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Peter Howson (politician)

Peter Howson
Peter Howson, ca. 1971
Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts
In office
31 May 1971 – 5 December 1972
Prime MinisterWilliam McMahon
Preceded byNew office
Succeeded byMoss Cass
Minister for Air
In office
10 June 1964 – 28 February 1968
Prime MinisterSir Robert Menzies
Harold Holt
John McEwen
John Gorton
Preceded byDavid Fairbairn
Succeeded byGordon Freeth
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Casey
In office
25 October 1969 – 2 December 1972
Preceded byNew seat
Succeeded byRace Mathews
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Fawkner
In office
10 December 1955 – 25 October 1969
Preceded byBill Bourke
Succeeded byAbolished
Personal details
Born(1919-05-22)22 May 1919
London, England
Died1 February 2009(2009-02-01) (aged 89)
Geelong, Victoria, Australia
Political partyLiberal
RelationsGeorge A. Howson (father)
George J. Howson (grandfather)
Alma materTrinity College, Cambridge
AwardsMentioned in Dispatches
Military service
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Branch/serviceRoyal Navy
Years of service1940–1946

Peter Howson CMG (22 May 1919 – 1 February 2009) was an Australian politician who served in the House of Representatives from 1955 to 1972, representing the Liberal Party. He was Minister for Air from 1964 to 1968 and Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts from 1971 to 1972.

Early life

Howson was born in London, England, the son of Jessie and George Arthur Howson. His father was a British Army officer, while his grandfather George John Howson was an Anglican archdeacon. Howson was educated at Stowe School and Trinity College, Cambridge.[1] During World War II, he served in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as a pilot from 1940 to 1946, and was Mentioned in Despatches for his service.[2] He was shot down while flying a Fairey Albacore over Malta for the Fleet Air Arm, as he and four Hawker Hurricanes were surprised by 70 German planes. This gave him a deep and long scar on his face.[3]

Political career

Howson in 1956.

Howson was the Liberal member for the House of Representatives seat of Fawkner from his defeat of Bill Bourke at the 1955 election until its abolition before the 1969 election. He was then elected as the member for Casey. He was appointed Minister for Air in June 1964 in Robert Menzies' last ministry.[4]

In 1967, Howson was caught up in the VIP affair, which saw allegations that the government had misused the VIP aircraft fleet for ministers' private purposes. When asked to table records on the fleet's movements, Holt and Howson refused and implied that they did not exist, but Senator John Gorton later found that the records did exist and tabled them in the Senate.[5] When Gorton became Prime Minister on 10 January 1968, he retained all of the previous ministers in his ministry, but after he won a seat in the House of Representatives he carried out a Cabinet reshuffle on 28 February 1968 and dropped Howson from the ministry.[6]

Expecting to be rewarded for his support of McMahon during Gorton's ministry, Howson was disappointed when he was appointed as Australia's first Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts. He was reported as commenting: "The little bastard gave me trees, boongs and pooftas".[7] However, according to Rob Chalmers, he subsequently "showed great energy and concern to improve the lot of Aborigines".[8]

Howson was defeated by Labor's Race Mathews at the 1972 election.[4]

Later life

In 1973, Howson founded the Deafness Foundation Victoria.[9]

In 1984, Howson published a diary (edited by Don Aitkin) recording the events during his period as a parliamentarian and as a minister.[10] According to Rob Chalmers, it was "one of the most informative and interesting books on Australian postwar politics ever published".[3]

Howson was active as a commentator on Indigenous matters, strongly supporting their cultural assimilation while deriding the Stolen Generations as a "silly fairy tale".[7][11][12][13][14]

Howson died in Geelong in 2009, aged 89, after suffering complications from a fall.[15]


Howson was appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1980 for services to Parliament.[16] He was also awarded the Centenary Medal in 2001 for long and devoted service to improving conditions for Australia's indigenous people.[17]


  1. ^ Overington, Caroline (4 February 2009). "Former minister Howson dies at 89". The Australian.
  2. ^ Change in Canberra, Flight International, 25 June 1964.
  3. ^ a b Rob Chalmers (2011). Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Parliament House. ANU Press. p. 110.
  4. ^ a b "Members of the House of Representatives since 1901". Parliamentary Handbook. Parliament of Australia. Archived from the original on 17 November 2007. Retrieved 18 December 2007.
  5. ^ "John Gorton, before". Australia's Prime Ministers. National Archives of Australia. Archived from the original on 31 August 2007. Retrieved 18 December 2007.
  6. ^ "John Gorton, in office". Australia's Prime Ministers. National Archives of Australia. Archived from the original on 31 August 2007. Retrieved 18 December 2007.
  7. ^ a b Mungo Wentworth MacCallum (10 February 2009). "Kevin's package stands up to scrutiny". Byron Shire Echo. Retrieved 17 March 2010.[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ Chalmers (2011), p. 136.
  9. ^ "Deafness Foundation". Archived from the original on 9 April 2013. Retrieved 6 April 2013.
  10. ^ Peter Howson (edited by Don Aitkin) (1984), The Howson Diaries. The Life of Politics, Viking Press, Ringwood, Victoria. ISBN 0-7139-1656-7
  11. ^ Peter Howson, Academia's Sorry Obsession: Manne et al. would help Aborigines more by looking at the present, not the past Archived 8 December 2001 at the Library of Congress Web Archives, The Age, 3 April 2001 on the Institute for Private Enterprise website
  12. ^ "Peter Howson, Legal Notes: The Stolen Generations True Believers Take One Step Back, National Observer, No. 49, Winter 2001". Archived from the original on 18 July 2011. Retrieved 12 March 2008.
  13. ^ Peter Howson and Des Moore, A Rabbit-proof Fence Full of Holes Archived 20 August 2006 at, The Bennelong Society, originally published in The Australian, 11 March 2002
  14. ^ "Peter Howson, Live not by land alone: We should know by now that native title doesn't improve indigenous livelihood", The Australian, 28 September 2006
  15. ^ Former Aboriginal affairs minister Howson dies, ABC News, 2 February 2009
  16. ^ HOWSON, Peter, It's an Honour, 1980.
  17. ^ HOWSON, Peter, It's an Honour, 1980.
Political offices Preceded byDavid Fairbairn Minister for Air 1964–68 Succeeded byGordon Freeth New title Minister for the Environment,Aborigines and the Arts 1971–72 Succeeded byGough Whitlam Parliament of Australia Preceded byBill Bourke Member for Fawkner 1955–69 Division abolished New division Member for Casey 1969–72 Succeeded byRace Mathews
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Peter Howson (politician)
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