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Paul Keating – A Chronology

This page was taken from the official website of the Australian Labor Party, circa late 1990s. Its author is unknown.

Paul Keating

When Paul Keating polled 61 per cent of the votes to win the federal seat of Blaxland at the age of 25, the sages of the Labor Party and the media identified him as a future leader. Keating won the campaign with a combination of hard work, cunning, showmanship, political perspective, an Instinctive ability to weigh numbers and factional strengths and a deep understanding of how his party works. He had already shown, in a cliff-hanging preselection, a trait which would help to shape his career: in politics, when Paul Keating wants something, he fights for it, and he keeps fighting until he wins. The skills he was developing were those of a master tactician; his determination was of an intensity that made his ascent to power seem inevitable.

Keating, as a novice opposition backbencher, showed his impatience from the outset. He made speeches aimed at changing policy, criticised the government and worked hard at making his way through the ranks. He put a huge effort into his own education, soaking up information from older figures in parliament. Just as he had absorbed an encyclopedia knowledge of the party and its history from Labor’s tribal elders, he was now learning the political and parliamentary tactics that would serve him through the skirmishes and battles of the party rooms and the parliament. Keating’s contradictory political personality was taking shape. His detailed sense of Labor history and of the party’s philosophy and ideology stamped him as a traditionalist, but his visions drove him to create change, to unshackle the party, from the restraints of hard-line prejudices. The process made enemies of many on his own side of politics. He did not care. They were wrong; they were troglodytes. During the seven years Labor was in opposition, before winning power in 1983, Keating developed a reputation as someone capable of reshaping and revitalising the party.

In government, and in the role of treasurer for eight-and-a-half years, Keating drew on the strengths and knowledge he had marshaled along the way. Trained all his life as a political fighter, he thrives on challenges and opposition. From his controversial pre-selection in 1968 to his elevation to the prime ministership 23 years later, he has seemed to enjoy overcoming setbacks and to welcome new, battles. The weapons he fights with include verbal skills of almost mesmerising persuasiveness. These he has used to cast spells over otherwise skeptical journalists, turning adversaries into admirers. In the party committee rooms where deals arc done and bargains struck, he uses then to woo opponents into changing, even reversing, their views. In the parliament Keating’s language becomes a lethal sabre, a barrage of invective that leaves his opposition stunned. He wins with words.

He is a driven man, a zealot, determined to do something memorable with his life. To his enemies this is sheer ego at work; to his supporters it is a rare level of commitment His record as financial reformer during the 1980s when he helped reshape Australia’s banking and financial system, and introduced important changes to the tax system as well as wide-ranging reforms to superannuation – will endure. Keating’s tenacity and resolution are apparent in his achievements but it is the setbacks he has overcome that show his extraordinary ability to bounce back and continue the fight After a significant and most public, reversal in 1985, when the consumption tax for which he had fought with a passion was dumped, Keating climbed back into the ring to push through other measures he wanted adopted. The year before, he had argued strenuously in favour of foreign banks, turning Labor’s antagonism to the harking sector on its head. This was tantamount to rewriting his party’s ideology – but his persuasiveness prevailed. In June 1991, Keating suffered what by most standards would be seen as a crippling setback when his leadership challenge failed. It could have been the end of his career: characteristically he retreated, remobilised, resumed battle – and won.

A pragmatic product of thc Right of the NSW ALP, Keating, succeeded at 47 in crowning a life in politics with the job he bad aspired to since, in his early twenties, he door-knocked around his electorate. The creed of right-wing Labor is to get things done, and that means having power. He reached for power, and took it.

Keating fulfilled both the prophecy and his own ambitions at a point where the government and the country demanded rebuilding. He faced a formidable task. It was an irony that the Hawke-Keating partnership, which had been the source of so much strength for the Labor government since its election to federal power in 1983, was, by l991, the canker leaching away its reserves as the battle for supremacy was played out, Keating, prime minister in waiting for more years than he would have wished, inherited a diminished legacy.

