Bullet-Proof Secrets Of John Howard's Early Government Revealed
John Howard had only been in office a few weeks when he overhauled Australia’s gun control laws and became the first Aussie PM to wear a bullet proof vest on home soil in 1996.
Top secret cabinet papers released on Tuesday by the National Archives reveal that even though the changes to gun laws were controversial, the former PM got all of his senior ministers on board.
“To their great credit they supported the changes but they wanted us to understand how hard it was,” Howard told 10 News First.
“Overwhelmingly the public wanted changes, but some [politicians] felt they had an unfair impact on them.”
The day after 35 people were slaughtered in the Port Arthur massacre, Howard began work ending a decade-long debate about gun law reform.
Hundreds of thousands marched against gun law reform on the streets, and even some within Government expressed concern, but Howard stood firm on the need for change.
The documents released on Tuesday show there was no division within his Cabinet on a very divisive issue.
Walter Mikac, whose wife and two daughters Alannah and Madeline were shot at point blank range, is grateful for Howard's determination to roll out reform.
“I was pretty impressed," he said.
“I had written a letter [to Howard] when I was flying back to Melbourne for the funeral, a one-page letter about the effect it had on me.”
“I was shocked when I had a phone call at my parents’ place in Melbourne from John Howard, [saying] ‘Look I would like to read this letter at the Police Ministers’ meeting'.”
“It wasn’t just another case of stalling and debating in Parliament, it really was swift action.”
The Cabinet Papers, released by the national archive, also detail the Howard Government’s decisive decision-making when it came to spending cuts.
It discovered that the budget was headed for a $7.6 billion deficit just after taking office in March 1996.
Deep cuts to spending had to be made, and that sparked riots in Parliament House the day before the budget was delivered.
Papers show the Government considered going further on cuts, including axing unemployment benefits after a year on the dole, although that was ultimately abandoned.
The documents also reveal Howard's team quickly signed off on the sale of Telstra, a key part of its privatisation and economic reform agenda.
Howard was unrelenting in his pursuit of his agenda, even though much of it was controversial.
“We had been in opposition for a long time, nine years and we didn’t like opposition," he said.