Peter Reith

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Peter Reith
Reith in 2001
Minister for Defence
In office
30 January 2001 – 26 November 2001
Prime MinisterJohn Howard
Preceded byJohn Moore
Succeeded byRobert Hill
Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations
In office
21 October 1998 – 30 January 2001
Prime MinisterJohn Howard
Preceded byDavid Kemp
Succeeded byTony Abbott
Minister for Small Business
In office
18 July 1997 – 30 January 2001
Prime MinisterJohn Howard
Preceded byGeoff Prosser
Succeeded byIan Macfarlane
Leader of the House
In office
11 March 1996 – 8 October 2001
Prime MinisterJohn Howard
Preceded byKim Beazley
Succeeded byTony Abbott
Minister for Industrial Relations
In office
11 March 1996 – 18 July 1997
Prime MinisterJohn Howard
Preceded byLaurie Brereton
Succeeded byHimself (Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations)
Manager of Opposition Business
In office
31 January 1995 – 11 March 1996
LeaderJohn Howard
Preceded byJohn Howard
Succeeded bySimon Crean
Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party
Deputy Leader of the Opposition
In office
3 April 1990 – 13 March 1993
LeaderJohn Hewson
Preceded byFred Chaney
Succeeded byMichael Wooldridge
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Flinders
In office
1 December 1984 – 8 October 2001
Preceded byBob Chynoweth
Succeeded byGreg Hunt
In office
4 December 1982 – 5 March 1983
Preceded byPhillip Lynch
Succeeded byBob Chynoweth
Personal details
Born(1950-07-15)15 July 1950
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Died8 November 2022(2022-11-08) (aged 72)
Melbourne, Australia
Political partyLiberal
Alma materMonash University

Peter Keaston Reith AM (15 July 1950 – 8 November 2022) was an Australian politician who served in the House of Representatives from 1982 to 1983 and from 1984 to 2001, representing the Liberal Party. He was the party's deputy leader from 1990 to 1993, and served as a minister in the Howard government.

Reith was born in Melbourne and studied law at Monash University. He settled in Cowes, Victoria, and served on the Phillip Island Shire Council from 1976 to 1981 (including as shire president for a period). Reith was elected to parliament at the 1982 Flinders by-election. He lost his seat at the 1983 federal election, but won it back the following year. In 1990, Reith was elected deputy leader of the Liberal Party under John Hewson. He was replaced by Michael Wooldridge after the 1993 election. In the Howard government, Reith served as Minister for Industrial Relations (1996–1997), Minister for Small Business (1997–2001), Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations (1998–2001), and finally Minister for Defence from January 2001 until his retirement at the 2001 election. After leaving politics he worked as a company director and political commentator.

Early life[edit]

Reith was born in Melbourne on 15 July 1950.[1] He was educated at Brighton Grammar School and at Monash University, from which he obtained bachelor's degrees in economics and law. He then practised as a solicitor first in Melbourne and then at Cowes, a small town on Phillip Island. First elected as a Councillor of the Shire of Phillip Island from 1976, he was Shire President in his last year on the Council in 1981.

While living on Phillip Island, Reith was behind the establishment of Newhaven College, an independent school on Phillip Island. He was also the key proponent for the establishment of the penguin research facility.[citation needed]

Political life[edit]

Reith joined the Liberal Party in 1966. Representing that party, he entered the House of Representatives in December 1982 by winning a by-election for the seat of Flinders,[2] caused by the resignation of former Deputy Liberal Leader Sir Phillip Lynch.

Reith lost the seat only three months later at the March 1983 general election. He regained the seat at the December 1984 election, which saw a substantial swing towards the Liberals (though not enough to win them government), and he continued to hold the seat for the next 17 years.[2]

Except for a few months in 1993, Reith was a shadow minister from 1987 until 1996. His posts included Shadow Minister for Housing, Shadow Minister for Sport and Recreation, and then Shadow Attorney-General in 1988.[2] In the latter capacity, he led the successful "no" campaign at the 1988 constitutional referendum.

He was also Shadow Minister for Defence and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs.[2] After the defeat of the Liberal Party led by Andrew Peacock at the 1990 federal election, and Peacock's subsequent resignation from the leadership, Reith sought the leadership himself, but was defeated by John Hewson, who won by 62 votes to 13.[3]

Following Hewson's victory Reith was then elected deputy opposition leader and appointed Shadow Treasurer, a position he held from 1990 to 1993. Along with Hewson, Reith was one of the architects of the Liberal Party's "Fightback!" policy, which included a Goods and Services Tax.

In 1991, he was technically[clarification needed] shadow to five Treasurers. This came as a result of the ruling Labor Party having a leadership crisis that year.[citation needed]

Reith was Shadow Treasurer when the 1990, 1991 and 1992 Budgets were delivered and each by a different Treasurer.[citation needed]

He resigned as Shadow Treasurer after the Liberals were defeated in the 1993 election. He lost the deputy Liberal leadership in the post-election ballot, and was replaced by Michael Wooldridge.

Despite the fact that Reith was the incumbent deputy leader, he had five challengers to his position, including Wooldridge, and Reith did not win enough votes to make it to the final ballot. Following the landslide victory of John Howard at the 1996 election, Reith was appointed Minister for Industrial Relations, and Leader of the House. He was one of the best-known and most influential members of Howard's cabinet. His responsibilities involved drafting and implementing the government's industrial relations policy, and he is perhaps best known for the significant productivity reforms which followed the 1998 Australian waterfront dispute. Reith's handling of the dispute, which included the failed attempt to use Australian Armed forces personnel, trained in Dubai to take over waterfront jobs and later the use of balaclava clad hired security guards with dogs, to remove working waterside workers from the work site. He strongly supported Patrick Corporation in its contest with the Maritime Union of Australia, which led to bitter opposition from the unions[4] and the Australian Labor Party (ALP).[5] The dispute was eventually settled in the courts with the decision going in the unions' favour and new enterprise agreements being negotiated in accordance with the court's directions.

