Paul Keating Turns 70

Former Prime Minister Paul Keating turns 70 today.

Keating was 25 when he entered the House of Representatives as the Labor member for Blaxland in October 1969. He was 47 when he became Australia’s 24th prime minister in December 1991. He remained PM until March 1996 when he was defeated by John Howard’s coalition.

Keating

Keating’s first ministerial appointment came in the dying days of the Whitlam government. Following the sacking of Minerals and Energy minister Rex Connor, Keating became Minister for Northern Australia on October 21, 1975, serving for three weeks until the government was dismissed by the Governor-General on November 11. He is the youngest of the eleven surviving ministers of the Whitlam governments. [Read more...]


1986-87 Hawke Government Cabinet Papers Released

Cabinet Papers from the Hawke government’s second and third terms of 1986-87 have been released by the National Archives.

Hawke Cabinet

Former Senator Gareth Evans, a Cabinet minister of the time, described the Hawke government, then in its fourth and fifth years, as a “government pretty much at the top of its form”.

Evans was Minister for Resources and Energy in the second Hawke government until 1987 and Minister for Transport and Communications after the government’s re-election for a third term on July 11, 1987. Now Honorary Professorial Fellow at the Australian National University, Evans spoke at the release of the Cabinet Papers and took questions from journalists.

Dr. Jim Stokes, National Archives historical consultant, presented a paper on the background to the political events of 1986-87. The full text and audio appears below.

  • National Archives – 1986 and 1987 Cabinet Papers
  • Listen to introductions from Len Marsden and Senator George Brandis at the Cabinet Papers release (8m)

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Text of remarks by Gareth Evans at the National Archives release of the 1986-87 Cabinet Papers.

Evans

  • Listen to Gareth Evans (21m)

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  • Listen to Gareth Evans respond to questions (26m)

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Thank you very much Len Marsden – and especially to Jim Stokes for a terrifically professional career: every best wish for the future after a fabulous contribution to this enterprise for so long. [Read more...]


At America’s Cup 30th Anniversary, Bob Hawke Tells A Joke

Today is the 30th anniversary of Australia’s victory over the United States in the America’s Cup yacht race.

Bob Hawke had been prime minister for six months when Australia II, skippered by John Bertrand, defeated Liberty, skippered by Dennis Conner. Australia II was designed by Ben Lexcen with a revolutionary and controversial ‘winged keel’. Representing the Royal Perth Yacht Club, Australia II was funded by businessman Alan Bond.

Australia II’s victory was the first time in 132 years that the Americans had been defeated.

Even though few Australians knew much about the race, it captured the public imagination at the time. On the day of victory, Bob Hawke appeared on morning television wearing a specially made jacket. His appearance is remembered for his declaration: “Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum.”

  • Watch Hawke’s 1983 America’s Cup appearance:

At an event to celebrate the 30th anniversary today, Bob Hawke appeared with Bertrand and Bond and told a joke that he said captures the “irreverence” of Australians:

  • Watch Bob Hawke’s 2013 joke:

Medicare 30th Anniversary

Medicare is 30 years old today.

MedicareThe legislation to establish the universal health insurance system was passed on this day in 1983, six months after the election of the Hawke Labor government.

As it still still does today, Medicare is partly funded by a 1.5% levy on all taxpayers. It allows doctors to provide medical care at no cost to patients through bulk billing. Alternatively, Medicare reimburses patients 85% of a scheduled fee which allows doctors to determine their own charges with patients paying the balance. Medicare also provides for basic public hospital cover with patients able to take out additional private insurance. Health professionals with a Medicare provider number are also included in the scheme.

Medicare’s history begins with Gough Whitlam in the 1970s. The health insurance scheme was developed by health economist Richard Scotton and John Deeble. Under Whitlam, the scheme was called Medibank and was a major plank in Whitlam’s 1972 election platform. [Read more...]


Julia Gillard’s Place Amongst The List Of Australian Prime Ministers

It’s January, it’s the holiday season, but it’s also an election year, so let’s play with some historical data.

Don’t take it too seriously, but 2013 offers a number of interesting possibilities for Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Gillard is the 27th person to serve as prime minister in the 112 years of Australia’s federation. She is the 11th Labor prime minister.

Gillard is currently the 17th longest serving prime minister, having exceeded the terms of 10 prime ministers, 7 from the conservative side (Page, McEwen, Fadden, Reid, Cook, McMahon & Holt) and 3 from Labor (Forde, Watson & Scullin).

Of the ten PMs Gillard has already overtaken, only three ever won an election (Cook in 1913, Scullin in 1929 & Holt in 1966). None could be regarded as raging successes.

  • Joseph Cook called a double dissolution in 1914 and became one of the first casualties of the Great War. Andrew Fisher, the Labor PM Cook had defeated in 1913, returned to the post.
  • James Scullin’s government, elected one week before the Wall Street crash ushered in the Great Depression in 1929, split three ways and was demolished at at an early election by his former Treasurer, Joe Lyons, who had defected to the conservatives.
  • Harold Holt won a smashing victory against the ALP and Arthur Calwell in 1966. At the time of his death by drowning in 1967, his leadership was under threat from rivals within and from without by a rampant Gough Whitlam.

