This article is about the Australian politician. For the British actor, see Paul Keating (actor).
Paul John Keating (born 18 January 1944) is a former Australian politician who served as the 24thPrime Minister of Australia, in office from 1991 to 1996 as leader of the Labor Party. He had earlier served as Treasurer in the Hawke Government from 1983 to 1991.
Keating was born in Sydney, and left school at the age of 14. He joined the Labor Party at a young age, serving a term as state president of Young Labor and working as a research assistant for a trade union. Keating was elected to the House of Representatives at the age of 25, winning the Division of Blaxland at the 1969 federal election. He served as Minister for Northern Australia for three weeks in the dying days of the Whitlam Government. After Labor lost power in 1975, Keating held increasingly senior portfolios in the shadow ministries of Whitlam, Bill Hayden, and Bob Hawke. He came to be seen as the leader of the Labor Right faction in New South Wales, and developed a reputation as a talented parliamentary performer.
After Labor won the 1983 election, Keating became one of the most influential figures in the new government. As Treasurer, he oversaw the introduction of a large number of reforms intended to liberalise and strengthen the Australian economy. These included the Prices and Incomes Accord, the float of the Australian dollar, the elimination of tariffs, the deregulation of the financial sector, and reform of the taxation system (including the introduction of capital gains tax, fringe benefits tax, and dividend imputation). The relationship between Hawke and Keating eventually began to deteriorate, and in 1988 they secretly agreed that Hawke would retire after the next election. Keating was elected deputy Labor leader (and thus deputy prime minister) in 1990. In June 1991, he unsuccessfully challenged for the leadership, believing that Hawke had reneged on their earlier agreement. He resigned from cabinet, but mounted a second challenge six months later and emerged victorious.
Keating became prime minister in the midst of the early 1990s recession, which as Treasurer he had famously described as "the recession we had to have". After a long run of poor polling, Labor was widely expected to lose the 1993 election, but fought a strong campaign and managed to increase its majority. The Keating Government focused mainly on economic issues in its first term, introducing compulsory superannuation, creating an infrastructure development program, and initiating the privatisation of Qantas and the Commonwealth Bank. In later years, Keating's agenda centred more on social and cultural matters. He participated in the "history wars", and helped make republicanism and indigenous rights the subject of national debates. His government established the Republic Advisory Committee and enshrined native title in statute law.
At the 1996 election, Labor suffered a landslide defeat to John Howard's Liberal–National Coalition. Keating's personal approval rating had reached historically low levels in his second term, with opponents portraying him as elitist and out of touch. He left parliament after the election, but in retirement has remained active as a political commentator, defending his government's legacy. Since leaving office, Keating has received consistent praise for his role in modernising the economy, particularly during his period as Treasurer. Evaluations of his overall prime ministership have been more mixed.
Early life and education
Keating grew up in Bankstown, a working-class suburb of Sydney. He was one of four children born to Minnie, a strong and encouraging mother and her husband Matthew Keating, a boilermaker and trade union representative of Irish Catholic descent. His siblings include Anne Keating, a company director and businesswoman. Leaving De La Salle College—now known as LaSalle Catholic College—at the age of 14, Keating left high school and decided not to pursue higher education, and instead worked as a pay clerk at the Sydney County Council (the city's electricity distributer). He then worked as research assistant for a trade union, having joined the Labor Party as soon as he was eligible. In 1966, he became president of NSW Young Labor. In the 1960s, Keating also managed rock band "The Ramrods".
Early political career
Through his contacts in the unions and the NSW Young Labor Council, Keating met future senior Labor figures such as Laurie Brereton, Graham Richardson and Bob Carr. He also developed a friendship with former New South Wales PremierJack Lang. In 1971, he succeeded in having Lang re-admitted to the Labor Party. Keating gained the Labor endorsement for the seat of Blaxland in the western suburbs of Sydney, and was elected to the House of Representatives in 1969 when he was 25 years old.
Keating was a backbencher for most of the Whitlam government, although he was appointed Minister for Northern Australia in October 1975, serving until the government was controversially dismissed by Governor-General John Kerr the following month. After Labor's defeat in the December 1975 election, Keating was added to the Opposition frontbench. His portfolios included agriculture (January – March 1976), Minerals and Energy (March 1976 – November 1980), National Development (December 1977 – November 1980), Northern Australia (March – November 1980), Resources and Energy (November 1980 – January 1983) and finally Treasury (January – March 1983). His parliamentary style was that of an aggressive debater. In 1981, he was elected president of the New South Wales Labor Party, thus becoming the leader of the dominant right-wing faction in Labor. At this time, he initially supported Bill Hayden over Bob Hawke as leadership tensions between the two men began to mount; part of the reason for his support was that he privately hoped to succeed Hayden in the near future. However, by 1982, his faction had swung behind Hawke, and Keating endorsed his challenge. The formal announcement of Keating's support for Hawke was written by a fellow Labor politician, Gareth Evans. Although Hayden survived the challenge, pressure continued to mount on him, and he eventually resigned in February 1983 after a poor by-election result. Hawke was elected to replace him, and he subsequently led Labor to a landslide victory in the election just six weeks later.
