PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 10618


Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 04/12/1997

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 10618



Thank you very much David and Pru. To the members of my family

who are here, my wife Janette, my daughter Melanie, my eldest brother

Wal and his wife Gwen. To my Parliamentary colleagues, to Mr Sessions

and members of the Press Gallery, ladies and gentlemen.

It is an awkward moment in one's political career to launch

a biography. You reflect for a moment on what you might or might

not say, you wonder whether you will be a commentator on the book.

I have reviewed a number of books, I haven't been asked to

review this one. I reviewed Bob Hawke's book and Graham Richardson's

book and I have reviewed that marvellous biography of Alan Martin's

about Sir Robert Menzies. But, of course, I have read this with

absorption and, of course as David and Pru have pointed out, I spent

quite a deal of time with them in advising on facts and tracing

the sequence of events.

It is of course, more than a biography. It is also a chronicle

of Australian politics over the last, almost quarter of a century.

And we are constantly reminded of how things change. But when I

reflect that in 1974 when I was elected to Parliament, I reflect

upon the Australia of then and the world of then and the Australia

of today and the world of today, the changes are absolutely mind


Not only have we seen in that quarter of a century the on set of,

arguably since the industrial revolution, the greatest economic

transformation brought about by information technology, but we have

seen the collapse of the most pervasive, authoritarian ideology

of the 21st Century, that is Soviet communism. We have seen the

rise, and now the turbulence and the trepidation of the Asia-Pacific

region as the fastest growing economic area in the world. We have

also seen a massive transformation of Australian politics.

We are now living in a far less tribal political state that we

lived in the early 1970s. We have also lived through a period of

time when elections have been dominated by economic issues. When

I was cutting my political teeth as a member of the Liberal Party

organisation and stuffing letterboxes in suburbs like Earlwood and

Campsie and Dulwich Hill and Hurlstone Park with people like Tom

Hughes, who became Federal Attorney-General in the Gorton Government

after the 1969 election, elections used to be fought, as Tony Eggleton

who is in audience, and there is somebody who shares, as well as

anybody in this audience, the ups and downs and the successes and

the triumphs of our side of politics over that period of time, the

issues that tended to dominate the political scene then were not

economic issues.

But I can't think of an election since 1974, I would say 1972

was the last election that was determined overwhelmingly on non-economic

issues, that was determined on what you might call historical, cultural

changes issues rather than economic ones. And from 1974 onwards

it changed and there was, of course, a reason for that, and that

is the enormous impact of all those economic changes that occurred

in the 1970s with the floating of the American dollar, the collapse

of the Bretton-Woods international financial arrangements and the

OPEC oil increases and all the other domestic changes.

So we are a world away from the political world of Australia that

I entered in 1974 when Gough Whitlam was Prime Minister and the

late Bill Snedden was the Leader of the Opposition. When Jim Cope

was the Speaker for a time to be replaced by Gordon Skulls, who

I might say in my view, distinguished himself as a Speaker of the

House of Representatives. I thought that Gordon Skulls was in fact

a very good Speaker and he had, for a person appointed as a Speaker

by the Labor Party, an extraordinary difficult moment in controlling

Parliament on the 11th of November 1975.

To have been present at some of those great and, at times traumatic

political events. To have lived through the circumstances of 1975.

To have lived through, as a junior Minister, the early years of

the Fraser Government. To have been trusted, unexpectedly with the

responsibilities of Treasurer, as David recounts in the first pages

of the book. To have suffered the fate of trying to keep pace with

drinking beer with Malcolm Fraser in the Kirribilli hotel after

I was sworn in as Prime Minister - and David correctly records that

I didn't do terribly well out of that, although the press conference

the next morning wasn't too bad.

To have gone through the difficulties as the years wear on of the

governments, which inevitably develops tensions. To have gone through,

in government, a few dark moments. And as I read the book I was

reminded of some of the internal difficulties. I think one of the

gut-wrenching experiences that I had was the enormous struggle within

my own party and within some sections of the broader community regarding

the very controversial anti-tax avoidance measures that I introduced

as Treasurer in 1982.

And ironically enough, and David won't mind me saying this,

David asked me in his afterlife, after he'd left Malcolm Fraser

as press secretary, in fact as part of his duties in Canberra, was

vigorously advocating with me, almost on a daily basis, and he did

the job extremely well to calls of those who objected very violently

to some of the measures that I was undertaking. I might say, not

on grounds of the principle of tax avoidance but what he regarded

as the very controversial and improper methods that the Government

had adopted in order to recoup to the Australian Treasury the tax

that had been so wickedly avoided by these people.

That was typical of the sort of exchange that David and I would

have at that particular time. David, of course, himself has been

present at all of these events as a commentator and as a journalist.

