Australian Politics & Current Affairs
By Nick Kenny
20 years ago, Paul Keating pulled off what Kevin Rudd dreams of repeating – one of the most mind-blowing election comebacks in Australian history.
Against all odds, Keating turned our focus from the past, cast it to the future, and spun the polls around in his favour. He gave us a very clear choice. One question. One fateful decision, presented in full to the Australian people: “what type of country do you want this to be?”. As rocky as his path had been, we knew one thing for certain – we did not want John Hewson’s.
By forcing the bigger picture, Keating showed us our two possible destinations, gave us a ticket to the crossroads of history, and sent us on our way. This is what Rudd must study, revive, and replicate, in less than two weeks, in order to survive.
Keating had a tougher job than Rudd. His economic medicine tasted much worse on the nation’s tongue. With his eyes on further horizons, he’d brought inflation under control at a serious cost – double-digit unemployment, and “the recession we had to have”. Not a single political party in our 92-year federal history had ever been re-elected after crossing the 10% unemployment threshold.
But Keating was also a tougher man. He was a prodigy – the Shane Warne of the political arena. Men like him come along once in a generation, stir the pot in a major way, then sink or swim off the back of their supreme arrogance.
And this time around, Abbott has released nothing. He was front-and-centre in 1993, he cut his teeth on the doomed Fightback campaign, and he saw first-hand the damage done to those stupid enough to ask a democracy to feed the privileged few at the expense of the struggling many.
John Hewson later called Fightback “the longest political suicide note in history”. By releasing this extreme capitalist manifesto, a year before the election, he gave the public a clear understanding what the radicals in his party, the “dries”, intended to do to this country. It also gave Keating a full year to tear Hewson to shreds and expose his grubby plan to divide the country between “haves” and “have-nots”.
Abbott has risked none of this. His is a strategy of evasion, staying in the shadows while the spotlight is squarely upon Labor’s own sins. Since seizing power from Turnbull and the moderates, the Coalition’s radical right-wing have been stubborn, ducking and weaving past every serious question, hiding from legitimate debate as much as possible.
This is a very radical faction, with good reason to hide. They believe proper healthcare and education are negotiable, workers’ rights are whatever scraps employers feel like granting them, and that millions of Australian lives are games to be played. They are the crusty remnants of the “dead and buried” Fightback episode. In Paul’s own words, these are “dogs returning to their own vomit”, a full twenty years after spewing their guts up over a failed election bid.
Keating won the unwinnable in 1993. At the midnight hour, he convinced a frustrated, hurting nation to grit its teeth and demand the Opposition come up with a better offer. Tough as the Keating Revolution had been, we just could not bring ourselves to live under the brutal spectre of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher here in Australia. We’d seen Hewson’s Fightback, we knew what it meant, and we threw it back in the Coalition’s face.
It happened once, and if Rudd has half the mettle Keating ever had, it will happen again. If.