Federal Treasurer (1983–91)
Following Labor's victory in the 1983 election, Keating was appointed Treasurer of Australia by Prime Minister Bob Hawke – he would go on to hold that post until 1991. Keating succeeded John Howard as treasurer and was able to use the size of the budget deficit that the Hawke government inherited to question the economic credibility of the Liberal–National Coalition. That the deficit had significantly increased in the lead up to the election had not been disclosed in pre-election documents released by the Fraser government. According to Hawke, the historically large $9.6 billion budget deficit left by the Coalition "became a stick with which we were justifiably able to beat the Liberal National Opposition for many years". Although Howard was widely regarded at this time as being "discredited" by the hidden deficit, he had in fact argued unsuccessfully against Fraser that the revised figures should be disclosed before the election.
Keating was one of the major driving forces behind the various extensive macro- and microeconomic reforms of the Hawke government. As Treasurer, Keating pursued economic policies such as floating the Australian dollar in 1983, reducing tariffs on imports, completely reforming the tax system, moving from centralised wage-fixing to enterprise bargaining, privatising publicly owned companies such as Qantas, CSL Limited and the Commonwealth Bank, and deregulating large parts of the banking system. Keating was also instrumental in the introduction of the Prices and Incomes Accord, an agreement between the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and the government to negotiate wages. His management of the Accord, and close working relationship with ACTU President Bill Kelty, became a source of tremendous political power for Keating. Through the power given to him, Keating was often able to bypass the Cabinet altogether, notably in exercising monetary policy, and he was regularly referred to as "the most powerful Treasurer in modern times".
In 1985, Keating argued within the Cabinet for the introduction of a broad-based consumption tax, similar in nature to the goods and services tax that was later introduced by the Howard government. In the build-up to the 1984 election, Hawke had promised a policy paper on taxation reform to be discussed with all stakeholders at a tax summit. Three options – A, B and C – were presented in the Draft White Paper, with Keating and his Treasury colleagues fiercely advocating for C, which included a consumption tax of 15% on goods and services along with reductions in personal and company income tax, a fringe benefits tax and a capital gains tax. Although Keating was able to win the support of a reluctant Cabinet, Hawke believed that the opposition from the public, the ACTU, and the business community would be too great. He therefore decided to abandon any plans for a consumption tax, although the remainder of the reforms were adopted in the tax reform package. The loss of the consumption tax was seen a bitter defeat for Keating; he later joked about it at a press conference, saying, "It's a bit like Ben Hur. We've crossed the line with one wheel off, but we have crossed the line."
In 1989, the Hawke Labor Government gradually re-introducing fees for university study. It set up the Higher Education Contributions Scheme (HECS), which was first proposed by Professor Murray Wells  and subsequently developed by economist and lecturer at the Australian National University, Bruce Chapman and championed by Education Minister John Dawkins (see Dawkins Revolution). Under the original HECS, a $1,800 fee was charged to all university students, and the Commonwealth paid the balance. A student could defer payment of this HECS amount (in which case it was called a HECS debt) and repay the debt through the tax system, when the student's income exceeds a threshold level. As part of the reforms, Colleges of Advanced Education entered the University sector by various means. The HECS system was accepted by both federal political parties and has survived until today, though with a number of changes.
Keating's tenure as Treasurer was often criticised for high interest rates and the 1990s recession, which Keating referred to in an interview as "(the) recession Australia had to have". Through the 1980s, both the global and Australian economies grew quickly, and by the late 1980s inflation had grown to around 9%. By 1988, the Reserve Bank of Australia began tightening monetary policy, and household interest rates peaked at 18%. It is often said that the Bank was too slow in easing monetary policy, and that this ultimately led to a recession. In private, Keating had argued for rates to rise earlier than they did, and fall sooner, although his view was at odds with the Reserve Bank and his Treasury colleagues. Publicly, Hawke and Keating had said there would be no recession – or that there would be a "soft landing" – but this changed when Keating announced the country was indeed in recession in 1990. Claiming that the recession was something Australia "had to have" was referred to by Paul Kelly as "perhaps the most stupid remark of Keating's career, and it nearly cost him the Prime Ministership." Kelly did also concede that, "... however, it is largely true that the boom begat the recession." During the subsequent Howard government, Keating would often criticise Howard for taking credit for the good economic conditions Australia experienced without acknowledging that it had been the early 1990s recession that had ended the inflation problem.
Hawke led Labor to a third consecutive victory in the 1987 election, but by his fifth anniversary as prime minister a year later, he had begun to suffer from poor opinion polling. It was at this time that Keating privately began to put pressure on Hawke to stand down in his favour as soon as possible. The two men eventually met at Kirribilli House later that year to discuss the handover of the leadership to Keating. Eventually, Hawke agreed in front of two witnesses that he would resign in Keating's favour a short time after the 1990 election, which he convinced Keating he could win. Hawke subsequently won that election, and appointed Keating his Deputy Prime Minister to replace the retiring Lionel Bowen, in theory preparing Keating to assume the leadership. However, Keating quickly became dissatisfied with the lack of any indication from Hawke as to when he might stand down, and subsequently made a number of provocative speeches questioning the direction of the government. This caused tensions between the two men to grow very quickly, and Hawke told Keating that he would renege on the deal on the basis that Keating had been publicly disloyal. Keating eventually resigned from the Cabinet and challenged Hawke for the leadership in June 1991. Hawke won the ballot by 66 votes to 44, and in a press statement afterwards Keating declared that he had fired his "one shot". Publicly, at least, this seemed to spell the end of his leadership ambitions. Having failed to defeat Hawke, Keating realised that events would have to move very much in his favour for a second challenge to be even possible, and he strongly considered retiring from politics altogether.
Several factors over the coming months enabled Keating to mount a second challenge to Hawke. Over the remainder of 1991, the economy showed no signs of recovery from the recession, and unemployment continued to rise. Opinion polling for Labor was poor, some of Keating's supporters actively undermined the government, and, perhaps more significantly, Liberal Leader John Hewson introduced 'Fightback!', an economic policy package which, according to Keating's biographer, "appeared to astonish and stun Hawke's Cabinet". According to Edwards, "Hawke was unprepared to attack it and responded with windy rhetoric". Following Hawke's lacklustre response to 'Fightback!', many began to openly speculate that nearly nine years as prime minister had left Hawke "tired", and he began to lose the confidence of many in the Labor caucus. Keating was viewed as the only viable replacement for Hawke, and on 19 December 1991, Keating challenged Hawke for a second time, this time defeating him by 56 votes to 51.
Main articles: Keating Government and Hawke–Keating Government
On 20 December 1991, following his successful leadership challenge, Keating was sworn in as the 24th Prime Minister of Australia by the Governor-General. Keating had an extensive legislative agenda upon taking office, which included reconciliation with Australia's indigenous population, furthering economic and cultural ties with Asia, and making Australia a republic. The addressing of these issues came to be known as Keating's "big picture." Keating's legislative program also included establishing the Australian National Training Authority (ANTA), a review of the Sex Discrimination Act, and the establishment of native title rights for Australia's indigenous peoples following the Mabo High Court decision. Throughout his time as prime minister, Keating took a number of steps to strengthen and develop bilateral links with Australia's closest neighbours; he frequently said that there was no country in the world that was more important to Australia than Indonesia. He also played a key role in the establishment of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (APEC), initiating the annual leaders' meeting and ensuring that they continued thereafter. Arguably Keating's most far-reaching legislative achievement was the introduction of a national superannuation scheme, implemented to address the long-term problem of low national savings. This built on policies that Keating had introduced whilst Treasurer, and was aimed at ensuring that most Australians would have enough money to retire. Keating also moved to introduce mandatory detention for asylum seekers. On 10 December 1992, Keating delivered the Redfern Speech on Aboriginal reconciliation, a speech which has regularly been cited as among the greatest in Australian political history.
As Prime Minister, Keating maintained his aggressive debating style. When asked by Opposition LeaderJohn Hewson why he would not call an early election after he had become prime minister, Keating replied, "because I want to do you slowly." He referred to the Liberal Party as "a motley, dishonest crew", and the National Party as "dummies and dimwits; desperadoes". During an opposition debate that sought to censure Keating, he described being attacked by Peter Costello as "like being flogged with warm lettuce". Despite a very busy legislative agenda, many commentators predicted that the upcoming 1993 election was "unwinnable" for Labor. The government had been in power for the previous decade, and the pace of economic recovery from the early 1990s recession was slow.
Such was the expectation that Labor would lose, many senior Labor figures openly told Keating that his job was to save as many seats as possible, so that their time in opposition would be short. Despite the overwhelming predictions that Labor would lose, Keating succeeded in winning over the electorate with a strong campaign opposing 'Fightback!' and a focus on creating jobs to reduce unemployment. In particular, Keating focused a great deal of his campaign on attacking the proposed goods and services tax, arguing that it would make unemployment worse and would prove "a dead weight" on the economy. He was helped in this by his opponent, John Hewson, struggling towards the end of the campaign to explain exactly which products would have the GST levied on them, and which would not. Having begun the campaign an average of ten points behind the Liberal/National Coalition, Keating led Labor to an unexpected and record-breaking fifth consecutive election victory on 13 March 1993. The speech Keating delivered at the victory celebration has been described as one of the great Labor speeches. Opening with "This is a victory for the true believers", the speech has been described as providing a source of inspiration for the party faithful, but also criticised as helping to create a perception that Keating's Labor government was not a government for all Australians.
Having secured a mandate in his own right as prime minister, Keating immediately set about implementing as much of his "big picture" as possible, leading the consultation and introducing legislation that would eventually lead to a 1999 referendum on Australia becoming a republic. Keating also continued to pursue improved relations with countries throughout Asia, in particular Indo-China. In December 1993, he became involved in a diplomatic incident with Malaysia when he described Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad as "recalcitrant". The incident occurred after Mahathir refused to attend the 1993 APEC summit. Keating said, "APEC is bigger than all of us – Australia, the U.S. and Malaysia, and Dr. Mahathir and any other recalcitrants." Mahathir demanded an apology from Keating, and threatened to reduce diplomatic ties and trade drastically with Australia, which became an enormous concern to Australian exporters. Some Malaysian officials talked of launching a "Buy Australian Last" campaign; Keating subsequently apologised to Mahathir over the remark. Keating dismantled the century-old protectionism that had been present in Australia, fuelling a productivity drive in the free market and increasing Australian living standards.
Keating's friendship with Indonesian PresidentSuharto was criticised by human rights activists supportive of East Timorese independence, and by Nobel Peace Prize winner José Ramos-Horta, who would later go on to become East Timor's president and prime minister. The Keating government's cooperation with the Indonesian military, and the signing of the Timor Gap Treaty, were also strongly criticised by these same groups. It was alleged that Keating was overlooking alleged human rights abuses by the Indonesian government as part of his effort to dramatically increase Australia's cultural, diplomatic and economic ties with Asia.
Like Hawke before him, Keating benefited while prime minister from a split Liberal Party. Shortly after the 1993 election, John Hewson was replaced as Liberal Leader by Alexander Downer, whose leadership was quickly marred by gaffes and controversies within months. After continuous poor polling, Downer resigned in 1995 and was replaced by John Howard, who had previously led the Liberals from 1985 to 1989. Although at first showing no improvement, under Howard the Coalition soon regained momentum to move back ahead of Labor in opinion polls, and Keating was unable to wrest back the lead again. The first warning sign of a serious swing away from Labor came in March 1995, when Labor lost Canberra in a by-election. Later in 1995, the Queensland Labor Party barely held onto its majority at the state election, before losing it altogether in a 1996 by-election. That by-election took place a week after Keating had called the 1996 election; the very public defeat severely hampered the launch of the Labor campaign, and the campaign was never able to regain momentum.
Howard, determined to avoid a repeat of the 1993 election, adopted a "small target" strategy, publicly committing to keep Labor reforms such as Medicare, and defusing the republic issue by promising to hold a constitutional convention. Howard was therefore successfully able to focus the campaign on the longevity of the Labor government, which by 1996 had been in power for 13 years. The narrative of "time for a change" proved impossible to defend against, and on 2 March 1996 the Keating government was swept from power, suffering a five percent two party preferred swing. Although this was not a large swing in and of itself, the count turned into a rout when Labor lost 13 seats in New South Wales and 11 in Queensland. All told, Labor lost 29 seats–in terms of seats lost, the second-worst defeat ever of a sitting government in Australian history. With the scale of the defeat beyond doubt, Keating resigned as Labor leader on election night. He tendered his resignation as prime minister on 11 March, 13 years to the day after Bob Hawke had first taken office, and stepped down from Parliament just over a month later on 23 April 1996.
Immediately after his defeat, Keating requested from Howard additional time to relocate his family from The Lodge to temporary rented accommodation at the former East German embassy in the Canberra suburb of Red Hill until his daughters finished secondary schooling. Concurrently, the Keating’s had purchased and were renovating the up-market ‘St Kevin’s’ mansion in the affluent eastern Sydney suburb of Woollahra for $2.2 million in 1995. Whilst vacating the Prime Minister’s office at Parliament House, Labor journalist Bob Ellis observed that: “With the power drained from him, (Keating) appeared two inches shorter, a sallow, strangely grinning, dull-eyed, not wholly trustworthy man, who had seemed but days before an immortal". Bob Hawke, who he had rolled as leader, later remarked that Keating "doesn't have the capacity to put things behind him" and that he “genuinely feel(s) sorry for Paul, (sic) he should be a happy, happy man and he's not."
Soon after leaving parliament, Keating became a director of various companies and a senior adviser to Lazard, an investment banking firm. In 1997, Keating declined appointment as a Companion of the Order of Australia, an honour which has been offered to all former Prime Ministers since the modern Australian Honours System was introduced in 1975. Keating also sits on an advisory council for a Chinese government development bank.
In 2000, he published his first book since leaving office, Engagement: Australia Faces the Asia-Pacific, which focused on foreign policy during his term as prime minister. In 2002, Keating's former speechwriter and adviser, Don Watson, published Recollections of a Bleeding Heart: A Portrait of Paul Keating PM. The book first drew criticism from Keating's estranged wife, Annita Keating, who said that it understated her contribution, a complaint Watson rejected. Keating himself was so unhappy with the book that it brought the two men's friendship to an abrupt end. Keating's primary complaint was about Watson's claim that he had authored the Redfern Speech, something Keating strenuously denied.
During John Howard's time as prime minister, Keating made occasional speeches strongly criticising his successor's social policies, and defending his own policies, such as those on East Timor. Keating described Howard as a "desiccated coconut" who was "Araldited to the seat", and described him as "... an old antediluvian 19th century person who wanted to stomp forever ... on ordinary people's rights to organise themselves at work ... he's a pre-Copernicanobscurantist" when criticising Howard's controversial WorkChoices policy. He described Howard's deputy, Peter Costello, as being "all tip and no iceberg" when referring to an alleged pact made by Howard to hand the leadership over to Costello after two terms. After Labor's landslide victory at the 2007 election, Keating said that he was relieved, rather than happy, that the Howard government had been removed. He claimed that there was "relief that the nation had put itself back on course...relief that the toxicity of the Liberal social agenda, the active disparagement of particular classes and groups, that feeling of alienation in your own country, was over."
Keating was also publicly critical of the leadership team of Kevin Rudd. Just before the 2007 election, he criticised Rudd's deputy, Julia Gillard, saying that she lacked an understanding of principles such as enterprise-bargaining that had been set under the Hawke–Keating government in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He also attacked Rudd's chief of staff, David Epstein, and Gary Gray, who was at that time a candidate for Kim Beazley's former seat of Brand.
In May 2007, Keating suggested that Sydney, rather than Canberra, should be the capital of Australia, saying that, "John Howard has already effectively moved the Parliament there. Cabinet meets in Phillip Street in Sydney, and when they do go to Canberra, they fly down to the bush capital, and everybody flies out on Friday. There is an air of unreality about Canberra. If Parliament sat in Sydney, they would have a better understanding of the problems being faced by their constituents. These real things are camouflaged from Canberra."
In February 2008, Keating joined former prime ministers Gough Whitlam, Malcolm Fraser, and Bob Hawke in Parliament House to witness Kevin Rudd deliver the apology to the Stolen Generations. In August 2008, he spoke at the book launch of Unfinished Business: Paul Keating's Interrupted Revolution, authored by economist David Love. Among the topics discussed during the launch were the need to increase compulsory superannuation contributions, as well as to restore incentives for people to receive their superannuation payments in annuities.
Keating is currently[when?] a Visiting Professor of Public Policy at the University of New South Wales. He has been awarded honorary doctorates in law from Keio University in Tokyo (1995), the National University of Singapore (1999), the University of New South Wales (2003) and Macquarie University (2012).
In 2013, Keating took part in a series of four hour-long interviews with Kerry O'Brien which were broadcast on the ABC in November of that year. The series covered Keating's early life, his entry into parliament and appointment as Minister for Minerals and Energy replacing his mentor Rex Connor in the dying days of the Whitlam government, period in opposition and years as Treasurer, and his term as Prime Minister, canvassing his academic, musical and artistic interests, economic and cultural vision for Australia, and commitment to Australia's integration into Asia.
O'Brien used these conversations as the basis for a 2014 book Keating: The Interviews. Keating repeatedly declared he would not write a memoir, so his cooperation with O'Brien was perceived as the closest he would come to producing an autobiography.
Historian David Day produced an unauthorised biography in 2015, titled Paul Keating: The Biography. In it, Day claimed that Keating was an undiagnosed dyslexic, and that this fact had negatively affected his political career. Keating subsequently sued for defamation. Day and his publisher, HarperCollins Australia, issued a retraction and apologised to Keating, and were additionally ordered to "meet his legal costs, destroy remaining stocks of the hardcover's 8000-copy print run, and substantially amend any future editions, should it be reprinted".
In 2016, Troy Bramston, a journalist for The Australian with an interest in labour history, produced an authorised biography titled Paul Keating: The Big Picture Leader. It was described as "the first [biography] by an individual not from inside the Keating bunker, and it is the first with which Keating has co-operated, even if not fully".
In 1975, Keating married Annita van Iersel, a Dutch-born flight attendant for Alitalia. They had four children, who spent some of their teenage years in The Lodge, the Prime Minister's official residence in Canberra. The couple separated in November 1998. While they did not formally divorce until 2008, Annita had resumed her maiden name long before then. Since 1999, Keating's partner has been actress Julieanne Newbould. Keating's daughter, Katherine Keating, is a former adviser to former New South Wales minister Craig Knowles as well as former New South Wales PremierBob Carr. Keating's interests include the music of Gustav Mahler and collecting French antique clocks. He currently resides in Potts Point, in inner-city Sydney and has a holiday home on the Hawkesbury River on Sydney's Upper North Shore.
In 2005, Keating!, a musical based on Keating's life and career, premiered at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. It went on to run until 2010, winning a number of awards and eventually being broadcast on ABC2.
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- ^Edwards, John, Keating: The Inside Story, Viking, 1996, p. 153
- ^ abEdwards, John, Keating: The Inside Story, Viking, 1996, p. 159
- ^ abHawke, Bob, The Hawke Memoirs, William Heinemann Australia, 1994, p. 148
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- ^Ian McFarlane (2 December 2006). "The real reasons why it was the 1990s recession we had to have". theage.com.au. Retrieved 6 October 2011.
