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Brief History of the Howard Government – 1998-2001

The Howard Government was first elected on March 2, 1996.

HowardIt was the first federal victory by the coalition of the Liberal and National Parties since 1980.

The government was re-elected on October 3, 1998, this time with a vastly reduced majority.

The government’s first term was characterised by tight budgeting, the partial privatisation of Telstra, industrial relations changes, persistent problems with ministerial behaviour and the Wik debate.

The government’s second term has seen a deal with the Australian Democrats that secured passage of tax reform legislation and the introduction of a Goods and Services Tax.

In the final year of its second term, the Howard government faced a bleak electoral situation. Since the 1998 election, the ALP had won office in Victoria, trounced the coalition government in Western Australia, been re-elected in a landslide in Queensland, and snatched the formerly safe Liberal seat of Ryan in a by-election.

However, a series of policy changes in the first half of 2001 saw the government recover some ground. In a July by-election in the Melbourne seat of Aston, the Liberal Party retained the seat whilst suffering a 4% swing against it. Howard was to claim later that this was the turning point.

The arrival of the MV Tampa with a cargo of asylum-seekers off Christmas Island in late August dramatically altered the political equation. The issue of “border protection” sparked a big surge of support for the government’s hard line on what were termed “illegals”, “queue-jumpers” and “boatpeople”. ALP support plunged.

On September 11, the terrorist attacks on the United States served to heighten the unease over security and national borders.

The ensuing election, held on November 10, 2001, was dubbed a “khaki” election. News of the “war against terrorism” and the United States-led attacks on Afghanistan dominated the news throughout the campaign, as did further arrivals of boatloads of asylum-seekers.

The government was returned with an increased majority for a third term, the ministry was reshuffled and John Howard moved towards becoming the second longest-serving Liberal Prime Minister since Menzies.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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