Howard downplays terror sway in khaki poll

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·3-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States changed the way the world viewed national security, and the way political parties viewed election campaigns.

The increase in security measures at airports, new terrorism legislation and consideration of troop deployment to Afghanistan were uncontroversial according to previously classified cabinet papers from 2001.

Little of the government's actual discussions and deliberations are revealed in the papers, which were made public on Saturday.

But the government and a politically astute prime minister - who writes in his memoir that throughout 2001 he always maintained a "total focus on rebuilding the government's political support" - grappled with a shift to a mindset dominated by domestic security.

Former prime minister John Howard admitted there was no doubt the electoral pivot to national security garnered support for his government, despite its rocky start to 2001.

But Mr Howard believed he would have still been returned as prime minister without the major shift, just on a smaller margin.

Historian Christine Wallace called the subsequent 'khaki election' and military events on the campaign trail by Mr Howard "the most explicit exploitation of national security optics" in almost 50 years.

Mr Howard committed troops to the US military intervention in Afghanistan on October 4, 2001 and called the election the next day.

He repeatedly held campaign and media events against the backdrop of defence bases and troops.

He was returned to office after winning his third consecutive election against the odds.

When asked whether Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his ministers were taking a leaf out of his electoral playbook by discussing fears over a war with China and Labor's border policies, Mr Howard said "national politics is always about national security".

"I don't think I invented that," he said.

"I can remember previous campaigns ... going back to the 50s and 60s (to) what was then called foreign policy, the fear of communism dominated elections more than many domestic issues."

Mr Howard's determination to shield Muslim and Middle Eastern Australians from blame or recourse for the attacks, provides further insight into how he managed defence relationships with the US.

Cabinet documents reveal the national security committee agreed to delay a US request for Australian vessels to bolster naval escorts through the Straits of Malacca, located between Malaysia and Indonesia, until after the prime minister's proposed visit to Indonesia.

"I'm very sensitive about that because our relationship with Indonesia has always been difficult and it was made doubly difficult after 9/11," he told journalists at the release of his cabinet documents.

The then prime minister had already made a point of scheduling a stopover in Jakarta on his way home after travelling to the US and UK just months earlier in 2001 to discuss Australia's military support of an Afghan invasion.

Mr Howard met with then-Indonesian president Megawati Sukarnoputri to expressly state that any military intervention in Afghanistan should not be seen as a demonstration of hostility towards Muslim countries.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting