Saturday 22 October 2011

Labor lacks a story: Paul Keating

Keating says the Rudd and Gillard governments have failed to devise an "overarching and compelling" story and that Labor has failed to represent the new economic class that was brought into existence by the party's earlier reforms.

In an exclusive interview with The Weekend Australian to mark the serialisation of his new book, After Words, Mr Keating declares his faith in Labor's future but identifies the strategic defects behind its voting collapse.

"Labor must recognise what it has created," the former prime minister said. "It has created a new society and it has to be the party of the new society. "It can't be the party of part of the old society. Labor must be the party of those people who gained from the pro-market growth economy that we created" -- a reference to the Hawke-Keating-era reforms. He added: "Labor must be open to the influences of this middle class, to people on  Keating's guide to help people see the unifying philosophy of his life, public and private.

While praising Labor for its management of the 2008 financial crisis, Mr Keating said the Rudd and Gillard governments were not "in the business of teaching". "The failure of the Rudd and Gillard administrations is the lack of an overarching story, the lack of a compelling story," he said. "Our Labor governments have failed to conceptualise the changes." He complained that the "great curse" of modern political life was incrementalism by leaders. But Mr Keating argued that Labor still had a "great role" as a moderate party of the Left. He was dismissive of the Greens and critical of Labor's handling of the Greens.

"I would not be at all concerned about an attack from the Left by the Greens," he said. "You can run off, one after another, Labor environmental achievements. It was only when the Labor government walked away from climate change that the Greens filled the void. "They have to be pushed back into their crack, pushed back into their box, which I think is relatively easy to do. I'm not certain that a formal alliance between the Greens and Labor is beneficial to Labor any more than it is beneficial to the Greens."

Mr Keating said he had had little contact with Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, as prime ministers in office. "I noticed in the ABC mini-series on the Prime Minister they had me been calling her and urging something," he said. "But I don't do that. It's inaccurate. I have spoken to her but only at her request. "The most important consultation I had with Kevin Rudd was when the financial system was about to collapse in 2008. I urged him without further ado to guarantee all the deposits and to underwrite the international term funding of our banks. We know the history."

Mr Keating's 628-page book covers a landscape of speeches, reflections and articles. It includes a personalised view of his leadership philosophy that the former prime minister has not previously revealed. "When I was listening to music I would always have the pad out to write the ideas down," he said. "You listen to a great work, something that was created afresh, you hear the majesty of these works and your head and soul gets caught up in them."This is not to say that rationalism isn't important and good. It is. But left to itself without the guidance of higher meaning and a higher concept rationalism can be mean and incomplete."

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