Potts Point, New South Wales , Australia
|| January 18, 1944
Aug 16, 2012 10:50pm
Irish - Liberal - Anti-Civil Unions - Anti-Gay Marriage - Internationalist - Pro Environment - Pro Free Trade - Married - Union Member - Catholic -
|Info||Paul John Keating is a former Australian politician and the 24th Prime Minister of Australia, serving as Prime Minister from 1991 to 1996. He came to prominence as the reforming Treasurer in the Hawke government. As Prime Minister he is noted for his many legislative achievements, and his victory in the 1993 Election, which many had considered "unwinnable" for Keating. In his second term, however, his "big picture" policies failed to impress an electorate that harboured increasing uneasiness about engagement with the Asian region, and was increasingly concerned about economic issues. Keating was defeated at the 1996 election. |
Keating grew up in Bankstown, a working-class suburb of Sydney. He was one of four children of Matthew Keating, a boilermaker and trade union representative of Irish-Catholic descent, and his wife, Minnie.
Keating was educated at Catholic schools; he was the first practising Catholic Labor Prime Minister since James Scullin left office in 1932. Leaving De La Salle College Bankstown (now LaSalle Catholic College) at 15, Keating worked as a clerk and then as a research assistant for a trade union. He joined the Labor Party as soon as he was eligible.
Through the unions and the NSW Young Labor Council Keating met other Labor luminaries such as Laurie Brereton, Graham Richardson and Bob Carr, and also developed a friendship with former New South Wales Labor Premier Jack Lang, then in his 90s. Keating met Lang to discuss politics on a weekly basis for some time, and in 1972 succeeded in having Lang's Labor Party membership restored. Using his extensive contacts, Keating gained Labor endorsement for the seat of Blaxland in the western suburbs of Sydney, and was elected to the House of Representatives at the 1969 election, at the age of 25.
Keating was a backbencher for most of the Whitlam Labor government, but briefly became Minister for Northern Australia in 1975, one of the youngest ministers in Australian history. In the same year, he married Annita van Iersal, a Dutch flight attendant for Alitalia. The Keatings had four children, who spent some of their teenage years in The Lodge, the Prime Minister's official residence in Canberra.
After Labor's defeat in 1975, Keating became an opposition frontbencher, and in 1981 he became president of the New South Wales branch of the party and thus leader of the dominant right-wing faction. As opposition spokesperson on energy, his parliamentary style was that of an aggressive debater. He initially supported Bill Hayden against Bob Hawke's leadership challenges, partly because he hoped to succeed Hayden himself, but by the end of 1982 he accepted that Hawke would become leader.
When Hawke won the March 1983 elections, Keating became Treasurer, a post which he held until 1991. Keating inherited the position of Treasurer of Australia from John Howard, and with it an economy that needed much attention. Just one year previously, under Howard, interest rates in Australia peaked at 13.5%, a very high level. (see: RBA: Bulletin Statistical Tables). Keating also attacked Howard for allegedly lying to Parliament about the size of the budget deficit that had been left by the outgoing government.
After a difficult start, Keating mastered economic policy and was soon acknowledged as the driving political force behind many of the microeconomic reforms of the Hawke government, including floating the Australian dollar, substantial cuts in tariffs, the deregulation of the banking system and taxation reforms, all of which modernised the Australian economy and increased its competitiveness. In 1985, Keating proposed a value-added tax (known in Australia as in New Zealand and Canada whence it was directly copied as the Goods and Services Tax or GST), an option seriously debated before being dropped by Hawke, after it was clear the tax was highly unpopular in the electorate.
The Hawke-Keating partnership was strongest during the first two terms of the government, (1983-87), with Hawke playing the statesman and populist leader while Keating was the political attack dog. His range of parliamentary invective was legendary, and successive Liberal Opposition leaders Andrew Peacock and John Howard were unable to get the better of him. Keating and Hawke provided a study in contrasts. Hawke was a Rhodes Scholar; Keating left high school early. Hawke's enthusiasms were cigars, horse racing, women and all forms of sport; Keating preferred classical architecture, Bruckner and collecting antique clocks. Hawke was consensus-driven; Keating revelled in aggressive debate. Hawke was a lapsed Protestant; Keating was a practising Roman Catholic. Despite, or because of, their differences, the two formed an effective political partnership. After the 1987 election, however, Keating began to feel that it was time for Hawke to make way for him. However, the beginnings of a recession (of which in 1990 Keating famously said "This is the recession Australia had to have") saw a resurgence in support for the Liberal party, which Keating used in his push for leadership.
