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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 8382


Photo of Keating, Paul

Keating, Paul

Period of Service: 20/12/1991 to 11/03/1996

More information about Keating, Paul on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 16/01/1992

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 8382

MITCHELL: With~ me the Prime Minister, Mr Keating, good morning
to you
PM: Good morning Neil.
MITCHELL: Mr Keating, who are you?
PM: Well if you don't know now after eight and a half years of
me being in the Government I don't suppose I can enlighten you
much further, but
MITCHELL: But something's been discussed though. I mean eight
years of an uncompromising tough man with an image of somebody
who doesn't ' Listen, a bit of arrogance even, and now, to use a
Bob Hawke term, a bit of consensus about you, which is the. real
you? PM: I've always been a good listener. I think in public life
you have to be a good listener. If you're not you can't form
ideas and I -think the hallmark of the last eight years of our
office was -that we did basically consult people, and that's not
to say you shouldn't develop your own framework in which you're
thinking, but part of the development of that is to talk to
people. Now I've always done a fair bit of that but when I
decided on policies, I mean people I'm quite sure have seen me as
direct, confident, this sort of thing
MITCHELL: Arrogant?
PM: Well even maybe, but they wouldn't have thought I wats too
arrogant when I was agonizing over those decisions. I mean they
wouldn't have thought that when they'd seen me privately
agonizing over which direction to go or the other.

MITCHELL: so that image over those eight years is probably
wrong, is it? I think particularly the time when you were being
criticized for saying there is no recession and everywhere around
the streets people were saying look at the closed shops, look at
the people out of work, there is a recession.
PM: Well a recession was technically when you get negative
growth and we didn't have negative growth in those days, but
later came of course. But I think that one has to assess things
and then make decisions and do things. You see the trouble with
Australia was, before the early eighties we had the post-war
economic policy and it went on from 1945 or 1950 in the days of
post-war reconstruction to 1980, and by that we were a country
almost dependent on commodities which were then letting us down.
SO if you want to hide your light under a bushell or not be firm
about your obligation to changing policy, well you would be like
all the rest of them. So that's why I think you've got to-listen
but then once you decide go for it.
MITCHELL: But you agree that you now face a credibility problem
because of this image. I mean can YOU see that they're two
polls with a very low personal popularity rating. I mean is our
credibility problem people saying well if he can throw the switch
to vaudeville that's now been thrown, why should we believe you?
Why should we believe this new image of a man who wants to
listen, who wants to hear people's ideas when previously you just
wiped them off?
PM: No I didn't, that's the point. I mean I never
MITCHELL: That was the perception wasn't it?
PM: Well maybe, but in terms of consulting, if you look at all
the business group discussions, discussions with the -trade
unions, the various community groups through the eighties, I
turned consultation into an artform. I never stopped it. I kept
meeting them all this time to try and keep them involved with the
policy and keep the thrust Of it together. But you see in the
Treasury job it's the sort of the hard man job. You've got to
make sure that budgetry policy of the Government runs from the
Treasurer and the Treasurer's office.
MITCHELL: Are you a hard man?
PM: I don't think I am, no. That switch to vaudeville hasn't
been thrown.

MITCHELL: This is the real you, is it?
PM: I think ils Prime Minister you get a chance to be probably
more of what you are, people see you more as you are than you
would say in -the Treasury post, which is basically about keeping
discipline on the whole structure of the Government.
MITCHELL: Is it difficult to expose your family to all this? I
know, and I understand entirely why there was a pri. vacy
beforehand and I'm sure people respect that, although there were
some classic examples when they didn't, but is it difficult. now
to have to expose the family?
PM: Well no, I think in this sort of natural course of things it
isn't, but we've chosen basically a private life and to keep my
children largely as children removed from the process of the
politics. Now you can't do that absolutely of course but I think
my wife and I have done it as near as you can do to doing it, and
the result is we've tried to keep the kids with the same outlook
as the children they go to school with, the same sort of
experience levels.
MITCHELL: Things like security must go through your mind though,
because you'd have to say Paul Keating polarizes opinion.
PM: That's probably right but I travelled around for well nearly
a decade without any security.
MITCHELL: I noti ' ce you don't have a flag on the car. Is that to
do with security?.
PM: No, I just think that I don't really think I ought 1to be
sort of pointing, saying here I am, there's the flag flying, here
I am. I just don't think that
MITCHELL: But you're Prime Minister, I mean
PM: Yes I know, but I still don't think that driving around
saying here's a motorcycle outrider and a flag saying here I am,
aren't I important, I don't really think that's on, and I think
we've just got a job to do and you try and do it and do it as
effectively as you can but as inconspicuously on occasions as you

MITCHELL: Does it worry you being unpopular? Those popularity
ratings are very bad. Is that personally disappointing?
PM: I was as popular as any Treasurer was for many years and
then when the recession came that disappeared. I've had my highs
and lows, when I introduced all the tax changes in the middle
eighties my popularity went down again and after that it came up
and it went down again with the recession. I think you can't
worry too much but providing... look you've got to be able to put
your head down at night and say well look, I gave whatever the
issue of the day was, the best shot I had. I did what I thought
was right and I either got it through or I didn't but at least I
did my best. And I think that's the most important, being at
least consoled about what you've been doing and being satisfied
with what you're doing rather than seeking the approbation of
everybody. MITCHELL: How does it feel to put your head down at night when a
member of your Government says you're a dead loss? Laurie
Ferguson, Martin's brother and a member of the Parliament.
PM: Well you can't win them all, and I mean the thing
about.... he's such an urbane and charming fellow, Laurie, that
it's a very stinging criticism.
MITCHELL: Did you speak to him about it?
PM: No, oh God no. You know the old saying, the dogs may bark
but the caravan moves on. I mean you can't worry about them.
MITCHELL: Speaking of dogs and caravans, have you spoken to Bob
Hawke since he's departed?
PM: A couple of times.
MITCHELL: How's the relationship?
PM: Okay.
MITCHELL: Do you want him to stay until the next election?
PM: That's entirely up to him. I think many people in the
Government would like him to stay till the next election.

MITCHELL: Hav~ e you asked him to?
PM: No, because it is up to him basically.
MITCHELL: But: you'd rather not have a by-election one would
assume. PM: No, that's why it is a matter for him, but again it's not
for me to be expressing views about his own you know, he's got
the right to do as he wishes after all these years and it's not
for me to say otherwize.
MITCHELL: Is it fair to say you were good mates or was that..?
PM: Oh yes, no no, Bob and I were good mates and I think we got
a lot done. : 1 don't think there was any Prime Minister/ Treasurer
team that was longer serving than the two of us.
MITCHELL: And that mateship obviously has finished now.
PM: Well we're not mateship in the sense that we certainly don't
live out of each others pockets and we're not exchanging
confidences, but', in terms of the camaraderie of a working
relationship through a long period of time and under the stress
of a great change in public policy, I mean whatever people think,
in the eighties this Government globalized Australia, took
Australia to the world and it's changed it forever.
MITCHELL: Haire you seen people already are talking about a Bob
Hawke comeback. Not Bob Hawke in fairness.
PM: Well only, I think only the fellow you mentioned wasn't it?
MITCHELL: They've been a few others who' re not Baying it
publicly. PM: That's a) lright, it's a free world, they can say what they
think. MITCHELL: Is there any chance?
PM: I don't think sO. I don't think Bob would think that

MITCHELL: The economy and thats why your here, Senator
Button on this station yesterday supported investment
incentives for business do you?
PM: Well, I could do and have on occasions the biggest
incentives, . r gave them two very large incentives, I cut the
personal tax rate, the corporate tax rate from 49% to 39%
and I removed dividends from the taxation system. We
removed the double tax on dividends so at the right moment
incentives matter and this may well be a moment that I think
is something to be considered against our sort of budgetary
backdrop. MITCHELL: Well has John Button pre-empted it?
PM: Well no.
MITCHELL: Well he did. You have in the past pointed out
there should be more restraint.
PM: Well no, John was entirely in order. What he said was
this is some-thing he thinks he favours but it has to be
considered in the totality.
MITCHELL: As Prime Minister you move around, you go
through more of the consultation process. Are you surprised
by what your finding? The level of suffering?
PM: Well, can I just say of yesterday I was very pleasantly
not surprised but confirmed what I thought and that was that
the business community members who came to see us were very
enthusiastic and positive. Such a discussion a decade ago
would, there would have been complaints about tarriffs,
requirements of more protection, the government do this and
that and whi'Le that was certainly part of the order of the
day yesterday, it was put in the context of all of these
people and institutions trying to help. There is much, sort
of, heightened level of awareness about what the government
can do and can't do, what the private economy should do and
shouldn't do and I think it really couldn't of been more
responsible, more optimistic, more enthusiastic.
MITCHELL: That doesn't say much for the unions because you
are now gettiLng that very pressure from the unions for more
protection. PM: Well, I don't know whether we are or not, seriously I
don't think.
MITCHELL: Isn't that the basis of a document they put to
you? PM: Well I haven't seen a document as yet. But can I say
from the ACTU, which is a peak union body in this country,
they are not really out there arguing for more protection.

MITCHELL: What about Wally Curran?
PM: Well Wally might but he hasn't yet. Not to me.
MITCHELL: Do you perhaps regret the involvement of Wally
Curran, he has copped a hell of a lot of flak?
PM: No.
MITCHELL: What's your relation with him?
PM: He is a good fellow Wally.
MITCHELL: Is he? some say he has destroyed the meetings
around this state.
PM: He is a self taught working class intellectual type of
fellow and I think he stands for a lot of what's good about
the Labor Party, and a lot of its values and getting to know
him has been one of the recent pleasures in my life.
MITCHELL: Is it politically wise? His image in this state
is about on par with Norm Gallagher.
PM: I don't think that's fair to him. Norm did plumb a few
depths. MITCHELL: Well is it still politically wise to be involved
with him?
PM: Well I'm involved with a whole lot of people down here.
MITCHELL: But Bill Kelty was so moved as to ring you and
say you had better distance yourself, its going to hurt
Paul. PM: No it didn't, no.
MITCHELL: That didn't happen?
PM: Bill has a very high regard for him as well. But I
talked to trade unions in this state across the board and
have been doing. I've been coming to the ACTU now for a
decade down here but Curran is not a rank and file member of
the ACTU executive. He is a leader of a state union. So I
made it my business in the last year or so to get out and
see some of those state unions.
MITCHELL: So regardless of political damage does that
relationship with him continue?
PM: Absolutely.
PM: I don't sort of walk away from friendships because of

MITCHELL: Bob Hawke said the same thing about Kerry
Packer. PM: Well, good on him.
MITCHELL: Joan Kirner, one of your supporters here, says
there's been too much delay already in getting things going.
How much damage was done in the time between you left as
Treasurer and when you took over as Prime Minister? Seven
to eight months?
PM: Well, I t~ hink there were opportunities lost and I said
some things at the time which I would have done had I been
around but I've got the chance to do that now so I can only
do, take up -the opportunities I've been given.
MITCHELL: Whose fault was that?
PM: I think gfenerally the government was advised that a
recovery was coming through much more strongly. It's only
about a week ago that I released Treasury's new estimates of
growth through the year, which are one per cent lower than
they were at budget time and I think because I was getting
around the place probably more than members of the
government were I could see that basically those stronger
growth number7s through the year were not going to occur. So
I was saying that they should drop interest rates further,
in the end they did, and that basically they should shift
policy in favour of growth because there wasn't going to be
enough. But the official advisings of the Treasury, the
Reserve Bank, the Department of Finance, the statistician,
the group that make up the forecasting group was saying to
government look that will be ok, our numbers are basically
right. Well it turns out they weren't.
MITCHELL: Its interesting you say you saw more when you
went to the backbench, you were able. to be more in touch.
Do you feel that in retrospect you were out of touch as
Treasurer? PM: Well I did as much as you can I think as Treasurer to
get around and stay in touch but when I was on the backbench
I saw a lot of groups and people that I wouldn't have seen
as Treasurer, you know I just went out of my way to do that.
And I had the: time to do it. I think this is always a
problem for ministers, you just can't see as many people as
you should see.
MITCHELL: Do you feel you failed as Treasurer?
PM: No I don't because the Australian economy will now have
a future as an externally-oriented economy in the
international world of trade and commerce which it wasn't.
MITCHELL: We' re in a pretty deep hole at the moment

PM: Yes we are in a recession, but we will emerge from the
recession an~ d what we will look at in the 90s is a low
inflation country, with low rates of interest, with a
structural budget surplus with a big shift in export and
manufacturers. I mean this is the future, there is a good
underlying long term future for Australia in the 90s, the
short term is the recession and the problems it has brought
but again, that followed eight years of growth.
MITCHELL: So you set that up in your period as Treasurer?
PM: Well I was the one who set up the institutional
arrangements to internationalise the place and I think had
we not done that Australia wouldn't have a future it would
be just a low growth country relying on a few commodities
with a very large current account deficit and therefore sort
of a permanent recession, a permanent low growth mode. And
that's what would have happened, you talked orginally about
making decisions, standing up and pushing your way through
had I not pushed through things like the float, the removal
exchange controls, cutting government spending all of those
things in the 80s Australia would be now doomed as a low
growth place.
MITCHELL: Mrs Kirner says she is looking for direct help
for Victoria, will she get it?
PM: Well I thinkVictoria has taken a great burden of the
brunt of the structural changes in Australia, that is the
changes in protection, the fall in the cycle in the
recession in manufacturing, its borne the brunt of that and
a large part of the low level of confidence in the country JC
think is coming from the experience of the people of
Victoria of -this recession. So I have said now for nearly a
year, that ViLctoria is a problem and has to be dealt with by
the government in those terms.
MITCHELL: Are we still a basket
PM: Well I think it's bottomed. It's probably bumping on
the bottom and may pick up but it won't pick up without
help. MITCHELL: Does that mean pump-priming in inevitable its
just a matter7 Of where?
PM: Well its not a good term pump-priming because mostly it
has been in a budgetary spending which has picked the
economy up and often we have squandered that which we have
spent. What we would like to do is to try to give the place
a stimulus but the things we do to do it are ones which
structurally help Australia in the future. So in other
words, rather than just having a sort of a big quick bang
which sort of goes into thin air but costs a lot of money.
Do things which are structurally good while at the same time
pick the place up. So I have been to Victoria a lot in the
last two years, a lot, sometimes a couple of times a week
and I've seen a lot of Joan Kirner over this period as well

and Joan's prepared to make decisions, get things done and
where I can help her I will.
MITCHELL: Some say, in fact the reason you're Prime
Minister is the support of Victoria
PM: No, I got two Victorian votes only.
MITCHELL: Just going back to Wally Curran, one suggestion
he is putting forward and I wonder about what you say about
structural change is screwing up the super funds and now
you'll look at it?
PM: Well I think one of the options which the trade unions
is talking about is letting younger members of super funds
have some sort of draw down on the funds for their housing.
And this is a concept which has been around a bit and which
is worthy of consideration. There are issues here and that
is the question of preservation, and these superannuation
benefits are to be preserved not to be touched till age
So that the sort of policy conundrum is how can you have
them preserved and not touched until 55 but touch them for
certain, if you like, approved things such as housing and
that we are prepared to have a look at.
MITCHELL: A couple of quick things and we are running out
of time, you once described........ as the media nut, I think
Michelle Grattan said you were a media nut. In that
background are you comfortable with the Conrad Black
PM: they seem to run a decent newspaper organisation
around the world, most particularly in Britain where the
weight of it is and I'm quite sure that what Fairfax needs
mostly is a sort of a caring owner. I think the business
has sort of suffered as a result of this ownership and
I don't think newspapers can have a dozen years of being
uncompetitive. MITCHELL: Do you think they might be more fairer to you, I
mean the Fairfax press traditionally give you a bit of a
hard time, apart from the leadership
PM: No, Fairfax newspaper has been pretty fair to me I have
to say, pretty fair to me I can't complain, I mean
occasionally I have had a row with them but its been
occasional. MITCHELL: Still on media, the TV and radio political
advertising ban its not your legislation do you support it?
PM: Well it h-as been amended in the Senate and it's I think
seen as a solution to the problems of political advertising
and its scale and cost and the pressure of the parties I
think we can have, certainly not perfection I don't think we
should just now, perhaps it was not perfection in its
original form its certainly not perfection now.
MITCHELL: Can we get it right?

PM: I don't know but is something I am prepared to have a
look at.
MITCHELL: Also prepared to back away from if necessary?
PM: No
PM: Refine I'd say but again the Bill is now back in the
House of Representatives and we can examine it.
MITCHELL: Collingwood Football Club, does your support
continue? PM: Yes I'm a Sydneysider because I live in Sydney and I'm
not a member of the Melbourne community but I get down to a
few games a year.
MITCHELL: End of the year, not the Collingwood Football
Club, where will we be? Any better off or still a lot of
pain ahead?
PM: I think wie will promote a recovery I hope Australia will.
be growing significantly a year from now and I hope most
particularly that the fortunes of the people of Victoria and
the mood of -this community has changed from a negative one
to a positive one. I think that would be great for
Australia and great for the State and I think it is
encumbent upon all of us in national politics to make sure
that happens.
MITCHELL: Confidence is a key?
PM: Confidence is a key and at the moment confidence just
isn't there, you still have tremendous problems with falls
in asset prices.
MITCHELL: This is what baffles me, the confidence isn't
there and the people say to me it's because of Paul Keating,
because of when he was Treasurer, we can't wipe that eight
year memory.
PM: Just remember this, in the seven years before 1983 we
have 1.9% economic growth a year, in the seven years after
1983 we had 4.1 twice as much.
MITCHELL: unemployment
PM: In the eight years between 1983 and 1990, seven years in
between, seven to eight years we produced one and a half
million jobs so in 1983 we had 10% unemployment and in 1992
we have 10% unemployment. But in 1983 we had
unemployment in a workforce of six million, we've now got
unemployment in a workforce of 7.5 million so we have
kept largely the 1.5 million jobs we created in the 80s. So
I don't think people are entitled to say that they have bad

memories of my stewardship over the eight years, they might
have bad memories of the last eighteen months but the
previous seven years it was one of the highest growth,
highest income, highest wealth producing periods in
certainly our post war history.
MITCHELL: Final question, you and your mate John Laws now
you launched his book in February but Melbourne radio was
bland in fact your having a cup of tea now but you had time
for a cup of tea in between questions, I assume that there
are exceptions to bland radio in Melbourne or do you still
think that is right?
PM: As I general rule I think it was bland I think, I mean
Laws is blessed with this, I think, a great radio career, a
great radio manner, a very easy touch with what I think is
the view or the feeling of most people, a common touch, his
great ease of manner, his great skill I think is to develop
a very conversational tone and in that out comes all of the
little truths which are often hidden in a more racy
interview and the other thing about him is that he must have
the best radio voice ever.
MITCHELL: Is normal radio bland?
PM: its one of your colleages saying I saw him in the
United States, I said well there wouldn't be someone in the
Unites States who has a better radio voice than him, it is a
knockout radio voice. In other words some of that is Godgiven
so it is no one's fault if you don't have a voice that
MITCHELL: Even if it is bland will you come down and take
some calls with us one day, and talk to the public?
PM: Pleased to, thank you very much
MITCHELL: Prime Minister, we have ratings ahead of John
Laws I should tell you, I've good a crook voice but better
ratings. PM: I know but you have to make sure that you get the
cheques out of the company that he gets out of his.
MITCHELL: That would be a real achievement, thanks for
your time.

Transcript 8382