Bob Hawke’s long-standing Treasurer, Paul Keating, has attacked his former boss, suggesting he ran the government for most of Mr Hawke’s almost nine years in office.
“To be Prime Minister of Australia, you have got to be lucky,” Mr Keating said at the launch of Gareth Evans’ political diaries in Canberra. “To be Prime Minister for Australia, with five years down time, you’ve got to be more than lucky – and history deserves to know that that’s the way it was.”
Mr Keating said it fell to him as treasurer to “nourish the country with ideas” from 1984 to 1989 – a task he thought should be a leader’s job.
“In his book, Bob says he was down for a month or two. In fact, Bob was down for about five years,” Mr Keating said. (Evans’ book mentions Hawke’s emotional breakdown after learning of his daughter Roslyn’s heroin addiction.)
“The job of the leader is to nourish the country with ideas. You run the debate, you set the framework and push on. In the end, most of that job fell to me in those years,” Mr Keating said.
“We probably get to 1989 before things start to get normal. But this is nearly five years.
“I got on well with him, I still talked him into things, the camaraderie between us was good. I wanted the country to get the changes, more than to get Bob’s job.
“But I won’t have people say that he ran the show from ’84 to ’89. He didn’t.”
“He used to often do this in the nude of, course.”
Mr Hawke is labor’s longest-serving PM, holding office from 1983 to 1992 when he was ousted from the job by Mr Keating who, in turn, was defeated by John Howard in 1996.
In his diaries, Prof Evans recalls visiting Mr Hawke at The Lodge in Canberra, only to find the PM sunbathing. The revelation opened up another line of attack for Mr Keating.
“He used to often do this in the nude of, course,” Mr Keating said. “It does take a certain chutzpah to meet ministers in the nude.”
Prof Evans said the Hawke government was built on robust arguments, strong language and a refusal to passively accept a leader’s decisions.
The current crop of politicians has much to learn from their predecessors, Prof Evans believes.
A key mark of the Hawke-Keating government was its clear policy direction and refusal to let it drown in politics, Prof Evans said.
Cabinet argued everything and wouldn’t succumb passively to the authority of leadership.
“The idea that something as riddled with equity flaws and sitting as incoherently with the government’s larger economic message as Tony Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme … could be accepted passively without demur by a timorous, deferential cabinet was simply inconceivable,” he told guests at the book launch.
The concept of “captain’s calls” didn’t apply and leaders had to accept they ran a true cabinet government.
Unlike governments of today, they welcomed public service advice and were willing to do the hard policy explanations.
“If the focus groups told us we had problems, that was the beginning of the public argument, not the end of it,” Prof Evans said.
He acknowledged today’s 24-hour media cycle put more pressure on politicians.
But too many used a culture of negativity and media preoccupation with personality over policy as an excuse for policy failure, he said.