Howard’s hard man Peter Reith loses his long health battle, dies at 72

Former cabinet minister Peter Reith, who was seen as the “hard man” of the Howard government, has died in Melbourne aged 72.

Nov 09, 2022, updated Nov 09, 2022
Peter Reith has died after a long battle with Alzheimer's Disease.

Peter Reith has died after a long battle with Alzheimer's Disease.

“It is with deep sadness that we confirm that following a brave battle with Alzheimer’s disease Peter Reith died peacefully on the afternoon of 8 November 2022,” his family said in a tweet on Tuesday evening.

Reith, from Victoria, served in the House of Representatives from 1982 to 1983 and from 1984 to 2001.

He was the Liberal party’s deputy leader from 1990 to 1993 and served as a minister in the Howard government, having the portfolios of industrial relations, small business, employment and workplace relations and finally defence.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton paid tribute to Reith as a “stalwart” of the Liberal Party whose political legacy was extensive.

“He will be remembered most, however, for his fearlessness in the face of extreme union intimidation – especially by freeing up the waterfront to ensure Australia had a more productive, forward-looking economy.

“He was an architect of pivotal workplace reform which put the interests of employers and employees first,” Dutton said.

As defence minister Reith was heavily involved in the Children Overboard issue, which was widely seen as a cynical government ploy to demonise asylum seekers on the eve of the 2001 election.

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Reith, with Prime Minister John Howard and Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock, set off a furore by saying – on navy advice – that children had been thrown off a leaky boat, apparently to force HMAS Adelaide to take them on board.

It wasn’t true, as some in the navy quickly realised and reported. But the government, and particularly Reith, made no attempt to correct the record until after the election a month later.

After leaving politics Reith served as a company director and political commentator.

Reith leaves his wife Kerrie, and four sons Paul, Simon, David and Robert.

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