Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The Keating Interviews Episode 2: Hawke Eyes on the Legacy Prize

You simply cannot talk about Australian Politics in the 1980s without mentioning the mechanics of the relationship between Hawke and Keating. Whilst this episode remained as dynamic and interesting as its predosessor, this humble reviewer has heard this narrative too many times.

Keating rose through the ranks of the ALP opposition under the leadership of Bill Hayden, becoming both the convener of the all powerful NSW Right Faction, as well as State Secretary of the NSW branch of the ALP. As Keating tells it, Hawke would not have secured the leadership from Hayden if it were not for Keating's support. However as I argued in my review of Paul Kelly's book The Hawke Ascendancy 
It is particularly valuable to view these events with hindsight given the way that the party dealt with Hawke in 1991, in exactly the same fashion that he deposed of his predecessor just short of nine years earlier. It suggests a historical karma working against Hawke’s marvellously Machiavellian exploits. The power dynamics of the ALP are fickle.  
When Hawke assumed the ALP leadership on the opening day of the 1983 electoral campaign he did not want Keating as Treasurer. The latter was green and had a steep learning curve when the ALP returned to government 5 weeks later. Keating spent the better part of 1983 learning the fundamentals of macroenomic policy, culminating in the float of the Australian Dollar that December. Hawke claims it was his idea, but Keating says otherwise. It does not really matter, but the petty squabble over credit goes to the heart of the Hawke and Keating conflict and their contradictory relationship.

In Keating's mind 1984 was when the power really began to shift. As the year commenced, Hawke called an ill-advised early election, with a ridiculously long campaign to boot. Around the same time, Hawke's daughter suffered a drug overdose and the Prime Minister sank into a deep depression. While Hawke claimed this lasted for 6 weeks, Keating contradicts him by stating that this period for up to 3 years, perhaps not coincidentally the one which is universally regarded as the most fruitful years in the Hawke Keating partnership. Keating is second banana to no one in his eyes, even the ALP's most successful Prime Minister.

Throughout the mid eighties the volitile love hate relationship between Hawke and Keating continued, especially over economic policy. The 1995 documentary series Labor in Power hears from both men and is worth watching to capture the multi faceted debates over their policy legacy in more detail. As I have argued previously:
...the Hawke Government discarded the Australian Settlement comprised of White Australia, Protection, Arbitration and State Paternalism to pursue a policy of economic rationalism, with Keating as the architect of many of these policies in his role as Treasurer. Such policies were in fact the domain of the Liberal Party before this period and betrayed many of the policies that the ALP held dear. The Hawke Government achieved this economic reform through various methods of deregulation including floating the Australian dollar and deregulating the labour market through a process known as the Accord. The Accord was an alliance with the trade unions designed in order to prevent a wage explosion that crippled the two previous governments by ensuring that wages were stablised and unemployment was kept under control.
The legacy battle is so contentious because Hawke and Keating are opposites. While Hawke had the touch of the common man and was electorally appealing, Keating had the policy vision and knowledge to drive their duel agenda when they were both focused upon it. And I think that is why, in my mind at least, you will never get a four hour interview series with Hawke on his public life. Hawke captured the feeling of politics, relying on instinct, where as Keating is the explainer. While Hawke was more successful at the time, Keating has won the battle with revisionists. Despite being 90% correct throughout the episode, Keating is telling his story, his way, as if it was the only version to ever exist.

Monday, 18 November 2013

The Keating Interviews Episode 1: The Passion for Power.

I'll state my bias from the outset. I have long regarded Paul Keating as my favourite Australian Prime Minister. When I took a trip to Parliament House in 2010, the very first thing I bought was a Paul Keating Prime Ministerial Mug. Keating's vision is the reason I love politics, even though my political love affair began on the night of his defeat. His commitment to the Republic, to the Arts and to the less fortunate resonates with me. I also adore the fact that he shows contempt and bile to those who he dislikes, and doesn't really give a shit what anyone else thinks about it. So when it was announced that Australia's best political interviewer, Kerry O'Brien, was taking part in a four hour interview series with Keating I was understandably in raptures.

