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.

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