PJK’s True Believers

keatingWe 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.


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14 responses to “PJK’s True Believers”

  1. Robert Merkel

    One of the great political frustrations of my adult life is that some of the most inspiring parts of Keating’s vision essentially disappeared from public life for the entirety of the Howard era. Some – the republic, genuine reconciliation with indigenous Australians – still remain unfinished business.

  2. paul burns

    Some time after Keating was defeated I remember listening to him being interviewed by Philip Adams on Radio National’s Late Night Live. I can’t recall the exact details of the interview it was so long ago but it was to do with Keating’s personal vision on social and cultural issues, and it struck me with great enormity how much we had lost by voting his Labor Government out of office. It reduced me to tears of regret. He would never have cut single parents, mostly women and their children, down to loving on the level of the dole. Keating was on the right wing of the ALP, but on social issues he sounded like Doug Cameron. Which I suppose shows you how much the ALP had been degraded nowadays and why people give up on them.
    btw, it’s Crean’s Cultural policy. 🙂

  3. paul burns

    correction/living on the dole. Apologies.

  4. Alison

    I know it is all a long while ago now and we live in a different world; PJK was a visionary PM. He did do good things, if only he was still around public life maybe it all wouldn’t be as cold and hard as it is now.

  5. Brian

    Paul, the Late Night Live interview was originally broadcast on 1 December 2011 and repeated on 21 March 2012 if you want to check out all the comments.

    As one commenter said, it was good that Keating was talking to someone who understood what he talking about so it was a proper conversation.

  6. paul burns

    Brian @ 5.
    Thanks, muchly.
    Three cheers for Mulga Mumblebrain! [cf comments on Keating link Brian provided.]

  7. patrickg

    He would never have cut single parents, mostly women and their children, down to living on the level of the dole.

    I dunno, Paul. It was his government that introduced mandatory detention – a stain Labor is still reluctant to expunge.

  8. Helen

    It was two decades ago that Paul Keating led the Labor Party to a famous win over John Hewson’s Coalition.

    I remember that well, the feeling of doom as a Hewson Liberal government loomed on the horizon. I’ve often thought of it in the last year or two and hoped it might happen again. To think I thought Hewson would be a disaster – compared with Tones it would have been a walk in the park.

  9. dylwah

    Paul @ 2. Hawke and Keating screwed the unemployed. Access to the dole got harder, it didn’t keep pace with inflation, they introduced the first of the hair trigger provisions that got people kicked off for minor transgressions and stuff ups. As for single parents, under Whitlam and Fraser you got six weeks of the single parents pension after u got a job to assist with relocation, wardrobe and misc expenses. That didn’t even last a year after ’83.

  10. dylwah

    That said, I really enjoyed that win. The memory of an exhausted Gareth Evans dancing to Yothu Yindi at the celebrations will bring a smile to my eyes till I die.

  11. paul burns

    dylwah, @ 9.
    I was at uni so I missed all that. One of the reasons I got myself several degrees was so I didn’t have to go back on the dole again and risk losing my mind with the stress of living that way. (Apart from which, I really enjoyed learning, and still do.)

  12. dylwah

    Amen to that brother.

  13. kevin1

    Oh god, I’ve just discovered this “left of centre” blog – 1 degree left of centre? where do you get your political knowledge from? do you read any history, sociology, political theory, philosophy? It doesn’t show. Or do you get your “knowledge” from edited video excerpts?

    Easy and comfortable to wallow in an imagined (and false) romantic, nostalgic, fictional universe, but have you ever been in a campaign/political struggle/organisation that fought the status quo? What did you learn about other people, yourself, power structures, negotiations and tactics? Lots of learning outside the library you know if you want to take a risk (Alert: danger! Approaching discomfort zone!)

    Perhaps the author could do us the courtesy – if she/he’s a serious person – of reading the copy before filing: National Currency Policy??? Caldwell? Never existed, but Arthur Calwell did, but what was his ideology? Care to tell us?

    “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” So obedience rules OK? Ever thought of doing some thinking, reading, discussing, or is this against the rules mama told you? How about thinking, then talking?

    Not “left” so much as “left behind”. Yes I’m ranting but this is all so pathetic. is this a first year Politics 101 draft essay? Definite Fail.

  14. David Irving (no relation)

    kevin1, some of us have been around for long enough to have been on the barricades (metaphorically) in 1968. However, I can see we all need to brush up on our collective left wing cred to match up to your expectations. Now, I wonder where I put my copy of One-Dimensional Man