A teacher and member of the Vaucluse branch of the New South Wales Liberal Party, Janette Parker met John Winston Howard through the Liberal Party. Since their marriage in 1971, party colleagues have always been important in their social circle.
The most public aspects of the role of prime ministerial spouse are ceremonial functions, such as accompanying the Prime Minister on official tours, and duties at home as official host. As well as official visits overseas, Mrs Howard hosted many state visitors to Australia, including 2 United States ‘First Ladies’, Hillary Clinton in 1996 and Laura Bush in 2007, Mrs Kim Dae-jung, wife of the president of the Republic of Korea in 1999, and Queen Elizabeth II in 2000.
Mrs Howard expressed a preference for a low profile as prime ministerial spouse, but this neither relieved her from the duties of the role, nor prevented journalists observing the Howards as a political team. As prime ministerial spouse, Howard maintained her interest in the party organisation and continued to attend federal council meetings as a keen observer.
The role of prime ministerial spouse also includes arranging and hosting social events at the official residences – The Lodge in Canberra and Kirribilli House in Sydney – and spousal activities when international government forums are hosted by Australia. It was Mrs Howard’s duty to arrange programs for the spouses of delegates who attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Queensland in March 2002 and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings in Sydney in 2007.
Mrs Howard was active in all of Howard’s election campaigns. If, as Pru Goward, co-biographer of John Howard, observed, Mrs Howard ‘lives and breathes’ politics, she stood within the tradition started by Jane Barton in 1901, although variously interpreted since. The role of prime ministerial spouse is to fulfil exacting public duties, but to do so without diverting the public gaze from the prime minister and his government.
- Barnett, David and Pru Goward, John Howard: Prime Minister, Viking, Melbourne, 1997.
- Henderson, Anne, ‘Highs and lows as a political spouse’, Canberra Times, 1 March 2002.
- Linnell, Garry, ‘Silent partner’, Sydney Morning Herald, Good Weekend, 2 June 2001.