On the night of 19 December 1991, after winning the prime ministerial ballot, a solemn Keating confessed to being ‘a little nervous at the great responsibility that the Labor party has entrusted to me tonight’. In his early appearances as prime minister he gave careful, measured, at times almost hesitant, performances that were in stark contrast to the bombastic exhibitions associated with Keating as treasurer. Just as in early 1983 he had appeared almost overwhelmed by the coming demands of the Treasury portfolio, before quickly mastering the brief, so he now seemed daunted by the burden of responsibilities he was to carry. He faced marrying the vigour and tenacity that were his hallmark as treasurer with the compassion, breadth and status of a national leader who has to demonstrate a grasp of a wide sweep of issues. And there would be no euphoria, no honeymoon, at the outset of this prime ministership. Unlike most new leaders, Keating assumed his role at the head of a largely hostile populace. He would have to govern a country deeply hurt by recession and, somehow, claw back enough popularity for Labor to give it a fighting chance of remaining in government.

The Keating Chronology

  • 18 January 1944: Paul John Keating born in St Margaret’s Hospital, Paddington.
  • 17 January 1958: joins Bankstown branch of the ALP on the eve of his 15th birthday.
  • September 1966: elected president of the New South Wales Youth Council, the forerunner of Young Labor.
  • 25 October 1969: elected to the House of Representatives in the seat of Blaxland, NSW, age 25.
  • 17 January 1975: marries Annita (Anna Johanna Maria Van Iersel), a Dutch-born international flight attendant.
  • 21 October 1975: becomes the youngest federal Labor minister in history when appointed minister for Northern Australia upon The resignation of Rex Connor, three weeks before the sacking of the Whitlam government.
  • 25 March 1976: promoted to shadow cabinet as Labor’s spokesman on minerals and energy.
  • 21 September 1979: elected unopposed as president of the ALP in NSW, succeeding John Ducker. Believed to be the youngest president in the history of the NSW branch.
  • 14 January 1983: appointed shadow treasurer by Labor leader, Bill Hayden.
  • 5 March 1983: becomes treasurer in the Hawke government.
  • 14 May l986: warns that Australia could become a "banana republic".
  • 25 November 1988: enters a secret pact With Hawke at Kirribilli House in the presence of Sir Peter Abeles and Bill Kelty for a leadership transition after the 1990 election.
  • 4 April 1990: sworn in as deputy prime minister.
  • 29 November 1990: announces that Australia is in the recession Australia "had to have".
  • 7 December 1990: addresses the annual dinner of the parliamentary press gallery, providing Hawke with his justification for reneging on the Kirriblili pact.
  • 23 May 1991: becomes longest serving federal treasurer in Labor Party history, surpassing the 2996-day record of Ben Chifley.
  • 3 June 1991: resigns to the backbench after failing to defeat Bob Hawke in a caucus ballot for the prime ministership, 44-66 votes.
  • 20 December 1991: sworn in as prime minister the day after caucus votes, 56-51, to depose a sitting Labor prime minister.
  • 26 February 1992: delivers the One Nation statement, committing the government to tax cuts as part of a strategy for recovery.
  • 21 April 1992: visits Indonesia in his first overseas trip as prime minister.
  • 18 May 1992: Graham Richardson resigns from cabinet over the Marshall Islands affair.
  • 3 June 1992: the High Court hands down the landmark Mabo decision.
  • 10 December 1992: delivers Redfern speech, acknowledging profound injustice suffered by Australia’s indigenous people.
  • 7 February 1993: calls a general election.
  • 13 March 1993: leads Labor to victory over a coalition led by Dr John Hewson.
  • 23 March 1993: John Hewson retains leadership of the Libera1 Party in a contest with John Howard, 47 votes to 30.
  • 21 April 1993: promises far-reaching reform in industrial relations in a speech to the Institute of Company Directors in Melbourne.
  • 28 April 1993: sets out the priorities for the next three years in the Evatt Memorial lecture, saying the principal aim will be to reduce unemployment while focusing on the implications of the High Court Mabo decision and laying out a framework to achieve a republic.
  • 30 April 1993: outlines another aspect of the agenda, proposing a vastly expanded role for the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum.
  • 11 June 1993: principal advisor, John Russell, appointed ambassador to the United States.
  • 18 June 1993: announces legislation to implement thc High Court’s Mabo judgement on Aboriginal land title.
