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Howard Wins A Third Term: Some Historical Comparisons

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Three-Term Prime Ministers

John Howard’s victory means he joins a select group of Australian Prime Ministers who have won 3 or more elections:

  • John Howard: 1996, 1998, 2001
  • Bob Hawke: 1983, 1984, 1987, 1990
  • Malcolm Fraser: 1975, 1977, 1980
  • Robert Menzies: 1940, 1949, 1951, 1954, 1955, 1958, 1961, 1963
  • Joseph Lyons: 1931, 1934, 1937
  • Billy Hughes: 1917, 1919, 1922

Third-Term Governments

Howard’s election win is the first time since 1995 that an Australian government has been elected to a third term. Back then, Wayne Goss’s Labor government narrowly won a third term in Queensland, but lasted only a few months until it lost a by-election. Winning a third term has become a difficult task for incumbent governments since the late 1980s.

The Liberal leader’s victory equals Malcolm Fraser’s record and is second only to Menzies, the founder of the party. It ensures that Howard’s respect within the Liberal Party will be considerably enhanced.

The Swing

The two-party-preferred swing to the coalition is currently 1.25%. Contrary to Howard’s assertion on election night, this is not the biggest two-party-swing to an incumbent government since 1966. That honour belongs to Paul Keating who garnered a swing of 1.54% in 1993. The swing in 1966 was 4.3%.

Howard’s Future

Howard is now on track to become the third longest-serving Prime Minister in Australia’s history, even if he decides to retire before the next election. He is currently the 7th longest-serving of the 25 men who have been PM, having been in office for 5 years and 8 months exactly. On November 26, 2002 Howard will have served 6 years, 8 months and 15 days and will become the 6th longest-serving PM, overtaking Stanley Bruce.

On July 12, 2003 he will overtake Joe Lyons, Billy Hughes and Malcolm Fraser to become the third longest-serving PM with 7 years, 4 months and 1 day under his belt. He could comfortably do this and retire in late 2003, allowing his successor a year to settle in before the next election.

He would need to remain PM until December 21, 2004 to overtake Bob Hawke as the second longest-serving PM with 8 years, 9 months and 9 days. An election will be due around this time, so Howard would need to be prepared to fight and win another poll to claim second place.

Howard’s Past

On this day 26 years ago, November 11, 1975, Malcolm Fraser became Prime Minister following the Dismissal of the Whitlam government. Howard was sworn in on December 22 as the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, his first portfolio.

Despite being promoted to Treasurer in 1977, Howard had a difficult relationship with Fraser. They clashed over budgetary policy and tax reform. Fraser has been a persistent critic of the Howard government on issues as diverse as the republic, reconciliation, asylum-seekers and media ownership. There is little doubt that Howard would derive great satisfaction from overtaking Fraser’s term in office.

Therefore, don’t expect a Howard retirement until after July 12, 2003. If no retirement is forthcoming, start carefully watching Peter Costello’s words and actions.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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