As leader of the Liberal Party, John Howard
became Prime Minister of Australia after the March 1996 election. John
Howard was born in Earlwood, Sydney, and graduated in law from the
University of Sydney. He worked as a solicitor from 1962, before
becoming a Liberal member of the House of Representatives (representing
Bennelong in NSW) in 1974 and in the Fraser Government served as
Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (1975-77), Minister for
Special Trade Negotiations (1977) and Treasurer (1977-83). After the
defeat of the Coalition Government by Labor in 1983, he became shadow
Treasurer and also in that year became deputy Leader of the Opposition.
In 1985 he replaced Andrew Peacock as Liberal leader and Leader of the
Opposition. This was the beginning of years of internal fighting between
the Peacock and Howard factions of the Liberal Party.
Howard led the Liberal/National Coalition
to defeat in the 1987 election, being hampered by the disarray in the
Opposition ranks following the attempt of Queensland National Party
Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen to enter federal politics, some campaign
errors including a financial miscalculation on the costing of promises,
and doubts in the minds of voters about his conservative policies.
In the immediate election aftermath he
staved off a leadership challenge from Andrew Peacock but was defeated
by Peacock in a 1989 challenge. He became shadow Minister for Industry,
Technology and Commerce in 1989 and shadow Minister for Industrial
Relations, Employment and Training in 1990.
In 1995, after the Coalition had lost two
more elections to Labor and had moved from Peacock, to John Hewson, to
Alexander Downer as leader, Howard once again regained the Liberal
leadership. The short-lived leadership of Downer had not proved viable,
Peacock, Howard's old enemy, had left politics and the party turned to
Howard as one of its most experienced and able performers, with the
strong parliamentary debating skills needed to be any match for Prime
Minister Paul Keating. He set about reforming his image from the 1980s,
which was one of a right-wing economic rationalist and social
conservative, softening his stance on some industrial relations issues
and his opposition to the republican movement, while building on the
favourable side of his image-as a down-to-earth, honest, ordinary
Australian man with strong family values.
Basing his 1996 election campaign on
issues that extensive Liberal Party research had shown to be uppermost
in voters' minds, Howard led the Coalition to a landslide victory over
the Keating Labor Government. His policies included: industrial
relations reform based on an increase in enterprise bargaining and
productivity-related wage rises; reform of the laws relating to unfair
dismissal as an aid to small business; reduction of the Budget deficit;
the re-opening of the east-west runway at Sydney Airport to distribute
more widely increased noise since the opening of the third runway;
redirection of reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
people towards improving health, education and housing while retaining
the bulk of the Native Title Act; sale of the remaining part of the
Commonwealth Bank owned by the government; sale of one third of Telstra
to fund an extensive environmental package; maintenance of strong
relations with countries of the Asia-Pacific region. The republican
issue seemed not to be on the short-term agenda.
Howard's regaining of the Liberal
leadership and his eventual gaining of the prime ministership revealed
him to be a politician of remarkable resilience-in his own words,
"Lazarus with a triple by-pass".