About Peter Reith

Biographical Notes

The Honourable Peter K Reith was a senior Cabinet Minister in the Australian Government from 1996 to 2001 and then a Director of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development from 2003 to 2009. 

Peter Reith is currently a regular on Sky News and writes a weekly column on Tuesday's in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Earlier Mr Reith was a regular commentator on the ABC's Drum TV and weekly Drum columnist, the Bolt Report, occasionally Q&A. In 2013 he was Chairman of the Gas Task Force looking at the gas industry for the Victorian Government. Mr Reith also has a consultancy/advisory interests and occasionally speaks at conferences and other public functions.

He was a key figure in Australian politics throughout the 1990’s promoting economic reform in taxation and labour market policies and then played a major role in the implementation of the Howard Government’s reform agenda after its initial election win in 1996.

Peter Reith was born in Melbourne in 1950, educated at Brighton Grammar School and took out degrees in law and economics at Monash University and practised law in both Melbourne and rural Victoria. He served as a local government councillor and pursued his interest in education by establishing Newhaven College, an independent coeducational day school on Phillip Island.

He was first elected to the Federal Parliament in a by-election in December 1982; he lost the seat three months later in March 1983. He was re-elected in December 1984 and first sworn in as an MP in February 1985.  As Shadow Attorney he ran the Coalition’s highly successful defence of the Constitution against the ALP’s referendum proposals in 1988.  From 1990 to 1993 he was Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Treasurer.  During this period he was a major contributor to the development and then public presentation of “Fightback”, the Coalition’s policy platform for the 1993 election. 

In March 1996, upon the Coalition winning government, he was appointed Minister for Industrial Relations, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Leader of the House of Representatives.  In the first 12 months of the Howard Government he secured the implementation of the Coalition’s industrial relations policy and within the first 16 months introduced into the Parliament a new Bill providing for the overhaul of the Australian Public Service. In July 1997 Mr. Reith’s portfolio was renamed Workplace Relations and Small Business.  Within four months Mr. Reith delivered a comprehensive set of reforms known as the “New Deal Fair Deal” package.  Small business groups described it as the best small business package in over 20 years.

In October 1997 Mr. Reith assumed the additional responsibility of maritime reform.  His responsibilities included the waterfront, coastal and blue water shipping and associated issues.

After the 11 years of the Howard government, long time business journalist Robert  Gottliebsen wrote about this achievement in Business Spectator (30 October 2007)

Who are the two ministers in the Howard years who have made the biggest long-term change to the nation from a broad business and investment point of view? The two best ministers I have selected made contributions to the nation that are currently delivering big benefits to the community and those benefits are likely to extend for the next decade and beyond, irrespective of who is in government.

For the purposes of this exercise I am not considering either the Prime Minister John Howard or his Liberal Party deputy
Peter Costello, but rather am looking for ministers outside the top two.

Alexander Downer has been a good foreign minister and Mark Vaille did a wonderful job as minister for trade. But I don’t think they fundamentally changed the structure of the nation. My first selection is
Peter Reith. The waterfront reform he supported to the hilt has made an enormous contribution to Australian prosperity and job creation.

While Chris Corrigan and
Peter Scanlon did the work, it would not have been possible without the courage of Peter Reith who had to cop enormous personal vilification. He acted out of duty to his country rather than for financial rewards. Both political parties knew the waterfront had to be reformed for sustained Australian prosperity. Reith succeeded where former PM Bob Hawke had tried and failed.

Following the Coalition’s re-election in October 1998, Mr. Reith’s responsibilities were expanded to include Employment.  By December 1998, with his Ministerial colleague Mr. Tony Abbott, Mr. Reith announced a package of reforms to “Job Network”.  In May 1999, he announced a new Indigenous Employment Policy. 
In August 1999 Mr. Reith secured the passage of legislation on youth wage rates and the promotion of employment opportunities for young people.

In December 2000, the Prime Minister announced Mr. Reith’s appointment as the Minister for Defence.

When Mr. Reith announced his retirement in 2001 federal election every major paper editorialized on his career.

"…no other Minister….has done more to improve the lot of Australian workers.”
                                                                                                The Australian, 30/6/01

“It is always unfortunate when a figure of ideas, action and daring leaves politics...the departure of the Defence Minister will be one of those unfortunate losses.”

 “During almost 20 years in federal politics, including 14 years on the front bench, it was Mr. Reith who was called on to take the tough options for the Coalition.”
                                                                                                Herald Sun 2/7/01

The then Prime Minister the Hon. John Howard M.P. said, inter alia;

“For many he will forever be renowned for his immense courage to fight to reform the Australian waterfront. His efforts …. generated a lasting improvement in the efficiency of our waterfront.”

“Peter also established his proud credentials as a powerful advocate for labour market reform through the passage of the Workplace Relations Act that has led to greater flexibility in employer-employee relations and a significant improvement in the productivity of the Australian workplace”.

“In the pursuit of tax reform Peter’s work to develop and promote the Fightback package was an important intellectual achievement for the Party in the early 1990’s.”

In the UK, he was a member of the Independent Tax Reform Commission to report on tax reform, including a flat tax.

From 2003 to 2009 Mr. Reith was a director of the EBRD. He successfully proposed that Australia exit its shares in the EBRD although the Rudd Government reversed their decision to implement that recommendation in the wake of the 2008 global downturn. He reviewed the 2010 election on behalf of the Liberal Party and regularly speaks to Liberal Party functions.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Peter Reith will be remembered as a truly great Australian who did what was right!

  3. Peter,

    How do we contact you for private correspondence?


    1. Send me an email address and I will reply or else some times people write to the Liberal party and they might send me your contacts.