15 June 2023
Today the National Museum of Australia marks the donation of a series of correspondence between Walter Mikac AM and then Prime Minister the Hon John Howard OM AC.
On 28 April 1996, 35 people were killed and many more injured in a mass shooting at Port Arthur tourist precinct in south-east Tasmania. Among those killed were Walter Mikac’s wife, Nanette, and their two young daughters, Alannah and Madeline.
The shooting provoked national debate about private ownership of guns, especially automatic weapons. Nine days after the event, Walter sent a letter to Prime Minister John Howard advocating for change.
Over the following months, their shared commitment led to critical changes to firearm safety legislation – a defining moment in Australia’s history.
With bipartisan state, territory and Commonwealth support, the Prime Minister implemented a National Firearms Agreement, including the restriction of high-powered weapons.
In 1997, Walter Mikac established the Alannah & Madeline Foundation with a group of volunteers including survivors John and Gaye Fidler. The Foundation's vision is for all children and young people to live a safe and happy life, free from violence and trauma.
Transcripts of letters
To Mr Howard,
As the person who lost his wife & 2 beautiful daughters at Port Arthur I am writing to you to give you the strength to ensure no person in Australia ever has to suffer a loss. I watched the news report this morning on the plane from Hobart to Melbourne (where my family will be buried) on new legislation concerning gun laws. I applaud your resolve & every Australian will be proud of your leadership in this matter (even your mate KIM across the bench). All I can say is there must be enough of penalty against possession of such horrific weapons & a one off tax (such as the one proposed) is one I'm sure every Australian would many gladly give many fold. Please contact me at some stage to let me know what ensues. With all my heart, I implore you to restore AUSTRALIA to being the best place in the world.
(PHARMACIST, HUSBAND, FATHER)
2 JUL 1996
Mr Walter Mikac
Mr Mikac Walter,
I am writing to follow-up on our telephone conversation following the sad events at Port Arthur. I thought that I would write to let you know what actions my Government has taken in the wake of that tragic occurrence.
In the twenty-two years I have been in politics I have not experienced any other event which has so shocked the community and galvanised the political leadership of this country. It has brought together the major political parties at all levels of government with a determination to achieve historic and permanent change in the way our society approaches the possession and use of dangerous firearms.
We resolved as a united community to halt any slide towards an American-style 'gun culture' and to send a message that violence as a method for resolving problems, particularly through the use of firearms, is unacceptable and un-Australian.
I have enclosed some information summarising the gun control measures agreed by the Commonwealth and the States and Territories. The measures are far reaching, aimed at achieving the greatest reduction of firearms ever contemplated in this or other countries. I remain committed to implementation of these measures to the fullest extent possible.
I regret that many people who have never done anything wrong in their lives will be inconvenienced by the new laws, but this is ultimately a small price to pay for a community that feels, and is, more secure.
Commonwealth Ministers are investigating the portrayal of violence in the media, with a view to recommending appropriate measures. I cannot pre-empt what conclusions they will come to but I have personal concerns at the diet of repetitive violence that vulnerable persons in our society can be exposed to. Commonwealth Ministers, as well as Police Ministers, are also examining whether specific health or behavioural conditions may indicate an increased risk of an individual causing harm to themselves or others, particularly in relation to gun ownership, and the need for appropriate notification procedures to authorities.
The Commonwealth will be raising around $500 million through a one-off increase in the Medicare levy to fund a twelve-month 'buy back' of guns, and funding a number of measures in association with the new gun control measures being introduced by the States and Territories. It has also contributed $2.5 million for the reconstruction of the visitor centre and restaurant at Port Arthur, $416,000 for counselling services in Tasmania and $200,000 to the Port Arthur Victims Appeal.
In undertaking these and other actions, governments are reflecting the collective concern of Australians to do what can be done to avoid a repeat of events at Port Arthur. There is a determination at the highest levels to learn the right lessons from an experience that has left a scar on every Australian.
I believe that out of this nightmare there have come positive changes for us as a nation. I hope that in your own personal circumstances you may find it possible, as grief and suffering fade, to regain some of the joys of life.
I join with all of Australia, including I am sure the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Kim Beazley MP, in wishing you the best for the future, however painful the present.
Dear Mr Howard & all Ministers concerned at today's summit,
As I sit at my home with tears streaming down my face still reading cards for Nanette, Alannah & Madeline I find it hard to believe or contemplate that the Reform Package agreed to on 10th May 1996 could possibly be reneged upon. I believe I speak behalf of most of the victims left behind & the vast proportion of Australians in saying that you MUST have the intestinal fortitude & foresight to stand firm on the original stand & not waiver. To do anything else would be a betrayal for me & every other Australian who should have a right to walk, feel safe & live in this country. You have been appointed to protect us & if you are not able to do this by enacting this legislation then I feel you should EACH burden some of the blame should something as hideous as Port Arthur ever happen again. I implore you to protect your families, friends & every Australian from this ever happening again. Be strong & act now.
My heartfelt feelings
22 JUL 1996
Mr Walter Mikac
Mr Mikac Walter,
Thank you for your letter of 17 July 1996 about the Police Ministers' meeting. You have a special right to put your views to political leaders and it was quite appropriate that I received and read your letter while negotiating with the Police Ministers.
You will by now know the result of that meeting and the strong stand that the Commonwealth took. We continue to seek total implementation of the gun control measures agreed by Police Ministers on 10 May, and remain hopeful that the one outstanding matter can be resolved with the three jurisdictions concerned.
There is no doubt in my mind that the great majority of Australians want uniform, tough and effective gun controls and I am committed to achieving this through co-operative negotiation with State and Territory colleagues.
Thank you for speaking out so passionately on behalf of all Australians – the pain with which you write is readily apparent. The depth of your own personal tragedy is a powerful symbol to those of us exercising political leadership of the importance of this issue.
We will continue to seek to ensure that the permanent legacy of the events you experienced will be a safer Australia.
PS I have just received the news that QLD, WA & the NT have agreed on the gun laws. I know you will be pleased.
17 APR 1997
Mr Walter Mikac
Dear Mr Mikac
I am delighted to accept your kind offer to be the Patron of The Alannah and Madeline Foundation. I look forward to being Patron and to be able to attend at least some of your future functions.
I would be pleased to attend your inaugural function in Melbourne in last April or early May, and suggest you liaise with Ms Lucille Kerslake of my office to confirm a mutually acceptable time.
The National Museum hosted a special event to mark the donation of the letters. Speakers emphasied the pivotal role the communication played in reducing the risk of gun violence in Australia, along with the swift and effective bipartisan support for change.