The last individual on the list was Hawke, so the logical successor is Paul John Keating.
He entered Federal Parliament in 1969 at the age of 25 as the Member for Blaxland, following a period of apprenticeship as it were, by mixing with serving politicians, unionists et al, leading to his holding the post of President of NSW Young Labor in 1966.
So; the background was there. In his early days, he was correctly viewed as a narrow minded young man. For example, he seemed to regard women in the workforce as undesirable, and voted against Gorton’s Bill to decriminalize homosexuality. It is uncertain what made him become less socially conservative, but it certainly happened.
He was finally recognized as a rising star in October 1975 when Whitlam appointed him as Minister for Northern Australia. This, of course, was a very short lived post which ended abruptly on the infamous 11 November 1975. Legend has it that Keating was the first to encounter an enraged Whitlam returning to Parliament House after his dismissal at Yaralumla. “You’re sacked!” Whitlam growled at a shocked Keating who could only gasp, “What for?” being unaware that the entire government had been deposed. He then lived through the period of opposition until the heady days when Hayden stood aside for Hawke, and the Fraser government was toppled.
Initially, there was an amazing rapport between Hawke and Keating as PM and Treasurer respectively, with many reports from serving members of the mutual admiration society that the two had established. There was a degree of tension between Keating and the Head of Treasury, John Stone, but they got along because both knew how to work hard and play hard. They were in Newport, Rhode Island when Australia won the America’s Cup, and they “helped” with the celebrations. They celebrated so well that they very nearly missed the start of the inaugural IMF/World Bank Meeting in Washington DC which, after all, was the reason they were in the U.S.
Keating fell out with some of the business community over some tax reforms on which he was defeated in the Party Room. John Leard, one of these businessman, had frequently chatted with Keating about the economy, but had now become one the Hawke Government’s more strident critics. He reminded a group at a Securities lunch in Sydney in December 1985 that it was just over a year since Keating had been crowned as Euromoney’s
finance minister of the year, and asked, “I wonder whether you know that the Treasurer of Mexico won it the year before.”
As we have already seen, Keating eventually achieved his ambition of becoming Prime Minister. Andrew Peacock was Liberal Leader at the 1990 election which Hawke won, and, in the best tradition, he was removed to be succeeded by John Hewson (John Who?). Hawke finally went in 1991 and Keating was in the chair. As a parliamentary performer has was accomplished, and could be very savage with his language. A list of the epithets he used to describe his opponents would nearly fill a page on the Oxford Dictionary.
However, Keating is credited with one of the best parliamentary exchanges of all time. The opposition had come up with an economic blueprint which they labelled “Fightback”. Keating was scathing about it at every opportunity. Late in 1992, in Question Time, Hewson asked Keating if he was so confident in his view of Fightback, why wouldn’t he call an early election. Keating’s classic reply was; “ The answer is, mate, because I want to do you slowly. There has to be a bit of sport in this for all of us . . . I want to see those ashen-faced performances; I want more of them. I want to be encouraged. I want to see you squirm out of this load of rubbish over a couple of months. There will be no easy execution for you . . . if you think I am going to put you out of your misery quickly, you can think again.”
It was in 1993 that Keating won “the unwinnable election”. Polls had predicted a Coalition win, but Hewson was put to the sword by Keating over, among other things, his proposed GST which he had trouble explaining properly, and not listing what items would and would not be subject to GST. Of course, Hewson had to go and was replaced by Alexander Downer who achieved some form of fame because of his propensity for gaffes and controversies. He lasted until 1995, when Keating’s ultimate nemesis, John Howard took the Liberal leadership.
Keating had courted some controversy by his attempts to strengthen ties with South East Asia, and in particular, for being close to Indonesian President Suharto to the dismay of East Timor and its supporters. Another of his not-too-bright efforts was to publicly label Malaysia’s Dr Mahatir as “recalcitrant.”
The 1996 election loomed and Howard ran a clever campaign with a “small target” approach and this, combined with the fact that the Labor government was not doing too well with the economy, helped Howard’s “time for change” approach which saw Labor swept from power with the loss of 29 seats.
Keating’s race was run, and his retirement from politics followed.