We shouldn’t let the 20th anniversary of the Victory of the True Believers pass without comment. It was two decades ago that Paul Keating led the Labor Party to a famous win over John Hewson’s Coalition.
Keating, of course, is an articulate defender of his own legacy. Much of his work remains controversial on the left, particularly in regard to his contribution to the reorientation of economic policy and his discarding of traditional shibboleths around protectionism, public ownership and centralised wage fixation.
That the critique is not at all straightfoward might be something for some voices on the left to reflect on. For instance, those who decry the union push against 457 visas from the left as “economic nationalism” have some thinking to do. Similarly, I think to look at a package of 60s style rigidified Caldwell-ite ideology as “Labour tradition” and to decry its disappearance is to confuse means with ends.
As Mark remarked the other day, socialism (or in this case, social democracy) has to operate within capitalism, and I don’t really know what the counter-factual to the Hawke-Keating reforms is.
Of course, it’s ironic that business and the right wing press are now using Keating’s reformism as a stick with which to beat actually existing Labor. We don’t hear too much about Keating’s cultural and socially liberal agenda. Maybe there’s deliberation from Simon Crean in launching a National Currency Policy on this anniversary. In any case, it seems fitting.
And then there’s Redfern and Mabo.
Whatever one might think of Keating (and he certainly divides people), there’s no questioning his foresight and his vision. It’s tempting to imagine a Keatingite Australia had John Howard never come along, we can comfort ourselves by reflecting on how much good about the show is a reflection of his Leadership.