The first episode at least lives up to my extremely high expectations of wanting to find out what motivates Keating. He has always had a different kind of personality as opposed to other prominent Australian politicians. Less inclined to enjoy sports or farming, Keating is known instead for his passions for the fine arts and classical music. This week's episode went a long way in telling the viewer why Keating adores these pursuits. For him, like politics, it can be simply refined in one word: passion. His description of his love of certain classical music pieces are akin to his famous diatribes in parliament. They are filled with the aggressive knowledge of superiority. In his mind Keating is right to love these interests, and those who do not are missing out on something fundamental.

If there is one characteristic that defines his career it is this certainty, and the first episode tracks this wonderfully. Keating left school to enter the workforce at fourteen, immediately joining the ALP. When Keating describes his brief tenure at the Sydney County Council Transformer Handling Bay, he believes that this was his schooling in the ways of the working class, perhaps arrogantly so. Also during this time he actively sought out the infamous former New South Wales Premier, Jack Lang. Keating sat at his feet and quickly learned intricate the ways of the ALP.
"People will tell you that you have plenty of time, but the truth is you haven't got a second to waste."
The above quote came from Lang talking to the young Keating. This describes Keating's quest for power more than anything else. The highlight of the episode charts Keating's initial campaign for ALP preselection in 1969. At the age of just 25, he visited over 30 plus branch meetings per month in the electorate of Banks in New South Wales in order to obtain victory. At the last minute there was an electoral redistribution and Keating ended up running for the seat of Blaxland, having lost his base of his support, he had to begin the process of attending 30 more branch meetings a month, just squeaking through to victory against his factional rivals.

Having arrived in parliament during the middle of Whitlam's term as Labor Leader. Keating in his own words '…played the game, got to know people, got to judge them, see what they really thought and try to put coalitions of people together inside the place.' In other words he began the process of rising up through the ranks of the ALP like a modern political operative ahead of his time. By the dying days of the Whitlam Government in 1975, Keating obtained a portfolio at the age of just 31.

Keating's passion had become the process of obtaining and deploying of power within the ALP. The next challenge would be how to use those skills to his advantage. 
Other great Keating Quotes in this episode

"Having enemies worries some people. For me it's a badge of honour.”

“The great things are always worth doing; they’re hard because they’re valuable."

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Promise Rescinded: The End of Rudd as Told in Quotes

Kevin Rudd has just resigned from parliament, His most tulmultious years cover the life of this blog. They also cover the evolution of my feelings of antipathy toward the Labor Party, for which he is partially responsible. I feel the only accurate way to describe his legacy in the immediate aftermarth is to quote this blog.

On The 2007 Election:

I had followed every Federal election up until that point only for it to end in tears, quite literally. Then two days after my 23rd birthday that all changed, and finally the ALP under Kevin Rudd stormed into power. The four years of being a member of the party, volunteering on polling booths, the early morning meetings, the trips to Brisbane, and agonising through several leadership challenges all paid off at 7:20pm Queensland time when election analyst Antony Green called the election in the ALP’s favour.
 On the Stimulus Package 03/02/09:

The question is this: When will leaders recognise that economics is always a long term exercise? One must always plan for the future. The transformation in politics towards continual campaigning and generating short term political capital has come at the expense of overarching economic policy. While Hawke, Keating, Howard and Rudd learn this lesson in Australia, our citizens will suffer. No stimulus package will fix that.

On The 'Rudd Honeymoon' 04/04/09:
What is it in particular that draws the voters to Kevin Rudd?

Even as a Labor Party stalwart I acknowledge that Rudd is about as benign of a leader as the public can get. He does not have the ability to capture the public imagination like a Whitlam, the ability to mix with the public like a Hawke, or the turn of phrase of a Keating. What may propel him into stratosphere of popular opinion is his ordinariness. Except every time he is on television trying to look like a ‘man of the people’ I cringe because (at least to me) he comes across as pathetic try hard. The one thing that he has going for him is the Howardesque ability to read the public mood, something at which Turnbull and his Liberal colleagues have no clue how to do at the moment