Three of the prime ministers Gillard has overtaken (Page, Forde & McEwen) assumed the office on a temporary basis following the death of the incumbent.

  • The Country Party leader Earle Page served for 20 days after Lyons died in 1939. Despite a vicious verbal assault by Page, the United Australia Party elected Menzies as their new leader.
  • Frank Forde was prime minister for 8 days after John Curtin died in 1945. He continued serving as the ALP’s deputy leader after Ben Chifley became leader but lost his seat at the 1946 election.
  • Like Page, John McEwen was leader of the Country Party when he became prime minister after the death of Harold Holt. His major achievement in this time was to threaten to bring down the government if the Liberals chose McMahon to replace Holt. He succeeded in delaying McMahon’s accession to the position for another three years.

Two of the prime ministers Gillard has surpassed (Watson & Reid) served briefly after upheaval in the House of Representatives.

  • John Christian (Chris) Watson became the first Labor PM after the House amended Alfred Deakin’s Conciliation and Arbitration Bill. Deakin handed the job to Watson who lasted nearly four months until the House passed another amendment to the same bill. The Governor-General refused to grant Watson an election and Reid took over.
  • George Reid lasted for 10 months until the House amended the Address-in-Reply and the Governor-General again refused to grant an election. Deakin returned for the second of his three terms as prime minister.

The 10th prime minister Gillard has overtaken (Fadden) would appreciate the position she has faced for the past two years.

  • Arthur Fadden was Country Party leader when a joint meeting of the United Australia Party and the Country Party made him prime minister in 1940 after Robert Menzies resigned. Even though the UAP had elected the 77-year-old Billy Hughes as their leader, it wasn’t thought he was sufficiently able-bodied to return to the post he had last held in 1922. Fadden lasted for 40 days until the two independents who held the balance of power in the hung parliament tossed him out in favour of Labor’s John Curtin.

Gillard’s achievement in rising to 17th place in the list of longest serving prime ministers doesn’t look overly impressive when you consider the circumstances of the 10 men she has overtaken.

In terms of prime ministerial longevity, what does 2013 hold in store for Gillard? [Read more...]


1984-85 Hawke Government Cabinet Papers Released

The National Archives has released Cabinet papers from the 1984-85 Hawke Labor government.

Because the Archives is transitioning from the old 30-year embargo rule to 20 years, two years worth of papers have been released.

CLICK HERE for details of the Cabinet documents.

Dr. Jim Stokes, the National Archives historical consultant, outlined the political climate of the time, whilst a former Hawke minister, Susan Ryan, provided a personal recollection of 1984-85. Transcripts of their talks are provided below.

  • Listen to Dr. Jim Stokes (21m)

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  • Listen to Susan Ryan (27m)

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  • Watch an ABC News report (3m)

Text of remarks by Dr. Jim Stokes – December 4, 2012.

Background to the 1984 and 1985 Cabinet records

The political background

Journalist Geoff Kitney wrote in May 1984, ‘The light on the hill that has always beckoned the Australian Labor Party still burns. But another light illuminates the Australian political landscape today: the dazzling, brilliant blaze of Bob Hawke’s popularity’. A Morgan Gallup poll in February 1984 gave the government 54 per cent of the vote, against 40 per cent for the Liberal–National Party Opposition and 4 per cent for the Australian Democrats; Prime Minister Hawke’s approval rating was 70 per cent, against 36 per cent for Opposition Leader Andrew Peacock. Hawke’s personal popularity was enhanced by the perception that he was presiding over a generally competent Cabinet that was prepared to tackle major issues in ways that sought to achieve community consensus. He was also assisted by the internal problems of the Opposition, in particular Peacock’s uncertain hold on the Liberal Party leadership, the ideological conflict between the ‘wets’ and ‘dries’ on economic and social policy, and the strength of the very conservative National Party in Queensland. [Read more...]


Julia Gillard And Bob Hawke Speak At Woodford Folk Festival

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has appeared at the Woodford Folk Festival with her Labor predecessor Bob Hawke.

Gillard told the gathering that the “big decisions” made by her government “would have been effectively the same” even if the government had not operated in a minority.

She said that she wanted to launch the National Disability Insurance Scheme on July 1st and deliver “further education reforms” before “we get around to winning that election”.

Woodford

  • Listen to Gillard and Hawke at Woodford (42m)

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Gillard said she was an “incredible optimist” and cited her own life story as one that “instills a sense of optimism in me”. She said that “it says something wonderful about this place” that she could come to Australia aged 4 and become the first female prime minister. “Why wouldn’t you be optimistic about the future?”

Woodford

Bob Hawke said that no predecessor or successor of his “has had as much difficulty with the processes of politics” as Gillard has. Despite not controlling the numbers, “the legislative record of this government is quite remarkable,” he said.

Hawke said that Gillard had been subject “to some unfair criticism because she’s a woman”.

There were cheers from the crowd when Gillard referred to her misogyny speech. She said one upside to her experience was talking to girls about going into politics. She told the story of a woman who told her young son that he could become PM, only to be told by the boy: “No, mum, you need to be a girl to do that.” [Read more...]