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Keating laments Australia's political leadership deficit


Australian politics is suffering a leadership deficit which has left a gap for populists such as Pauline Hanson, argues Paul Keating in a new book published today.

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The former prime minister offers his views on the state of the nation and gives scathing character assessments of a number of Labor figures including Bill Shorten in Paul Keating: The Big Picture Leader (Scribe), by historian and newspaper columnist Troy Bramston.

The book draws on 15 hours of new interviews with the former Labor leader as well as interviews with many of the key political players since the Gough Whitlam era.

Keating says neither Malcolm Turnbull nor Shorten have the “vision” or “ambition” Australia demands.

“We have had a leadership deficit in as much as the leadership has not been able to frame a new economic and strategic agenda for Australia,” he says.

“To change a country, you have to pull the responsibility for it down on to your own shoulders. It can’t be simply laid off to other people. You’ve got to do it … you have to take the responsibility.”

Recent governments had been unable to deliver economic reform or repair the budget because they lacked “political authority”.

Labor had walked away from the Hawke-Keating legacy and in vacating the centre in politics would struggle to win elections.

“The Labor Party today has not taken ownership and leadership of its own creation: that is the huge and wealthy middle-class economy which Labor exclusively created,” Keating says.

“Labor has now, and has had, the core Labor program, and it’s now got the core Labor vote, which is about 35 per cent.

“Labor is now being attacked by the Greens in the capital cities, where votes are being sheared off. And it is being attacked by people like Pauline Hanson, who are pulling away blue-collar workers. But it is not getting concomitant support from the centre, which is locked up under the coalition’s 42 per cent of the primary vote — and that is because it has lost the ability to speak aspirationally to people and to fashion policies to meet those aspirations.”

One of the most colourful parts of the book is the section on Labor’s 1996 election defeat to John Howard, which reveals the frustration Keating felt with the way the campaign was run.

The depth of those frustrations is vividly captured in margin notes the former Labor leader makes on newspaper clippings.

On then NSW premier Bob Carr, he writes “Carr is killing us in NSW” and “Carr has murdered us”.

He lashes out at former finance minister Peter Walsh as “Sid Vicious to the end”.

On Labor strategists Bob Hogg and Gary Gray, as they struggled to organise a leaders’ debate, he writes: “Same as 1993 – Hogg and Gray are defeatists”.

Interestingly, Gray hits back saying Labor lost the election – based a one-word campaign theme “Leadership” – because voters “thought our record stunk”.

“Leadership was the only bus leaving the bus station. It wasn’t much of a bus, but it was the only one leaving.”


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