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In his 2006 Australia Day address to the National Press Club in Canberra, the then prime minister, John Howard, told journalists that ‘people come to this country because they want to be Australians’. However, as Howard himself admitted, ‘The irony is that no institution or code lays down a test of Australianness’. So how can we know what it is to be Australian? One way is to look at the public statements the Howard made in the wake of tragedy and disaster during his decade as prime minister. These statements reinforce the key values of the Howard government: the role of family, the place of heroes and the importance of mateship. This article analyses the public reaction of the Howard during media coverage of events such as the Port Arthur shootings, the Bali bombings, the 2004 tsunami and the Beaconsfield mine rescue. It argues that Howard’s public responses to these tragedies reflect a move on hi part to recapture the cultural debate and define what it is to be an ‘Australian’.
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