Australian Prime Minister John Howard had been in office just over a month on April 28, 1996, when a gunman killed 35 people in the Port Arthur Massacre. Howard found himself thrust into the international spotlight as he oversaw the National Firearms Agreement, which included a ban on all semi-automatic weapons and controls on gun ownership. Five years later, on September 11, 2001, Howard found himself in Washington, D.C., witnessing an American tragedy that stretched all the way to the Australian shores. His quotes on Australian identity and liberties reflect his political philosophy in the context of these tumultuous times: Do what is right and necessary, and always speak the truth.
Contending with a national identity marred by the past, John Howard wanted to bring Australia out of its history and into the present and future. The events of the late 20th and early 21st centuries would only cement his belief that present-day Australians uphold an honorable, peaceful lifestyle.
“The 'black armband' view of our history reflects a belief that most Australian history since 1788 has been little more than a disgraceful story of imperialism, exploitation, racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination. I take a very different view. I believe that the balance sheet of our history is one of heroic achievement and that we have achieved much more as a nation of which we can be proud of than which we should be ashamed.” - Sir Robert Menzies Lecture, 1996
“There is much in American society which I admire, but I have long held the view that the absence of an effective safety net in that country means that too many needy citizens fall by the wayside. That is not the path that Australia will tread. Nor do we want the burdens of nanny state paternalism that now weigh down many economies in Europe.” - Australia Day Address, 2006
“Australia is a liberal democracy with global political and economic interests and a proud history of defending freedom against its enemies. We do not have to smother or apologise for our place in the Western political tradition in order to build our relationships in Asia or in any other part of the world.” - Australia Day Address, 2006
“I'd like to be seen as an average Australian bloke … I can't think of a nobler description of anybody than to be called an average Australian bloke.” - Four Corners television program, 1996
“I would like to see an Australian nation that feels comfortable and relaxed about three things: I would like to see them comfortable and relaxed about their history; I would like to see them comfortable and relaxed about the present and I’d also like to see them comfortable and relaxed about the future.” - Four Corners television program, 1996
“The things that unite the Australian and American people are shared values: the belief that the individual is more important than the state, that strong families are a nation's greatest asset, that competitive free enterprise is the ultimate foundation of national wealth, and that the worth of a person is determined by that person's character and hard work, not by their religion or race or colour or creed or social background.” - Address to Parliament, 2003
One of Howard’s best-known political moves was the National Firearms Agreement of 1996. While his political opponents saw the decision as restrictive to civil liberties, Howard defended the agreement as the ultimate way to protect Australians’ liberties.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I think we have done good work for the future of Australia today. We have done something that will build a safer environment for our children. We have done something that will send a signal to people all around this country, that ours is not a gun culture, ours is a culture of peaceful cooperation.” - Press Conference Parliament House, Canberra, 1996
"I don't think there's any reason on Earth why people should have access to automatic and semiautomatic weapons unless they're in the military or in the police." - “Australia’s Answer to Carnage: a Strict Law,” Los Angeles Times, 1997
“The most important civil liberty ... is to stay alive and to be free from violence and death.” - National Summit on Terrorism, 2005
“I accept that in a free society you have to justify reductions in people's liberties. I accept that, bearing in mind my starting point is that the most important human right is the right to life.” - National Summit on Terrorism, 2005
“I think when people talk about civil liberties, they sometimes forget that action taken to protect the citizen against physical violence and physical attack is a blow in favour and not a blow against civil liberties.” - “Terror Redefines Our Freedom,” Sydney Morning Herald, 2005
Prime Minister Howard served 11 years as Liberal Party leader in Australia, capping off a lifetime of civil service to his country. Subsequent leaders would often turn to Howard for his sage, experienced advice.
“Truth is absolute, truth is supreme, truth is never disposable in national political life.” - ABC Radio AM, 1995
“Social media has reinforced our alienation from groups. It is a very different political culture.” - “John Howard on the Growing Debt Pile, China and ‘Wokeism,’” The Australian Financial Review, 2021
“In the end, young people are at risk of being disinherited from their community if that community lacks the courage and confidence to teach its history.” - Australia Day Address, 2006
“Strong, stable, united, loving families is still the most prized asset that this nation has. Without them we have no real soul, without them we have no real hope as a community for the future. And every arm of government policy should be directed towards assisting and strengthening Australian families.” - Election Speech, 2001
“There are some issues in politics where you must stand in the middle of the road and dare people to run over you. There are other issues where the art of good political leadership consists in listening and understanding and comprehending and absorbing and persuading and cajoling and explaining." - “John Howard Reveals His Secrets on the Art of Longevity and Political Leadership,” Sydney Morning Herald, 2016
John Howard joined a host of men and women whose leadership skills were defined by world events that hit home. For more inspiring leadership quotes, check out: