Hamlet without the prince
RECOLLECTIONS OF A BLEEDING HEART: A Portrait of Paul Keating
By Don Watson
Rec. price: $45.00
This is a strange book. The 756 pages overwhelm one’s sense of history, policy analysis and political assessment.
The author kept a daily diary while working in the Prime Minister’s Office, as distinct from the Prime Minister’s Department, and has obviously expanded the daily notes to produce this extensive account without integrating the various topics.
For instance, Mr Keating on three occasions is reported as wishing to undertake some financial support for full-time homemakers, but none eventuates and we are not told whether this was too costly or unacceptable to the feminists and their male supporters within the Office and the Party.
One peculiar feature of the book is that while it is described as “a portrait of Paul Keating, PM”, the author indulges in four pages about himself.
As an historian, who was engaged as a speech-writer, he obviously is not too well-versed with economics and politics. He, at first, incorrectly uses Bill McMahon, Dorothy for Dorothy Dix and speaks of re-inflation for counter cyclical compensatory policy.
His description of his senior colleagues is quite revealing, but their “handling” of the PM, especially by Don Russell, whom the author calls the PM’s alter ego, is startling. Fearless advice is one thing but browbeating the elected leader until he submits on the itinerary of an overseas trip or policy issue is surely another.
While Watson has explained the source of his material for Keating as PM, it is less clear where he obtained his facts about Keating as Treasurer. His revelation that “Paul had developed tinnitus by the time he became Prime Minister” could explain the repeated reference to Mr Keating’s listening to quite loud classical music.
The arm-wrestling between the pointy-heads (economic rationalists) and the bleeding hearts (welfarists) within the Office is quite revealing. It must be concluded that the former won out.
The PM’s fixation about the flag and the republic was not temporised by his office and much of the rhetoric was devoid of constitutional and historical facts. It was purely based on sentimental Celtic nostalgia.
Watson’s pen pictures of Canberra are a delight, but he has failed to sense that the Public Service is now cloning itself – three generations of officials can be found there – and therefore lack the feel for the “other” Australia. The higher than average percentage of two income families earning more than most Australians and 75% working for the Government make for a reality gap.
The description of the machinations within the Party is instructive but no sensible analysis of where they stood on the political spectrum is offered.
This may well be what factional politics produce. It can accommodate just about every shade of opinion as long as power is retained.
Some of the assertions made by Watson are not documented. In fact there are no references, bibliography or chapter headings.
The Native Title legislation, built on the Mabo High Court decisions, is given much vaunt but no mention is made of the paradox of an anti-landed gentry party creating overnight a landed aristocracy. Aboriginals now control some 17% of Australia.
The personal side of Keating is treated quite superficially. Mrs. Keating and her four children are seen at a few random functions, but we are given no sense of their own lives.
One peculiar omission, given the author’s Victorian background, is no single reference to Bob Santamaria, News Weekly or the National Civic Council or indeed its related organisations – Council for the National Interest or the Australian Family Association.
The pro-life, pro-family maiden speech of Keating is quoted but immediately dismissed. Groupers and the DLP are mentioned, but not found in the index.
During the 1993 campaign, which gave Mr Keating another term, he was filmed in a party commercial with the “Australian flag behind him”. This was studiously avoided by Mr Beazley in the recent election.
The book ends suddenly with the defeat of Keating by Howard. No hint is given of what Keating intends to do with himself, nor is the impact of his marriage breakdown examined. He has become a “consultant” in Asia. A postscript would have been useful.
The index is quite inadequate and many of the key developments are not taken to finality. Whatever happened to the high level international Canberra Commission? What is the current status of APEC?
Overall, the book has all the hall-marks of a diary – spicy, unauthenticated and disjointed.
- John Barich lived in Canberra from 1962-1988 and worked for five Prime Ministers during 11 of his 30 years in the Commonwealth Public Service, in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet