August 8

Paul Keating re-enters the debate – or did he ever leave it?


“ It is a sobering fact to recall that this elite agenda (republicanism) would have been no more than the stuff of ( Sydney) Eastern suburbs dinner parties, but for the elevation of one Paul Keating to the Prime Ministership of the Commonwealth,” ( Twilight of the Elites, 2003).

Paul Keating was interviewed on the ABC’s 730 Report on 6 August, 2008 on the important issue of national superannuation, a policy introduced while Mr. Keating was Prime Minister.

He had that day launched  “Unfinished Business: Paul Keating's Interrupted Revolution ,” by David Love. Among the admiring audience was controversial imam  Taj Din al-Hilali, accompanied by  Keysar Trad.

Hilali had come to Australia on a temporary visa in the early 1980s and was about to be deported by Labor immigration minister the Hon.Chris Hurford. Prime Minister Keating overruled his minister.

DD McNichol recalled in  The Australian’s “ Strewth” column the next morning  that Hilali most famously used his Lakemba pulpit to compare scantily clad women to uncovered meat. “Happily,” Mr. McNichol observe no  steak tartare was sereved at the launch.

Paul Keating, who referred to his opponents as “dopes” and “nongs”  rarely misses an opportunity to attack the constitutional system  and the Australian Flag which he says “ gets up his nose”,  as this exchange on the 730 Report demonstrates.



"That is I think, I mean, our bread is buttered in China and Japan, our strategic bread is buttered in Indonesia. These are the places and of course these are the places we lost ground with the deputy, Mr Howard, the flirt with Hansonism, that's going to be very hard to make back.

" So I think the repositioning of Australia and also to say goodbye to QE2. You can't get around in Asia saying by the way we borrowing the monarch of another country, the Queen of Great Britain is our head of state. 


" So a part of Labor's narrative should be a Republic? 


"Should be a Republic. Sure.”

…an irrational and visceral hatred….


Mr. Keating’s republicanism belongs to another era. It is fuelled by an irrational and visceral hatred of one of this nation’s closest friends, Great Britain.

 During Question Time in Parliament on 27 February 1992 , as Prime Minister, Paul Keating actually  accused Britain of abandoning Australia to the Japanese during the Second World War.

He said that Britain was the 'country which decided not to defend the Malayan peninsula, not to worry about Singapore and not to give us our troops back to keep ourselves free from Japanese domination.'  

Few historians would agree with Mr. Keating’s interpretation of those events.

This was not the first time that Paul Keating has displayed not only ignorance, but a destructive viciousness that did neither him nor the country any good.

Had he launched such an untrue and hostile attack on any other power, it would have become a major diplomatic incident.

Reflecting their maturity and sophistication, the British decided not to react.

Professor Geoffrey Blainey has just written on the fall of Singapore. This was in August 2008 issue The Australian Literary Review.

In “From Colony to Coloniser,”  Professor Blainey reviewed “Australia's Empire,” a collection of essays edited by Deryck M. Schreuder and Stuart Ward for Oxford University Press, 419pp, Aus $99.95.

He approves the editors observation that even today,, "Australians have found it difficult to shed the mantle of a colonial power in the Pacific."

The theme he says seems simple but is intensely complicated.

Professor Bainey rejects the simplistic interpretation that  Australia's role in the  British Empire was just as  “a loyal cheer squad,” as Paul Keating puts it , busily touching the forelock.

He points out that  even in war time  Australians could express a range of attitudes towards Britain.

“In peacetime, Protestants and Catholics could differ, and the competing Protestant sects could view Britain differently. Aborigines and whites could differ. Victorians and north Queenslanders could differ: in the 1870s Victoria was busily trying to keep out British manufactured imports and preaching the ideology of protectionism at a time when Britain was the apostle of the rival doctrine of free trade.

“Even when Australia consisted of six colonies they could defy Britain on what they saw as a vital matter of regional security. One result was that Papua became an Australian colony and the Torres Strait an Australian seaway.  

“In the era of tierce party politics in the 20th century, Liberal and Labor, as well as country and city, could each differ in their attitudes to Britain's policies. “

As Professor Blainey notes, Republican historian Dr.Mark McKenna writes in this book  that the Labor Party was nowhere near as republican as some supporters in recent years liked to think.

After all, it was a Labor Prime Minister who recommended the appointment  of a member of the Royal Family as Governor-General.

Illustrating the difference between Australia and Britain, he takes as an example the fact that in the mid-19th century Catholic priests were on the government's payroll, “something unimaginable in England.

[We shall return to Professor Blainey's views on the fall of Singapore – and ours – in the next column]


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