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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 9820


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: 01/11/1995

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 9820

AD: That's a good start. Now I have seen you work a room before. You
are very, very good at it. Does working a room come naturally to you?
When you were a kid did you go to other kids birthday parties and walk
out an hour later knowing you had the numbers?
PM: No, but I always had a sixth sense of who liked me and who didn't.
AD: Yes.
PM: I could always tell.
AD: How can you tell?
PM: Well it is just a, you know, maybe an aura, an idea you have. But you
need it in public life. You need to be able to assess people quickly
and also to enjoy them.
AD: When someone doesn't like you, how do you deal with that?
PM: Oh, well I try and do the best I can with them. Put them out of their
AD: What, you kneecap them?
PM: No, make them feel more comfortable.
AD: Is power sexy? Is it a sexy thing?
PM: Well, I don't think so. It wouldn't interest a sexy fellow like you.
AD: Sure.

PM: But it is uplifting and exciting. It is uplifting and it is exciting, partly
because it is a high wire act, It is always big issues with a lot of
moment, always done mostly under difficult circumstances. So it is the
ultimate high wire business and you can't be on the high wire and not
be excited, or elated.
AD: I have a quote here from Neville Wran former New South Wales
Premier, Federal President of the ALP, as you know...
PM: A great fellow.
AD: about what it takes to get to the top in politics. " To get there in the
first place takes an enormous amount of tenacity and courage, the
capacity to snap out of depression because it is a lonely life stepping
over the bodies to get to the top. To get there you finish up covered in
blood and shit up to your elbows. It doesn't vary anywhere. It is never
easy. It is all hard." Does that ring a bell with you?
PM: Yes, it does. It is like an endurance test. It is like a marathon. I think
the better analogy. It is like a marathon. But you can't keep running
unless you have got something to run for. You know, you can't keep
going unless you have something to run for. And, therefore, I don't
really think you have to crawl over people, or in some way respond to
that sort of frame of reference providing you keep running. But you
can't keep running if you don't believe. If you are not a believer, you
run out of puff.
AD: Is it as brutal as Neville Wran makes it sound though?
PM: It is perhaps during the mezzanine phase. You know what I mean?
AD: The mezzanine phase?
PM: That is before you have got to the first floor. That is where all the
sorting gets, I think, brought on in earnest. Once you are at the first
floor, it is a bit like coming to the top of the mountain. As you get
towards the apex there are fewer places to go, fewer places to hide
and it is all more obvious. So the selection becomes more automatic.
But down at the base it is harder.
AD: So basically the higher up you go, the easier it is to clean the blood
away because it just..
PM: Yes, but it is not blood. It is, what should I say, easier to fill the
intellectual vacuums.
AD: What does that mean?
PM: Well if there is a void there somewhere, you can fill it with somebody
and move on.

AD: Are you often in touch with intellectual voids?
PM: I have got a whole range of them sitting opposite me every day.
AD: First one. This will be an interesting exercise in statesmanship tonight.
PM: You are a bad influence.
AD: I said nothing. I was actually wondering more about your own Caucus.
Actually speaking of your fellow Ministers, when Barry Jones is on the
line how do you get him off the phone?
PM: Don't get him on.
AD: Is that Labor Party policy now, don't get him on?
PM: Oh, no, Barry is okay.
AD: When he rings do you sort of scribble a note going " not here, not
PM: I have done that, but not very often.
AD: What about Kim? Do you worry about his weight?
PM: Oh you were unkind to him a week or two ago.
AD: I think everyone is unkind to Kim at least once in their life. It is just
part of the political cycle. Neville Wran describes it as you have to
deal with depression because it is lonely getting to the top.
Is depression ever anything that you have had to deal with?
PM: I have had bad times, but you have always, I think, got to believe you
can slog it out.
AD: What is your idea of a harrowing experience that you have been
through, moments where you realise oh don't touch that fence it is
PM: Well you have got to make judgements. For instance, one I made
if you like, the turning point in the last Parliament was I said in the
Parliament if Labor loses the election, we will pass the GST in the
Senate and our mob went " ahh". And I thought oh they'll be right in a
couple of minutes. But they weren't. They weren't right. They all had
a Bex and a good lie down after it. The whole lot of them. I mean
seeing a full Caucus having a Bex and a good lie down it is a moving
AD: Yes. I just thought of Kim Beazley and Robert Ray lying down.

PM: Well you can always pick them out. And I thought did I call this
wrong? But I was sure I didn't, you see? So the public thought this is
getting serious, we are going to get a GST because if this other joker
wins, this one will pass it and from that moment it became real that
AD: Yes.
PM: And the moment that became real, the pressure came on Hewson and
then the cracks started running through the stratas, you see what
I mean? Whereas before I couldn't get the weight on him. But then
the cracks started appearing in the stratas. So, you said what was
harrowing, living through the little period until everyone decided it was
a masterstroke and not a mistake that is the definition of harrowing.
AD: You didn't consult with them at all before you said this? The first time
they heard it was when you stood up?
PM: Oh, yes. But if it is not spontaneous, it has no effect.
AD: Eisenhower used to say that a sense of humour is a part of the art of
leadership. Do you ever tell jokes against yourself?
PM: Oh, yes, all the time.
AD: Oh do share.
PM: Well they don't come to mind.
AD: Well, no, I'll tell you what
PM: They are situation jokes.
AD: no, I will give you some thinking music.
PM: We will give you some tonight.
AD: [ Denton humming " God Save the Queen"]. No, in what situation then?
I mean, yes, it is hard to come up with jokes off the top of your head.
In what situation?
PM: Oh, often with my staff I will say things which are self deprecatory.
AD: Well what would you self deprecate about?
PM: Well that is a hard question. I mean, again, they come up on the spur
of the moment.
AD: You used to be a larrikin. You say this. You used to leap off the back
of ferries and arrange for a mate to pick you up just when everyone

thought you were drowning. Which, in fact, could also be a political
metaphor when you think about it.
PM: There is always someone there to pick you up.
AD: Always someone there to pick you up. Especially a mate in the
New South Wales Right too.
PM: It is laden with mates.
AD: Absolutely.
PM: Wall to wall mates.
AD: I would presume in your job you don't get the opportunity to be a
larrikin. I mean Malcolm Fraser apparently used to slip ice cubes into
the pockets of people as a joke and well we loved him for that.
PM: Oh, yes, I wondered what it was actually.
AD: Because he didn't have pockets sometimes. I am just trying to get at
what is the Prime Ministerial sense of humour.
PM: Oh, I have a great sense of humour. I am always a sucker for a laugh.
AD: Yes.
PM: Any friend of mine that makes me laugh is a friend of mine for life,
AD: Really? Even if they are on the other side of the House?
PM: Oh, yes. You're in there with a chance, pal.
AD: Hey, hey, hey. We have said no body contact. Absolutely no body
contact. I think he is trying to crack on to me. You have got to be
PM: You're getting value out of those boots, aren't you?
AD: Yes.
PM: They will be with you in five years time.
AD: You're getting value out of those too.
PM: Yes, but these will wear out in 18 months.
AD: Well it depends whose head you have been kicking with them, really.
If you pick soft heads or hard heads.

PM: Where did you get those, at the sort of army surplus, is it?
AD: We haven't found out much about your sense of humour, but we have
discovered you are a foot fetishist. You like passionate people don't
PM: I do. I love stars. I like people who are good at what they do.
AD: What about passionate Liberals?
PM: Well how can you be a Liberal and be passionate? It is a contradiction
in terms to say I am a Conservative but I am passionate about it.
AD: How has this happened though? How have we ended up with such an
apparently tragic situation where all the people with ideas are on one
side of politics and a bunch of people totally bereft of ideas are on the
PM: Well it happens. I mean look at the Labor Party in the 50s and
it was nowhere. Philosophically, it was nowhere. Now it is not that the
individuals didn't have ideas then, or that individuals of the Liberal
Party don't have ideas now. But, philosophically, in the 50s and
we were all over the place. They are now in that position.
AD: Could I put to you your worst nightmare? John Howard dies tomorrow,
you have to go to his funeral and say something nice about him.
What would you say?
PM: Well, no, I would say that he stuck by the ideology and the philosophy
that he believed in. But, of course, I think that is all wrong for
AD: Yes, we know that.
PM: at the end of the 20th century.
AD: He has stuck by it passionately, would you say?
PM: Dogmatically. There is a difference.
AD: There is a difference. You can't mention John Howard without talking
about the Parliamentary bear-pit and we have some examples of your
work here. First of all, a couple of examples of you in full flight.
( video rolls)
AD: It seems to me that you really enjoy the theatre of Parliament.
PM: I do because I like to think that all the incoming balls are coming in
slow motion. So you say, is this one going into the Queen Elizabeth
Stand? Is this one going into, you know, the such and such stand?

In other words, if you have got the mosaic right, every question is
going to have a slot. Whereas if you don't have a mosaic it is just all
happening rapidly around you. So, even though you don't have much
time to prepare, you know what the argument is and where it fits and if
they come particularly slow, you can get the rhetoric ready as well.
A theatre, you know, a nice little touch.
AD: Where abouts in the mosaic then does this particular performance fit.
( video rolls)
AD: Was that adlib or was that written. Was it like blgh, blgh, blgh?
PM: No I learnt that one in primary school. Everybody was out of step bar
him. That was the point I was trying to make.
AD: In public perception, the word most thrown around about you is
PM: I know that, yes.
AD: Does that surprise you?
PM: Well, I think they confuse pride in ones craft and getting the job done
with arrogance. I mean, letting a good thing be knocked over is not
humility. What has happened in our political system in most of the
post war years is that politicians threw the pass. They threw the pass
on all the big changes. Australia had become by the very early 1980s
quite a relatively poor country in terms of its national income.
AD: I'm going to stop you there for one second. I don't want to go into that
PM: No, no, but I just want to say this, that it became a poor country and
people had thrown the pass on big policy changes. Therefore to get
them through you have really got to have a big run at it and you have
got to push hard. I think they confuse the pushing with arrogance
rather than with pride in one's craft and getting it done.
AD: There may be some truth in that, but I think they also see a man who is
verbally very brutal.
PM: Orally very brutal.
AD: Yes, orally and, of course, extremely linguistically pedantic. Let's not
forget that, but also a winner, a man who desperately loves to be a
winner which isn't a bad trait for most Australians, but you have
pushed that through so forcefully, I think that is what they see as
arrogance. Somebody that will never, ever, ever, ever back down no
matter what the situation.

PM: Well, there is no prize for coming second is there?
AD: There is a second prize.
PM: That is the one we gave John Hewson at the last election. I think what
the public need to know is when I do those things I am doing it for
AD: This will hurt you more than it will hurt them.
PM: No, when I push one past the system I am doing it for them because so
many have not done it for years, who don't I think, have not had the
conscientious regard for them that I hope I have. That I won't sponge
on them or kid them. And if the price of all that is that some of the
imagery gets scratched up along the way well, I don't mind that.
AD: How is it possible as Prime Minister to keep in touch with the battler?
Is it a sort of remote sensing thing where members of your Caucus tell
you about people they know who know real people or do you go
straight to the source and have lunch with John Laws, how do you do
PM: He knows them!
AD: He does.
PM: He is one himself. Well, for a start, I lived for 40 years in Bankstown in
Western Sydney. I grew up there and worked there, lived there and
you end up with all of the frame of reference, mores, values of that
community. I am a westie.
AD: You are a westie?
PM: I am a westie.
AD: Well, where are your ugh boots? Come on.
PM: I have got them on can't you see.
( video rolls)
AD: Do you sometimes feel awkward about the positions you are put in as
Prime Minister?
PM: What happened was, we were standing there with this very interesting
group of young people who were going off to the Skill Olympics and
then there was this very strong beat of this song coming through and
we were all standing there. Well, of course, I can't resist a beat so I
had the feet going and I thought well, I might as well throw the lot in
and then I brought them in.

AD: So, old good time Paul was leading..
PM: A sing-a-long.
AD: Yes, all right. Maybe it is just me, but you didn't look totally
comfortable in that situation.
PM: Have a look at the people next to me. I look more comfortable than
AD: You have always championed Australian culture. Not since Gough
Whitlam have we had a Prime Minister so allied to that sense of
culture. And, you have championed the information super highway
and we have seen the first three gleaming lanes of that open recently
courtesy of pay television Foxtel, Optus and Galaxy which is
essentially wall to wall American broadcasting with a token Australian
representation. What benefit is that to Australian culture?
PM: It may be at this point of its development, it may not be a development
of Australian culture, but it will be a development to Australian services
and information. The pay television is paying for the fibre optic cable.
When Telecom slips the fibre optic cable under the door, which is
going to bring with it all the interactive services, all the on-line services
so when people have got their personal computers and they are really
into creativity and interactivity, the thing that is going to facilitate that
happening as a pay television service which pays the freight for putting
the cable there in the first place.
AD: I guess the reason I am puzzled and frankly depressed about the
future prospects of Australia as an individual entity is that yours is the
party and you are the man that is rapt in the flag. You actually have
the flag as your logo and you have always been on the public record
as being deeply committed to Australia and I don't think anybody could
doubt your emotional commitment, yet on the other hand I see in a big
picture sense national assets being sold off, American television
swamping our own culture thanks to this new pay television and 1,
frankly, find it hypocritical.
PM: No, we fought them. No, don't be too pessimistic. We fought the
Americans in the Uruguay Round the GATT and the reason we did
is so we would have the right to have our film industry. We would
have the right to put content provisions. into our free to air
broadcasting. That we would have the right to have a somewhat
protected film industry. Now, we have done those things, but
Australian culture is not going to be decided by what comes down the
pay tv channel. It is going to be decided by the sort of society we are,
the faith we have in ourselves one to the other in our capacities and
what we can do together and the belief that we have in the country.
AD: I hope you are right Prime Minister. I hope that Australian children
don't eventually see Australian history through American eyes. I don't

know if you saw how your office was portrayed on The Simpsons
recently. Here is a sample.
( video rolls)
PM: Well, they have got some of it there haven't they?
AD: Would you like to move on from here maybe and lead a larger
PM: No, Menzies had that in mind you know. He thought the British
Conservative Party might choose him over Churchill.
AD: Your wife has described you as a daydreamer. Do you get a chance to
do that at all in your position.
PM: Yes, and that is a fair description because show me a good
government and I'll show you a group of good ministers with good
ideas. That sort of creativity can only come from putting the stuff
together yourself so you have got to think.
AD: But, daydreaming?
PM: So, often I'll find myself at something and I'm thinking about something
completely different. Annita will say to me, are you with us? Like, click,
click, click, are you with us? I'll say yep, yep, but I wasn't. I wasn't. I
was fibbing.
AD: Prime Minister, we are out of time. When you go home tonight, tuck
yourself into bed in the jammies, are you going to sleep well?
PM: Not as well as I used to.
AD: What's the problem?
PM: Late night television programs perhaps. No I'll go home and do a bit of
reading, have a look in on the kids, turn out the lights and hope we
wake up to a good set of newspapers in the morning.
AD: Prime Minister, thanks very much.
PM: Thanks very much.

Transcript 9820