In 1988, in a meeting at Kirribilli House, Hawke and Keating discussed the handover of the leadership to Keating. Hawke confidentially agreed in front of two witnesses that after the 1990 election, he would resign in Keating's favour. In 1991, when Hawke intimated to Keating that he planned to renege on the deal on the basis that Keating had been publicly disloyal and moreover was less popular than Hawke, Keating challenged him for the leadership. He lost, resigned as Treasurer, and publicly declared his leadership ambitions had ended (a declaration which few believed). Throughout the rest of 1991, the position of the Hawke government deteriorated under pressure from the poor economy, sniping from Keating supporters and attacks from the Opposition. In December 1991 Keating defeated Hawke in a second leadership challenge, and became Prime Minister.
Hawke's undoing had been the policy package unveiled by the new Liberal leader, Dr John Hewson. Known as "Fightback!", it was centred around a GST and included massive industrial relations reforms, sweeping cuts in personal income tax and cuts to government spending, particularly in areas of health and education. Hawke and his new Treasurer, John Kerin, had been unable to counter the renewed energy of the opposition, which was invigorated by a policy package it perceived as a vote winner. Keating, however, severely damaged Hewson's credibility in a series of set-piece parliamentary encounters.
Nevertheless, the view of most commentators was that the 1993 election was "unwinnable" for Labor. The government had been in power for ten years, the pace of economic recovery was sluggish, and some voters perceived Keating as arrogant. However, Keating succeeded in winning back the electorate with a strong campaign opposing Fightback, memorable for Keating's litany of "15% on this, 15% on that", and a focus on creating jobs to reduce unemployment. Keating led Labor to an unexpected election victory, and his memorable "true believers" victory speech has entered Australian political folklore as one of the great Australian political speeches. After Keating, many of the reforms of Fightback were implemented under the Liberal government of John Howard.
As Prime Minister, Keating's interests and public perception broadened from that of the narrowly focused Treasurer. His agenda included items such as making Australia a republic, achieving reconciliation with Australia's indigenous population, and further economic and cultural engagement with Asia. These issues, which came to be known as Keating's "big picture," were highly popular with the tertiary-educated middle class, but failed to capture the aspirations of rural and outer-suburban voters. The loss of the "aspirational" traditionally working-class and Labor-voting outer suburbs has been a continuing problem for the Federal ALP post-Keating.
As well as this agenda, Keating embarked on a comprehensive legislative program. He established the Australian National Training Authority (ANTA), reviewed the Sex Discrimination Act, and legislated for the land rights of Australia's indigenous people following the historic High Court decision in Mabo. He developed bilateral links with Australia's neighbours, primarily Australia’s largest neighbour Indonesia. Keating also took an active role in the establishment of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (APEC), and initiated the yearly leaders' meeting. One of Keating’s most far reaching legislative achievements was the introduction of a national superannuation scheme, implemented to address low national savings.
As long as the Liberal Party failed to present a credible alternative Prime Minister, Keating seemed secure. Alexander Downer replaced Hewson as leader in 1994, but he failed to make any impression on Keating's standing and never shook off Keating's jibe that he was "the idiot son of the aristocracy". However, the opposition's election prospects changed when John Howard regained the Liberal leadership in early 1995 and many voters responded to his more socially conservative message. One warning signal was the loss of a by-election in the seat of Canberra in 1995.
Resentment over the economy lingered within the electorate and many voters disliked Keating, perceiving him as being arrogant. Also, Howard, determined to avoid a repeat of the 1993 election, deliberately ensured that the focus never left the Government by recanting his previous views on Asian immigration, promising that the GST would "never ever" be introduced, guaranteeing that "no worker would be worse off" under his Industrial Relations reforms and pledging to keep Medicare.
Howard also adopted a 'small target' strategy in order to secure support from small business and other sections of the community. As a result of all these factors, Howard led the Liberals to victory at the March 1996 election, ending the 13 years of Labor government, the longest in Labor's federal history. Keating subsequently resigned from Parliament.