Photo: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas
Prime Minister: Well thank you very much. I cannot think of too many greater honours for a Liberal Prime Minister, frankly, to be here today to open this library with Mr Howard. I still feel like I have to call you that.
And I know you’ve been generous over a long period of time in inviting me to be a lot more informal.
Today I’m not going to, I’m going to be very formal, because this is a very important occasion.
So to the Honourable John Howard, to Mrs Howard, and the entire Howard family who is here today - particularly the latest addition, only six weeks old.
To the Speaker, my good friend Tony Smith, Rector of UNSW Michael Frater, Daryl Karp the Director of the Museum of Australian Democracy, David Fricker the Director-General of the National Archives. Members of the Parliamentary Team, past and present who are here today.
Of course Phillip Ruddock here today. Colleagues past and present.
I love going back to the places which form your experience. You go back to your old school, where you went to university, the beaches you swam at as a kid, the places that framed who you are.
And you reflect on the memories of those places and the lessons that you learnt.
John Howard loves this building.
It was in this building that he gave his maiden speech to Parliament.
It was in this building that he attended his first Cabinet meeting in the Fraser Cabinet.
It was in this building that he attended his first Partyroom meeting.
It was in this building that he delivered his Budgets, and his replies to Budgets, the first of them.
It was in this building that the political crucible that formed who I would argue to be our greatest Prime Minister of this country and only with the exception, I’m sure he would agree, because as a Party’s founder we always refer to the great Sir Robert Menzies.
But in modern opinion, and in the modern Liberal Party, we have always very much looked to John Howard and this was the crucible in which his political character and who he became as a great Prime Minister was formed.
It was a crucible formed here dominated by Sir Robert Menzies, the founder of our party, who dominated this place for so long, where so much of the history of our modern Federation has played out.
And in this building, you can still hear those stories of all those years. The Lyons - Joseph and Enid.
Of course Sir Robert. Chifley and his pipe. Curtin. A great constitutional crisis – Fraser, Whitlam.
And in this very hall, the flag-draped coffins of prime ministers lay in state.
This is a very special place in our country’s history.
For 61 years, this building was the home of our democracy - from Prime Ministers Stanley Bruce to Bob Hawke.
In 1988, I understand John Howard didn’t really want to move from this Parliament House he liked it so much, he preferred the intimacy of this chamber.
But when he left here, he had still not risen to the office of Prime Minister.
As an Opposition Leader packing 14 years of memories and paper into boxes - he would not have necessarily imagined what was before him.
But he knew what would always guide him.
It was a time when the very future of the Liberal Party was being questioned, and the usual premature eulogies were being offered about the then John Howard, as he was known when we were leaving this building.
But through the tumult, Lazarus emerged, with that triple bypass. Cannier, sturdier and even more resilient.
I must admit while John Howard has laid claim to the biblical Lazarus, I prefer to take my inspiration from Peter: “Upon this rock, I will build my broad church”.
Which he did, as a leader of our great Party. A broad church which he has always respected and always honoured.
As we know, the man who never quite subdued this building would subdue the one up the hill. And boy did he.
Within weeks of becoming Prime Minister he would be tested, as Prime Ministers always are, by events well beyond their control, with a massacre at Port Arthur.
And along with the Opposition and the States, and Tim Fischer, who I know he always acknowledges so keenly in those events, he’d deliver comprehensive gun control laws that to this day are the envy of the world.
A truly magnificent achievement in a moment when leadership called on him and his response was loud and clear.
He’d be tested at home, of course, with family illnesses. Family has always been at the bedrock of the Howard belief.
There would be other days of testing.
September 11, as he stood in the very city that was under attack with our greatest ally. Not once, but twice in Bali as well. Timor. Iraq. Afghanistan. Our borders, protecting them, together with Phillip and the other Ministers all those years ago.
Through it all, John Howard never found wanting.
Keeping us safe and secure at home, keeping us prosperous in a dynamic and changing world.