  • 22 July 1993: announces the bringing forward of the first round of the One Nation tax cuts to help revive thc economy, but the delaying of the second round until "probably" 1998.
  • 17 August 1993: the federal budget includes a $1.3 billion increase in indirect taxation as part of a deficit-reducing strategy.
  • 22 0ctober 1993: after two months of torturous negotiations, the federal budget is passed.
  • 21 November 1993: leaders of 14 of the world’s fastest-growing economies embrace APEC as a "new voice" on the world stage.
  • 17 December 1993: John Dawkins announces his decision to retire for personal reasons.
  • 21 December 1993: declares a "new deal" for Aborigines after Mabo legislation is passed in the Senate.
  • 8 February 1994: announces a roster system for Question Time, under which ministers will appear on two days each week, instead of every Question time.
  • 28 February 1994: Environment and Sports Minister, Ros Kelly, resigns over the so-called "sports rorts" affair after months of criticism over her allocation of $30 million in sports grants.
  • 14 March 1994: Health Minister, Graham Richardson, tells Keating he is about to resign from politics.
  • 24 March 1994: names Dr Carmen Lawrence as Health Minister 12 days after her election to Federal Parliament in a by-election in John Dawkins former seat of Fremantle. The same day Keating reveals that he has sold the half-share in a Hunter Valley piggery that he bought in 1991 while he was on the backbench.
  • 4 May 1994: unveils Working Nation, a $6.5 billion commitment over four years to reduce unemployment, with the aim of achieving 5 per cent unemployment by the turn of the century.
  • 10 May 1994: Ralph Willis delivers his first budget, projecting economic growth of 4.5 per cent and a budget deficit for 1995-96 of $11.7 billion.
  • 23 May 1994: Alexander downer becomes Liberal leader, defeating John Hewson by 43 votes to 36.
  • 14 June 1994: puts the question of the flag on the back burner. He says: "I have got an opinion of the flag, but I don’t have a plan for the flag."
  • 26 September 1994:> addresses Labor’s national conference, saying the government has ‘the courage, the love, the labour and the imagination" to lead Australia into the 21st century.
  • 18 0ctober 1994: launches Creative Nation, a cultural policy linking support for the arts to future economic prosperity.
  • 25 0ctober 1994: notches up 25 years service as a federal MP.
  • 15 November 1994: APEC leaders sign the Bogor declaration on free trade, setting the deadline of 2020 for achieving the goal in the Asia-Pacific region.
  • 30 November 1994: national accounts show non-farm growth at 6.4 per cent, making Australia the fastest growing economy in the industrialised world.
  • 14 December 1994: official interest rates are increased for the third time in four months to moderate demand growth and rein in unsustainable growth.
  • 22 December 1994: sets out a timetable to phase-out the export woodchip industry by 2000, after a decision to renew all woodchip licences and increase volume alienates conservationists.
  • 16 January 1995: Ros Kelly resigns from Parliament, citing family reasons, forcing a by-election in her seat of Canberra.
  • 30 January 1995: John Howard becomes Liberal leader after a bloodless handover by Alexander Downer and pledges a new deal for families and a "mainstream" stance on social policy.
  • 25 March 1995: Labor is defeated in the Canberra by-election.
  • 5 May 1995: Richard Court announces a royal commission into the so-called Penny Easton affair, targeting Carmen Lawrence.
  • 9 May 1995: the second Willis budget includes the sale of the government’s majority shareholding in the Commonwealth Bank and diverts the money promised for the second round of One Nation tax cuts to superannuation.
  • 7 June 1995: outlines the government’s model for a minimalist republic, describing the transition as a "small but highly significant step".
  • 16 October 1995: Dr Don Russell returns to Australia nearly a year early to his former job as Keating’s principal advisor.
  • 15 November 1995: the Marks royal commission finds that Carmen Lawrence told untruths about her role in the Easton affair.
  • 19 November 1995: APEC leaders in Osaka agree to a blueprint to advance the Bogor declaration.
  • 18 December 1995: signs an historic security treaty with Indonesia’s President Suharto after eighteen months of secret negotiations.
  • 27 January 1996: calls a general election for 2 March.
  • 2 March 1996: is defeated by a Coalition led by John Howard.
Malcolm Farnsworth
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