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- ^ abEdwards, John, Keating: The Inside Story, Viking, 1996, p. 439
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- ^Fast Forward, Shaun Carney, The Age, 20 November 2007
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Senator John Faulkner asked in 2002: "Are you comfortable being an icon and elder statesman?". Whitlam replied: "Well, I hope this is not just because I was a martyr. The fact is I was an achiever." He could point to achievements and reforms such as recognising China, abolishing conscription, establishing Medibank, introducing needs-based school funding, extending tertiary education, reforming family law, boosting the arts, indexing pensions, and moving to equal pay for women, voting at 18, one vote-one value and Aboriginal land rights. He removed sales tax on contraceptives. He broke the cultural cringe, introduced an Australian honours system and a new national anthem, made relations with Asia a priority and ended Australia's involvement with imperialism, later revived in Iraq.
Edward Gough Whitlam was born on July 11, 1916, in Kew, Melbourne, when Australia's first prime minister, Edmund Barton, still lived. He lived during the lifetimes of all 27 other Australian prime ministers, to Tony Abbott. He contributed to the national debate from 1944, when he campaigned for a referendum seeking federal powers for post-war reconstruction - it lost - and still went to his office four days a week in his 99th year.
Henry Whitlam, an English draper, had gone to Bombay in 1854 to join the British army, under Field Marshal Hugh Gough. He carried 54 books with him. Later he joined the miners' struggle for voting rights on Victorian goldfields. Henry and Adelaide Whitlam named their first son Henry Gough. Called Harry, he served four years in Pentridge jail for forgery. A son, Harry Frederick, called Fred, became Australia's Crown Solicitor. It's a tribute to Australian democracy that the family could move in a generation from criminality to a senior law office in the new nation and, in the next, to the prime ministership.
Fred married Martha Maddocks and moved to Canberra, the new capital, in 1927, when he was deputy crown solicitor under Sir Robert Garran. The family was described as upper middle class. Some would argue that opponents saw Gough as a class traitor.
Young Whitlam attended Knox Grammar, Telopea Park High in Canberra, then Canberra Grammar. As children, books were Gough and his younger sister Freda's world. Frivolous distractions, even radio, were eschewed. Having topped the 1934 year in Christian doctrine at Grammar, ahead of Francis James, who was to edit The Anglican, Whitlam and James were told by Canon Edwards, the principal, why Francis would receive the prize: "The reason is that James believes it and you, Whitlam, do not."
Whitlam believed that his "maker" were the forces of family, society and history. He described himself as "a fellow traveller with Christianity" or "post-Christian". He knew more about religious belief than most believers. His life demonstrated the importance of ideas and belief.
He read Latin, Greek, English, history and some psychology for his Sydney University Arts degree, won a rowing blue, reorganised the St Paul's College library, edited Hermes, the students' magazine, played Noel Coward and Neville Chamberlain in university reviews and appeared briefly in Broken Melody, a minor film. He enlisted in the RAAF in 1941, flying as a navigator from northern Australia.
In 1942 he married Margaret Dovey, who had swum breaststroke for Australia at the 1938 Empire Games, the daughter of Bill, later Justice, Dovey. Their marriage is the longest prime ministerial union. He said in 2002: "My 25 years as member for Werriwa and three years as prime minister were just flashes compared in the long, warm glow of the other significant anniversary I celebrated this year - 60 years together with Margaret Elaine Dovey." Margaret helped keep Gough's feet near the ground. She said: "I'm a bit tired of all the adulation. He's almost reached the beatification stage. I suppose canonisation will come, with the obituaries."
Whitlam joined the Labor Party in 1945, completed legal studies, joined the bar in 1947 and used a war service loan to build a house at Cronulla. He stood in 1948 for Sutherland shire council and failed, stood in the 1950 NSW election, and failed, before winning the outer western suburbs federal seat of Werriwa in a 1952 by-election. His family recognised in the post-World War II electorate the disadvantages in education, health, transport, housing and other urban facilities. He tried to correct the deficiencies. Neville Wran, former NSW premier, said: "It was said of Caesar Augustus that he found a Rome of brick and left it of marble. It can be said of Gough Whitlam that he found Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane unsewered, and left them fully flushed."
Labor colleagues in Canberra saw the new, exceptionally tall member as an oddity - avoiding bars and absorbed in work. Robert Menzies saw Whitlam's potential: "He will lead the [Labor] party one day. It will not be dull."
Whitlam saw government as an instrument to improve life for all Australians. Graham Freudenberg wrote in A Certain Grandeur: "He took certain propositions as self-evident and among these were: that the national parliament was the only really important parliament in Australia; that the role of government was constructive, positive and benevolent; that action by governments, through parliament and the public service, was the normal and natural approach for the solution of Australian problems ...".