And as Malcolm Fraser's press secretary he was with him on

November 11th 1975 and he joined his staff when Malcolm became Leader

of the Opposition. And he stayed with Malcolm until after the 1980

election and he then became a consultant. Then after the defeat

of the Fraser Government he returned to the Press Gallery. And he

has witnessed all of those events. I have had a strong personal

relationship with him but it has never clouded the professionalism

of the job that he has done as a journalist and as a commentator.

And so to me one of the great values of this book is that it does

represent, through the experience and circumstances of myself in

the various roles that I have had during that 23 year period, it

does represent, as I said, a chronicle of Australian politics and

the Australian economy over that period of time.

There are many things about political life now which I have mentioned

which are so different from what they were 23 years ago. I have

talked about the detribalised character of Australian politics.

I think also it is fair to say that politics has become even more

volatile and even more unpredictable now than it was in the 1970s.

If I reflect on my childhood and the political experiences I imbibed

then, I guess the stability and the predictability at that time

is the dominant recollection that one has.

And if I look back over the last 18 months can I leave the thought

with you that, probably the biggest single change that has occurred

in the last 18 months, even more important than the impressive achievements

of my Government, of which David was kind enough to draw attention,

with which I won't too long detain you this morning.

But rather the most important thing that has happened over that

last 18 months has been, in my view, the very significant change

in the dynamic of the relationship between Australia and the Asia-Pacific

region. Not in the sense that I suggest for a moment that our fortunes

aren't forever committed and our destiny not forever tied

up with the future of that region. But the transformation brought

about largely, but not entirely, by the economic instability in

a number of the major economies in the Asia-Pacific region have,

I think all of both the dynamic and the psychology and also the

actuality of our relationship with that region.

We are no longer seen as some kind of anxious outsider clamouring

to be a member of this spectacularly successful club, rather we

are seen as a strong, reliable, dependable, better run, more successful,

capable of punching above its weight participant in the Asia-Pacific

region. And I think as the months go by the psychology of that and

the way it will impact on Australian politics and the way it will

reinforce the need for Australia always to be, in a political and

economic sense, a citizen of the world as well as giving priority

to our associations with our immediate region. And I think it is,

without doubt, the single most important change in the dynamic of

anything that has occurred over this period of time.

One of the satisfying things of political life can genuinely be

that when you have had a difficult association and you have had

struggles which have become publicly known, with some individuals,

that over a period of time that you can become reconciled to each

other and time and circumstances will alter attitudes. It is no

secret that Andrew Peacock and I over the years, inside the Liberal

Party, had the odd disagreement. It is also no secret, I think unfairly

on occasions, we together were blamed for the assorted ills and

sins and failures and inadequacies of the Federal Parliamentary

Liberal Party.

And I must say that I did find an immense personal satisfaction,

as time went by and particularly after the 1993 election in which,

almost by accident at first but then over a period of time, both

of us decided that it was rather stupid, this personal enmity which

was never quite as big, although some people in this room might

find it hard to believe given some of the circumstances that occurred,

that that should go on forever.

And I do say that one of the most pleasing appoints I have made

as Prime Minister was to initiate Andrew Peacock's appointment

as Australian Ambassador to Washington. Not only because I felt

it completed the process of reconciliation between two people who'd

been competitors in the pursuit of the same cause, but I think it

also has delivered to this country a magnificent Ambassador in the

United States of America whose great diplomatic and interpersonal

skills are very effectively deployed there.

There are many other people in this room that I could talk about.

I, of course, record unstintingly, indeed fulsomely, my affection

and gratitude towards my family who have been in their various manifestations,

commencing with my very devoted and loyal and decent parents who

gave to me a view of right and wrong as they saw it and as I believed

in. And they gave to me a sense of country and a sense of effort

and a sense of personal striving and a sense of humility, I hope,

although some might doubt that, and a sense of always trying to

do the right thing by people, for which I have remained grateful

during my life.

My father died when I was 16 but I have never forgotten his influence

and I have never forgotten his great decency and his quiet love

of his country and his commitment to his community and most particularly

to his family.

My mother was an immensely strong and influential person who fiercely

protected and promoted the interests of her four sons, of which

she became immensely proud. She of course didn't live to see

me become Prime Minister. She did live to see me become Federal

Treasurer and she died just a few weeks before I was ejected from

that office by the vote of the Australian people. But I owe both

of them, now long-dead, a very great debt of gratitude.

To my three older brothers, with whom I have always had a very

close bond. Wal, my eldest brother, is here today with his wife

Gwyn, and my next-eldest brother, Stan. Wal was the small businessman

in the family which followed Dad's pattern and he's now

very happily retired next to the Leura golf course which is a pleasant

existence. He's come down here. And Stan, who became a very

well known corporate lawyer around town and in Sydney, a company

director. And then of course there's Bob who is quite well

known on the other side of the political spectrum. Bob and I are

an interesting sort of commentary on what is the essentially egalitarian,

and I think likeable character, of Australian politics.