Paying off the debt, balancing the Budget, delivering surplus after surplus with Peter Costello. The AAA credit rating. The tax system transformed, taxes cut in 2000, 2003 and 2007. That’s the legacy. Real wages increased by over 21 per cent. 2.1 million jobs were created, unemployment falling from 8 per cent to 4.1 per cent.
There were the major investments in health, in education and the welfare safety net which was designed to provide a hand up, not a hand out. Our great belief that the best form of welfare is a job was inspired by Prime Minister Howard.
And incrementally, he transformed workplace relations passionately and patiently over his entire parliamentary service, reflecting a modernising Australia, a more flexible Australia, a dynamic workplace.
He left office as the darks clouds of the GFC were forming, but it was the ‘Howard inheritance’ that protected Australia from the ravages of a worldwide recession.
The strength of prudential controls, the buffers that were built in good times.
Another biblical analogy - Joseph putting the stalls into the silos to prepare for the years that would follow. That is the Howard legacy.
And that inheritance continues. This Government is seeking to emulate the achievements of that government.
Budget repair, jobs growth, a strong economy. Our country is strong and we are committed to make it even stronger.
Coalition Governments, as inspired by the Howard Government, keeping our country prosperous, keeping Australians safe, keeping Australians together.
Throughout his Government, John Howard was steadfastly supported by a fiercely loyal and loving family.
In 2007, John Howard completed his innings after 11 and a half years as Prime Minister. In the modern political era, that is truly inspiring, and I’m sure at times exhausting.
But warriors see no shame in fighting to the end. He left nothing on the field, nothing. As Menzies said back in Albury, you fight for what you stand for ‘until the bell rings’. And that has always been the Howard ethos.
Ladies and gentlemen, beyond a land, beyond traditions, a nation is a shared story, a shared history.
A history that defines its beliefs and characteristics.
Our prime ministers, the choices they make, are part of our history. So it’s a delight today to open this Library.
It is not the first repository of prime ministerial papers and decisions. Australia’s first prime ministerial library was the John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library at Curtin University in Perth, established in 1998. And we have many significant prime ministerial collections, institutes and centres too, right across our nation. The Whitlam Institute at Western Sydney University and the Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre at the University of South Australia. And of course, the Robert Menzies and Malcolm Fraser Collections at the University of Melbourne.
And so with this Library, with my alma mater the University of New South Wales in a partnership with the National Archives of Australia, this will allow researchers and the public to reflect on such a significant prime ministership.
All of these collections are far more than repositories of old speeches, furniture, pamphlets, maps, handwritten notes. I remember one day when I went to see Mr Howard in his office in Sydney and the collection was all on the table in the boardroom and he was delayed and I spent a bit of time reading over a few old Budgets. I was Treasurer at the time. And now all those documents are here for others to enjoy in the same way I was able to on that occasion.
When we read these documents, when we see these objects, we will remember and we will re-imagine. We extend our national understanding of civic life and most importantly, we see that no government was perfect.
We see that mistakes are always made, but the lessons are always to be learned.
So what are the lessons of John Howard? John Winston Howard. Resilience. Perseverance. Conviction, more than anything else. And I might add, courtesy and respect.
Laurie Oakes, I think, said it once, I’m not sure if he was trying to be kind or not, you never always knew. He said, “Mr Howard has made every conceivable mistake an Australian Prime Minister can make. But he only made them once.”
Because he would always learn and he would always grow and he would always build and he would always move forward. That’s why he is the example to modern Liberals and indeed Prime Ministers. We can only dare to walk in shoes so large, but we will with his great inspiration.
So Mr Howard, I thank you for your friendship and advice over a long period of time, and to Mrs Howard as well. You’ve really been a blessing.
But most of all I thank you both for your lifetime of service to Australia which continues enthusiastically and passionately.
It is right that your records now reside in this building that you loved so much, and that is a landmark to our country’s great democracy.
It is an honour and delight to be here today for this purpose.
I’m reminded of another text which basically says, “Well done good and faithful servant.”
It is an honour and a delight to open the Howard Library. Thank you.