His interests ranged from flushing the suburbs to recognising "Red China". A speech in 1954 urged the latter. An internationalist and nationalist, he said in 1963: "Australia must strive above all things and more than most nations for the Parliament of the Man, the Federation of the World. The ultimate security of our nation and the ultimate survival of civilisation alike demand it." The weakening of United Nations authority, after the United States became the one superpower, disappointed Whitlam, who thought that history's lessons were not being learned. He pointed to Italy and Germany's arming Franco in Spain while the United States stayed out of the League of Nations; to the Americans helping the Taliban to remove the Russians from Afghanistan and arming Saddam Hussein's Iraq against fundamentalist Muslim Iran.
While Labor toiled in the wilderness after the split over communism in 1954-55, Whitlam made the most of scarce opportunities. After H.V. "Doc" Evatt resigned the leadership in 1960, he beat Eddie Ward to become deputy under Arthur Calwell. His two principal campaigns were for state aid to private schools, particularly poor Catholic schools, according to need, and for reform of the party structure. When the 36 delegates to the 1963 federal conference met to decide policy on the North West Cape naval base, part of the US nuclear defence network, Calwell and Whitlam had to wait outside the meeting, powerless. Menzies attacked the "36 faceless men". After the conference was reformed, Whitlam denounced the federal executive: "We've just got rid of the 36 faceless men stigma to be faced with the 12 witless men." Reprimanded for "gross disloyalty", he escaped expulsion. He had helped win the Dawson by-election in Queensland and his electoral appeal was becoming obvious. His theory that leaders either "crash through or crash" also became obvious.
Despite Calwell's brilliantly prophetic anti-Vietnam war speech, Labor was thrashed in the 1966 election. Replacing Calwell, Whitlam developed a wide range of policies, building what he called "The Program". Old Labor policies, including the pledge of nationalisation that Whitlam described as Old Testament, were superseded by the New Testament.
When the executive's left-wing refused to accept Brian Harradine's credentials in 1968, Whitlam resigned and called on parliamentary colleagues to confirm or replace him. He beat Jim Cairns, but only by 38 to 32.
Labor gained a 7 per cent swing in 1969, reducing the John Gorton Government's majority to seven seats. Labor would have won under the one-vote, one-value system Whitlam introduced in 1974. The party would probably have had four years of government in a healthy economy, before the 1973 world oil price shock. This might have prevented the slide into chaos.
In parliament, his favourite forum, Whitlam had established ascendancy over Menzies' successors Harold Holt and Gorton, then had fun at the expense of the ineffectual Bill McMahon. McMahon tried to revive the communist bogey when Whitlam met Chou-En-lai in China in 1971, only to discover that US President Nixon was following in Whitlam's footsteps. With the help of Clyde Cameron and John Ducker, the ALP's Victorian branch was reformed and a measure of reform brought to NSW.
A majority of Australians accepted Labor's campaign slogan in 1972 - "It's Time". The Coalition had been in power too long. Whitlam won a swing of only 2.6 per cent on December 2, but enough to take eight seats and government. Impatient to start governing before Christmas, Whitlam had himself and his deputy, Lance Barnard, sworn into the existing 27 portfolios. He called the two-man government "the duumvirate", or "the triumvirate" when Sir Paul Hasluck, the governor-general, signed necessary documents. They ended military conscription, released conscientious objectors from jail, recognised China, abolished knighthoods and moved towards Aboriginal land rights.
The full ministry, sworn in six days before Christmas, kept up the pace. Believing education to be the key to equal opportunity, Whitlam abolished tertiary fees and greatly increased spending for schools, universities and colleges. Pensions were increased and indexed and Medibank established as Australia's first national health insurance system. Urban and regional development programs were boosted. No Australian government has been so determined to implement without delay such comprehensive reform. Yet many reforms only brought Australia into line with modern social democracies.
Australians who remember the government for its dark days and dismissal may be surprised by the 1973 record. The program covered cities and local government, racial and gender discrimination, health, education, social security, minerals and energy, migrants, human rights, rural industries, the environment and the national estate. In foreign affairs, where Whitlam wanted "a more independent stance", 39 treaties and conventions were signed.
A National Gallery of Australia employee described Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles, which the Whitlam government bought controversially, as a metaphor for the government - the long hours that went into the painting, never wondering whether it would work, the excitement, passion, sheer rapture, flourishes, sudden insights, grand movements, spatters and accidents.
Historians Clem Lloyd and G.S.Reid wrote: "In the generally undistinguished, and often tawdry, atmosphere of Australian national politics, it is impossible to deny the Whitlam Government its certain grandeur." Historian Geoffrey Bolton described the government as "a shining aberration" in an essentially conservative nation.
Government spending increased by 5.7 per cent after inflation in 1973-74 and by 19.8 per cent in 1974-75. The program had been developed during economic buoyancy of the late 1960s, with Keynesism triumphant. Whitlam, like previous prime ministers, had never become intimately involved in economic decision-making. He failed to give primacy to economic matters, a practice now required of governments.
His government, having long focused on wealth distribution, had little idea about its creation. Whitlam appealed less to people's material instincts than to their better instincts. The economy would run itself, with Treasury help, and the program would be financed from economic growth. But the quadrupling of oil prices in 1973 ended that and the government allowed the economy to run out of control.
