John Howard

Quick Facts

  • Prime Minister: 1996–2007 (Liberal Party)
  • Name: John Winston Howard
  • Born: Sydney, 26 July 1939
  • Second longest serving Prime Minister in Australian history


John Howard grew up in Sydney. His parents owned a petrol station where, as a young boy, he worked. When Howard was a teenager his father died, leaving his mother to raise their three sons. Howard attended Canterbury Boys High School in Sydney, and after graduating in Law from the University of Sydney in 1961, he pursued a career as a solicitor.  

Keenly interested in politics, Howard had joined the Liberal Party at the age of 18, and, five years later, was President of the Young Liberals. He was elected to federal parliament in 1974, winning the Sydney seat of Bennelong. A year later, Prime Minister Fraser appointed him Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. In 1977, aged 38, Howard became Treasurer.

Fraser’s government was defeated in the 1983 election by the Australian Labor Party led by Bob Hawke. Fraser resigned and Howard unsuccessfully contested the Liberal leadership against Andrew Peacock. Howard continued to have leadership aspirations and, in 1985, he became leader of the Liberal Party and Opposition Leader. Howard lost the 1987 election, and his leadership was challenged in 1989 by Peacock, who, this time, secured the right to lead the Liberal Party.

After his defeat in the 1989 leadership ballot, Howard served in the Shadow Cabinet under three successive Liberal Opposition Leaders – Andrew Peacock, John Hewson and Alexander Downer – biding his time as the Liberal/National Party coalition lost the 1990 and 1993 elections. In 1995, after two years of Liberal leadership instability, John Howard succeeded Alexander Downer as leader. In March 1996, Howard won a sweeping election victory against Paul Keating’s Labor Government and became Australia’s 25th Prime Minister.

The Howard Government was returned at three elections (1998, 2001 and 2004) and John Howard became the second longest-serving Australian Prime Minister, after Robert Menzies. The Howard prime ministership was characterised by a long period of economic prosperity, with historically low interest rates and unemployment levels, and a succession of economic reforms such as the introduction of a goods and services tax (GST) and changes to Australia’s industrial relations system.

Howard had faced stern tests of his leadership during his period as prime minister, such as the Port Arthur shootings in Tasmania, the East Timor crisis in 1999, the Tampa asylum seeker controversy, the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, and the Iraq War. In his government’s responses to these crises Howard set the tone of his prime ministership, which was one of decisive leadership in testing times, even in the face of opposition.

In October 2004, the Howard Government was returned in a convincing election win, which saw it claim a majority of the seats in the Senate, the first time a government had achieved that feat since the Fraser years. The fact that this was achieved in the Howard Government’s fourth term was even more remarkable, and gave the Government an opportunity to widen and accelerate its political reforms, the pace of which some believed was instrumental, ultimately, in its defeat in the 2007 election, an election in which John Howard gained the dubious distinction of becoming only the second prime minister to lose their own seat.



  • Barnett, D & Goward, P 1997, John Howard, Prime Minister, Viking, Ringwood, Vic.
  • Cater, N 2006, The Howard Factor, Melbourne University Publishing.
  • Howard, J. 2010, Lazarus Rising, Harper Collins.