Howard expects call up as Keneally challenges Bennelong

Former prime minister John Howard at a book launch at Old Parliament House on Tuesday. Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong FAIRFAX, CANBERRA, HOWARD pic shows Prime Minister John Howard at a press conference to talk about the IRAQ situation held at Parliament House today March 17 2003. pic by PENNY BRADFIELD / peb SPECIALX HOWARD

Former prime minister John Howard says he’s expecting a call up as the Coalition campaigns to retain his former Sydney seat of Bennelong, hours after former NSW premier Kristina Keneally was named as Labor’s candidate.

Launching a new book of unpublished documents from the early years of the Howard government held at UNSW Canberra, ‘s second-longest serving prime minister told an audience at Old Parliament House on Tuesday night that careful historical analysis of politics was critical to better understanding of federal Parliament.

“It is important, particularly after some of the tumult and the shouting has died from the immediate involvement in politics,” he said.

“I suspect that in the next couple of weeks it will be difficult for me not to get reengaged in a by-election somewhere and perhaps in a state election in Queensland.”

Labor is hoping its high-profile candidate can claim Mr Howard’s old seat for the party for the first time since 2007, when former ABC presenter Maxine McKew defeated the then prime minister as Kevin Rudd came to power.

Ms Keneally faced criticism from the Turnbull government over corruption findings against her former NSW state colleagues on the day she launched a campaign for the seat.

Liberal MP John Alexander held Bennelong with a margin of more than nine per cent until he was forced to resign this week over his dual citizenship.

Edited by UNSW Canberra’s academic and Harold Holt biographer Tom Frame, The Ascent to Power, 1996 includes documents related to Mr Howard’s early career, the policies of his first Coalition government and relations with the federal public service and Senate crossbenchers.

The book is the first of four planned volumes drawing on Mr Howard’s own papers held by UNSW Canberra.

It covers his 1996 victory over Labor leader Paul Keating, budget management and gun law reform in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre.

Mr Howard paid tribute to former ministers who attended the event, including John Anderson, Kevin Andrews, Philip Ruddock, David Kemp, Brendan Nelson.

Former Senate president Margaret Reid, former governor-general Michael Jeffery and National Archives of director-general David Fricker also attended the event.

The launch was part of a two-day retrospective event on the Howard government held by UNSW Canberra’s Public Leadership Research Group.

Mr Howard told the event he considered the House of Representatives chamber at Old Parliament House to be the true home of ‘s political debate, even revealing he wished it could have been transferred after the new Parliament was opened.

“There’s a common responsibility on the part of people on different sides of politics to nurture what we have achieved in the past, to honour praise-worthy deads, to highlight failure and to be objective in understanding what we have built in this country,” he said.

The National Archives will release the first cabinet papers from the Howard government from 2019, as part of the 20-year rule on government decisions.

Some documents won’t be released until 2027.

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