Whitlam's adherence to the program sprang from the belief that political promises should be kept, but economic reality mugged the program. The 1974 Budget was a mess. Whitlam replaced Treasurer Frank Crean with Cairns, who rejected Treasury advice and chose an expansionary fiscal policy to combat recession. Cairns was replaced in 1975 by Bill Hayden, who brought restraint and responsibility. It was too late.
The Loans and Morosi affairs gave the Opposition leader, Malcolm Fraser, the "reprehensible circumstances" he used to force an election by blocking Supply in the Senate. Rex Connor, Minister for Minerals and Energy, who wanted to build a powerful nation by harnessing Australia's resources, kept trying for a $4 billion loan from the Middle East after the government had ruled it out. Juni Morosi, an attractive Eurasian, was distracting Cairns. Whitlam sacked both for misleading parliament, but he had failed to control his cabinet.
Although John Kerr acted within his constitutional rights, the debate as to whether he should have dismissed the democratically elected government survives Whitlam's death. The modern test of the reserve powers under which Kerr acted was resolved in Britain in 1913, when King George V decided in favour of the people's house, the Commons, by not using the powers.
The vice-regal action tarnished the Australian political system. Malcolm Fraser's coalition won the ensuing election with a 55-seat majority but would have won anyhow, with runaway inflation, high interest rates and growing unemployment. Labor won power in NSW only six months later and nationally eight years later, but the political system attracted new levels of cynicism from 1975.
The lesson for Labor was that, despite the fact that many western countries fared just as badly after the oil shocks and that Whitlam introduced economic reform with a 25 per cent tariff cut, future governments must give primacy to economics.
The Hawke and Keating governments took the lesson. Describing Whitlam as "one of the most respected and admired figures in labour party politics the world over", British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that Whitlam's was a modernising government that had paved the way for the Hawke and Keating governments and that British Labour had learnt from them.
Revelations that the ALP had sought $500,000 from Iraq's Baath Socialist Party to help finance the 1975 campaign further damaged Whitlam. East Timor also threatened his reputation.
Critics claimed that Whitlam, prime minister in the lead-up to Indonesia's invasion of the former Portuguese colony in 1975, gave the Indonesian president a "green light" to take over East Timor by force of arms. Whitlam and Soeharto met when the Vietnam war was fresh in Australian hearts and minds and the West was disengaging from Asia. The record shows that, while Whitlam - and western governments generally - believed that the most desirable outcome would be for East Timor to be incorporated into Indonesia, this could be achieved only through self-determination by the East Timorese. The question is whether Whitlam pushed hard enough for self-determination. Although he made several references to self-determination, he seems not to have considered the consequences if the Timorese rejected incorporation. The evidence points to a lack of insistence on self-determination.
After the election, Whitlam offered the leadership to Hayden, who declined, before challenging a year later and losing to Whitlam, 30-32. Whitlam's loss in the 1977 election was even more devastating than in the unique circumstances of 1975. "This  was the people's rejection of Edward Gough Whitlam," Freudenberg wrote. When his eldest son, Tony, failed in St George, the father said, his voice breaking: "It's his name ..."
Yet Whitlam had not lost his sense of optimism, his faith in humanity or in parliament. He was free of bitterness. "Bitterness is a vice," he said. "It destroys." He believed politics remained an honourable profession and that parliament was Australia's instrument for reform and equality.
The Hawke Government appointed him Ambassador to UNESCO, the post to which Fraser had sent Kerr. On his return, he became chairman of the Australian National Gallery. He accepted other government and university appointments, travelled widely, addressed all manner of gatherings, wrote books and articles, campaigned for press freedom and human rights with his old adversary Fraser, was a regular at opening nights and advertised spaghetti sauce.
Kerr's sacking of Whitlam's government on November 11, 1975, was proclaimed by Kerr's secretary, David Smith, who finished by asking God to save the Queen. "Well may we say 'God save the Queen' because nothing will save the governor-general," Whitlam responded, urging supporters to "maintain the rage and enthusiasm". In later years he sometimes revealed a wistfulness about what might have been: "People remember that speech better than any other speech I made in Parliament."
Whitlam rarely doubted himself, which was both a strength and a weakness. He shaped public opinion rather than react to opinion polls. He turned the ALP from its tight trade unionism to a more open, ambitious social democracy, making Labor a credible alternative government again after 23 years. He made people laugh, a rare quality in politicians. His wit endured. When a carer asked him, at 97, if he had four children, he replied: "So far."
Few Australians in public life can have had such a passion for their country and such a vision of its possibilities. He said in his 1997 book, Abiding Interests, his "epistle to the Australians", that his abiding interests for Australia would end only "with a long and fortunate life". Margaret Whitlam, whom he described as his best appointment and most constant critic, died in 2012, a month before their 70th wedding anniversary. Gough Whitlam is survived by his sons Tony, Nick and Stephen; daughter Catherine and sister Freda.
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