigenous Australians throughout history.


Distinguished company at the Reconciliation Conference, from left: Patrick Dodson, Sir William Deane, Faith Bandler and Joe McGinness.
2 February 1999

No to an Australian republic

Following a constitutional convention in February 1998 at which members resolve in favour of Australia becoming a republic, the Howard government invites the people of Australia to vote at a referendum. The first question asks Australians whether they approve of altering the Constitution to establish the Commonwealth of Australia as a republic with the Queen and Governor-General being replaced by a president appointed by a two-thirds majority of the members of the Commonwealth Parliament. The second question seeks approval to change the Constitution by inserting a preamble. About 55 per cent of Australian voters vote no, and Australia remains a constitutional monarchy.


Voting in progress at the Constitutional Convention, 1998.