September 12

Reinventing history





Until Prime Minister Paul Keating put republicanism on to the serious political agenda, it would have remained where it belongs –in endless chatter in the salons of the inner city elites of Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.

While Paul Keating’s agenda for Australia was overwhelmingly rejected by the nation, he had and has an apparent belief in his own infallibility, and is not reluctant to reinvent history.  He asserted on more than one occasion that the Constitution was written in the Foreign Office (curiously not the Colonial Office) and imposed on Australians.  As anyone knows, or ought to know, our Constitution was written by Australians in Australia and approved by Australians.

Mr. Keating, the ultra-republican who says our Australian National Flag “ gets up his nose,” has been caught out re-inventing history again in the course of predicting that the Prime Minister would lose his seat in the coming federal election.  In the current tsunami of opinion polls, which over-excite the media to the point of embarassment, a Galaxy poll for the Sunday Telegraph had suggested the Prime Minister John Howard will lose his seat to ex ABC journalist Maxine McKew. (The poll was taken just after the last interest rate rise, but Galaxy did not answer a claim published in that newspaper that it had rejected respondents over 60 and those who had no mortgage. The pollster had the opportunity to reply; they had an opinion piece in the next edition.) 

If these polls are correct in predicting the results of the federal election, it means the Howard government will suffer a greater loss than the landslides in 1996 and 1975 against the Keating and Whitlam governments.  Given the state of the economy, this is highly unlikely.  Labor needs 16 seats to win government; on some polls, it will win 50 and the coalition will be reduced to a small rump of around 40 seats.  This has not stopped a panic, including one among some conservative commentators who are calling for the Prime Minister’s head.   ACM is of course politically unaligned,  and only hopes for a decent representation in the next parliament of the overwhelming view of Australians, that is, respect for and preservation of our constitutional heritage and the Australian National Flag.

So what was Mr Keating’s latest invention?

In the context of the Galaxy poll, he launched a brutal attack on the memory of Stanley Melbourne Bruce, later Viscount Bruce, (pictured) who in 1929 became the only Australian Prime to lose his seat. Mr. Keating dismissed him as "that dreadful old fop who used to wear spats."   “Coming from a dandy with a taste for Zegna suits and French empire clocks, that sounds a bit rich,” responded The Australian’s economic editor Alan Wood in a piece, “Defeat would owe more to timing than IR anger,” on 12 September, 2007.  Neither Bruce nor Keating were old when they became prime minister, but Bruce was younger, 39 to Keating’s 47. When Keating reads the rest of Alan Woods exposé, he should be embarrassed and withdraw his comment. As for being “a dreadful old fop,” Alan Wood says: ”Bruce fought at Gallipoli, where he was seriously wounded. He was wounded again fighting on the Western Front, this time severely enough to be invalided out. He was awarded the Military Cross, and the Croix de Geurre avec Palme by the French. In short, he was a war hero.”   

“He did wear spats, but even here all is not what it seems. According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Bruce wore a borrowed pair of spats to a football match one cold, damp Melbourne day to keep the chill off an old ankle injury. When the vulgar press lampooned him, he responded characteristically by defiantly taking up spats.  Bruce was a figure of substance both in Australia and on the international stage, not the figure of fun of Labor mythology.  If to the modern eye he often looks more British than Australian, he was a man of his time and class: the prosperous merchant class. It was a time when 70 per cent of Australians still identified themselves as British. “

In the meantime, Mr. Rudd’s use of Mandarin at a dinner for the Chinese President provoked an opinion piece in The Australian on 11 September, 2007, by one Dennis Glover a former speechwriter to Kim Beazley, Simon Crean and Mark Latham.  He said that the decision by the Prime Minister to allow Mr. Rudd to speak was made “recklessly” and was “ uncharacteristically democratic.” This is completely untrue, but the clear implication is that no clever politician would have allowed this. I understand this is the essence of the criticism of John Howard – that he is a “clever politician.”

I was reminded of  a lunch for The Queen at Darling Harbor, after the referendum, when the Prime Minister and  Premier Carr spoke. But so did Opposition Leader Kim Beazley, who said he still wanted a republic, even if the people did not. The point was the NSW Leader of the Opposition did not speak – she was not even placed at the high table.  She was put on a table with everyone else. That was how Bob Carr dealt with the Leader of the Opposition –don’t give her any oxygen.  

But Mr. Howard has consistently allowed the Opposition Leader to speak on all great occasions, which is testament to the man's decency and sense of propriety. That a political speechwriter does not understand that the Prime Minister was behaving as he should, and that he made an error in allowing Kevin Rudd to speak, indicates what happens to standards of proper behaviour when the spin doctors take control.



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