Reith also introduced and implemented reforms to the Commonwealth public service, a significant package of reforms for small business, and an innovative employment programme for indigenous Australians.[citation needed]

In 1994 when in Opposition, Reith supported the idea of citizen-initiated referendums but found no support with his Coalition colleagues with National Party leader Tim Fischer describing it as a "law-making cancer".[6]

During the campaign for the Australian republic referendum in 1999, Reith advocated for Australia becoming a republic, and favoured the idea of the president being directly elected.[citation needed]

In 2000, Reith was embroiled in an investigation over the use of his phone card, which had incurred charges totalling A$50,000. He admitted that about $1,000 of phone calls were the result of his son's access to the PIN associated with the card.[7] Prior to the phone card scandal, Reith had been discussed as a possible successor to Howard.[8]

Howard transferred Reith to the Defence portfolio in 2000. The following year, Reith announced his impending retirement, and did not contest the 2001 election. Late in the election campaign he became embroiled in the "Children Overboard affair", in which the government made claims that asylum seekers had thrown children overboard in a ploy to secure passage to Australia, and failed to correct the record when advised there was no evidence for the claims. Reith defended his actions, and made public statements about the matter in the documentary series The Howard Years, which screened in Australia in November and December 2008, in Leaky Boat in July 2011, and in the 2012 Logie Award-winning documentary Go Back to Where You Came From. Reith was succeeded as MP for Flinders by fellow Liberal Greg Hunt, and as Minister for Defence by Senator Robert Hill.

After leaving parliament[edit]

After leaving parliament, Reith had a number of part-time interests, including advising a Sydney government relations firm, Tenix, a major defence supplier and others. From 2003 to 2009 he was an executive director of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (based in London); in this capacity he represented Australia, the Republic of Korea, Egypt and New Zealand. While in London, Reith was also a member of an independent commission that reported to the Cameron Opposition on UK tax reform.[citation needed]

During 2011, after writing a report for the Liberal Party on the 2010 election, Reith challenged Alan Stockdale (who in the 1990s had been State Treasurer of Victoria) for the presidency of the Liberal Party. In that contest, Reith lost to Stockdale by just one vote: 56 to 57. Liberal leader Tony Abbott effectively made his vote for Stockdale public, when he was recorded on camera showing his vote to Stockdale. In 2013 Reith was Chairman of the Victorian Gas Market Review which concluded with the presentation of his report to the Napthine Government.

From 2014 Reith has been writing weekly for The Sydney Morning Herald and was a political commentator for Sky News Australia, appearing regularly on AM Agenda and The Cabinet.[9] Reith began co-hosting a temporary format with Peter Beattie in April 2016 as a replacement for Richo while that program's host Graham Richardson was on leave to have major surgery.[10]

In April 2016, Reith registered as a political lobbyist in South Australia. He represented two clients in that jurisdiction: Bechtel Infrastructure Australia (Pty Ltd) and G4S Custodial Services Pty Ltd.[11]

In March 2017, Reith was hospitalised after suspected bleeding on the brain and was unable to go through with his challenge to Michael Kroger for the Liberal party presidency.[12] State Opposition Leader Matthew Guy had supported Reith challenging Kroger as some[who?] believed branch stacking by power broker Marcus Bastiaan had gone ahead unchecked.[13]

Personal life and death[edit]

Reith died from complications from Alzheimer's disease on 8 November 2022, at the age of 72 in Melbourne.[14]


  1. ^ "Hon Peter Reith MP". Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 8 November 2022.
  2. ^ a b c d "Hon Peter Reith MP". Senators and Members of the Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 11 November 2021.
  3. ^ "Major Party Leadership Ballots since 1966". Archived from the original on 7 January 2014. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
  4. ^ "Workers Online : Politics : 2002 - Issue 136 : Reith's Gong".
  5. ^ "Waterfront Dispute - 30/04/1998 - NSW Parliament". Archived from the original on 29 September 2007.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Williams, Philip (10 October 2000). "Just who will pay Peter Reith's $50,000 phone bill?". PM (Radio National). Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
  8. ^ "Back on board". 14 June 2011.
  9. ^ Perry, Kevin (18 August 2014). "Sky News goes inside The Cabinet tonight on @Foxtel @SkyNewsAust". Nelbie. Archived from the original on 18 June 2015. Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  10. ^ Davidson, Darren (4 April 2016). "Mark Latham joins Alan Jones on Sky News weekly show". The Australian. Retrieved 20 April 2016.(subscription required)
  11. ^ "NEW REGISTRATION FORM - SOUTH AUSTRALIAN REGISTER OF LOBBYISTS". Government of South Australia. 4 April 2016. Retrieved 30 December 2016.
  12. ^ Knox, David (22 March 2017). "SKY News presenter Peter Reith hospitalised". TV Tonight. Retrieved 22 March 2017.
  13. ^ "Peter Reith in stable condition after suffering stroke". 23 March 2017.
  14. ^ "Former Liberal Party defence minister Peter Reith has died". ABC News. 8 November 2022. Retrieved 8 November 2022.

External links[edit]


Parliament of Australia
Preceded by Member for Flinders
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member for Flinders
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by
Laurie Brereton (industrial relations)
David Kemp (employment)
Geoff Prosser (small business)
Minister for Industrial Relations
Succeeded by
Tony Abbott (employment
and workplace relations)
Ian Macfarlane (small business)
Minister for Employment and Workplace
and Small Business

Preceded by Minister for Defence
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party of Australia
Succeeded by