However all of this doesn’t explain why the public feels sympathy for Rudd after he acted like a complete dickhead. Yes, he’s human and is entitled to make mistakes, but such luxuries are not normally afforded to your average politician.
The First Bump in the Road 30/05/09:
...Rudd has yet to prove he can actually govern. He can certainly give out money to bribe voters, he can certainly use rhetoric to his advantage, but the question still remains if he can actually turn it into reality.
The Media Backlash 12/06/10:
...the micromanaging, the almost insincere repour with the public, the need to obsessively claim all the power and all the responsibility within his own government... but for what? To explain that he’s a control freak, well again Marr plays the part of Captain Obvious here. All Prime Ministers need to be control freaks.
The Coup 23/06/10:
If Kevin Rudd managed to defeat the Liberal Party’s second longest serving leader (John Howard), and the opinion polls still had him winning the upcoming election by a reasonably comfortable margin, then where to for Gillard when she reaches inevitable crisis? And where to for future Prime Ministers who piss the wrong people off? That is something both Labor and Liberal members should fear. Maybe Malcolm Turnbull wasn’t so crazy after all?

Rudd Resigns as Foreign Minister 22/02/12:
The wider consequences for the ALP are brutal, whatever the outcome. Challenge or no, a former Prime Minister will be gone for good by Tuesday. Although it is of course easy to say and much harder to do, if both Gillard and Rudd worked together on policy and not undermined each other and worked cohesively just as they had promised in 2006, the ALP could have been staring down numerous election victories, a decade plus in power, and two bloody good Prime Ministers. What we have instead is a bitch fight on a national scale.
The First Challenge 24/02/12:
It has now been confirmed that Australia’s last two Prime Ministers will contest a leadership ballot on Monday to determine the leader of the ALP. Rarely has a political event carried more weight outside of a traditional electoral contest. Whether Gillard or Rudd emerges victorious, the wider implications for Australian democracy are indeed worrying.
The Second Challenge 21/03/13:
An ALP leadership challenge was brought on by former leader Simon Crean, hoping that Rudd would stand against Gillard, only for it not to happen. Confused? So is the rest of Australia.
The 2013 Election:
So the 2013 election is underway and while I'm interested in the scholarly aspects of life on the campaign trail, I'm nowhere near as invested as I used to be. Kevin Rudd and the ALP doesn't care about me, nor the people I care about.

The transformation is complete. Kevin lost the ALP. And the ALP lost me.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The Keating Interview Part I: Initial Impressions

Good god what an extraordinary hour of television that was! So much to take in. So much to process. I feel about 20% smarter just watching it. And there's three hours to go! I have to rewatch this again, take notes and soak it in. I have decided to do a comprehensive review of each of the four episodes. First one will be up Friday.

I don't think I've enjoyed a political hour of television that much. We saw so many sides of this complex genius and crucially we saw the human side for the first time too. Just extraordinary! Compulsory viewing, my birthday came early.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

'Phone Rings, Door Chimes, In Comes Company'

Stephen Sondheim's 'Company', first performed in 1970, may well be the perfect musical for someone in their late 20s/30s, particularly those of us who are single. It is the best discovery I've made this year.

About 4 weeks ago I saw the DVD of the 2011 revival performance with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, which stars Neil Patrick Harris, (How I Met Your Mother) Stephen Colbert, (The Colbert Report) and Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) amongst others and completely fell in love with it. In my current incarnation I can relate to every single minute 

The plot is outlined below. 
Originally titled Threes, its plot revolves around Bobby (a single man unable to commit fully to a steady relationship, let alone marriage), the five married couples who are his best friends, and his three girlfriends. Unlike most book musicals, which follow a clearly delineated plot, Company is a concept musical composed of short vignettes, presented in no particular chronological order, linked by a celebration for Bobby's 35th birthday.
It is not until the final song that Bobby comes to the conclusion that he sees the value in these relationships. ‘Being Alive’ is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard, not only because Bobby comes to a fundamental conclusion through song, but it is because we have all come to the same conclusion at some point in our lives. ‘Alone is alone, not alive’ might be one of the few phrases that sums up the biological need for intimate comfort, connection and support.
Someone has been kind enough to upload the entire performance up on YouTube. Believe me it is well and truly worth 2.5 hours of your time. Like all great art, it captures a time in one’s life that is both personal and universal