I won't tell that foundry joke again, Janette, but one of

the things that's always terrific about Australian politics

is that there is still an accessibility and a capacity to jump across

a political barrier in Australia that doesn't exist in many

other countries. Bob was once a member of the Liberal Party but

he left us, I suspect largely because of the Vietnam war, but not

entirely because of that, and he's now a very active member

of the, what he calls the nice left of the Labor Party in New South


Thereby hangs a marvellous story when, was it Les McMahon who used

to be the Labor Member for Sydney? He was being challenged for preselection

by Peter Baldwin, and Peter Baldwin as you know was on the left

and my brother, Bob, was a member of one of the branches in Leichhardt.

And Les came up to me in the corridor one day and he said, "John,

do you think you could put in a word in the pre-selection ballot

with your brother for me"?

I said, "forget it mate, he's barracking for Peter Baldwin".

And of course, that turned out to be the case. Bob and Baldwin won,

Les lost but the point of all of that is Bob and I have remained

good friends and good brothers. When I became Prime Minister I rang

him up to invite him down to the swearing in because he'd worked

in a polling booth on Petersham Town Hall all day on election day.

I said, "you ought to come down to the swearing in". He

said, "I'll do that". He said, "what's

the order of proceedings?" I said, "well, the order of

proceedings is that I get sworn in as Prime Minister and then we

all go in and I sort of introduce my Ministry to the Governor General,

and they are all sworn in one in turn". He said, "I tell

you what, I'll strike a deal with you". He said, "I

will be there for your swearing in". He said, "we can

then have a photograph and a cup of tea" but he said, "I

don't think I could hang around for the rest of your mob".

So I thought that was a very decent compromise but it's never

fair in those circumstances of course to leave unacknowledged the

enormous contribution that the two of my brothers who voted Liberal

and remain very bright and clear-eyed on these matters and have

been very, very staunch and loyal supporters in every sense of the

word, of my political aspirations.

And of course, to my three magnificent children with whom, as the

years went by I have grown ever more fond. I didn't think when

I was dumped as Leader of the Opposition in 1989 it was all that

flash but one thing it did do was that at a critical time in the

ages of my children it meant that I spent a great deal more time

with them.

One of the great pieces of mythology in bringing up children is

the belief that it's when they're sort of in their late

teens that you've got to find more time for them. The fact

is that by the time they're in their late teens they're

not particularly interested in you finding a lot more time for them

and it's really much earlier than that and of course I got

dumped at a time that neatly coincided with that. Over the years

they have been very good political advisers, down to my son, Tim.

When I was talking about the necessity of preparing for the second

debate against Paul Keating in the last election he said to me,

"Dad, you've got to do something about those shoulders".

He was referring to the fact that I tended, when I was trying to

make a point, to do something with my shoulders and keeping that

in mind, keeping Tim's admonition in mind, I did precisely

that. I can see Janette is looking at me saying, John, this is going

on just a little bit too long, and it is but you don't launch

your own biography every day, do you.

Can I thank David, with assistance from Pru, for their friendship.

It has been a friendship over a long period of time. David has acute

and impeccable judgements on most things, although a few things

where we do disagree rather violently. He has a wealth of political

experience and understanding and both David and Pru are people who

understand not only the mechanical side of politics but also the

human side of politics.

And it's of enormous importance that people with that treasure

trove of experience have the opportunity of putting it down and

whether you agree with it or disagree, or reject it or accept it,

it becomes part of the written history. As we approach the centenary

of the Federation of Australia we are going to get increasingly

interested in what's gone before us and I think over the next

two or three years we are going to have an explosion of interest

in this country in what we have achieved, particularly over the

last 100 years.

Of course as we get to the Centenary of Federation, we are getting

to that moment when there would be so few, if at all, Australians

left who participated in some of the great events that have shaped

this century and shaped the first 100 years of the Australian nation.

It won't be long before there will be nobody left alive who

served in World War One. There will be diminishing numbers of people

who experienced the rigours of the Great Depression and as we get

towards the centenary of our Federation, we are reminded of all

that experience and all that history. Everything is a

contribution to that so I am very, very grateful to all of you.

I want to conclude by saying that it's not only a chronicle

of the 25 years in Australian politics. It's also a chronicle

of the ins and outs and the successes and the triumphs and the failures

and the losses of the Liberal Party of Australia.

I joined the Liberal Party of Australia 40 years ago. I owe it

an enormous debt. I would not have been a Member of Parliament had

it not been for the Liberal Party. I would not have been leader

of the Party without that gift from it, and I certainly would not

have been Prime Minister, and I have a deep love of the Party with

all its weaknesses and I think it is a great institution. And I

remain profoundly in its debt as I am in the debt of David and Pru

for this excellent production.

Thank you.

Transcript 10618