Keating still on side of 'angels'
August 24, 2013 -
Political editor, The Age
Paul Keating has entered the election campaign to give a glowing endorsement of Labor's economic management and deliver a speech in Melbourne mocking the Coalition’s contribution to the nation’s growth and savaging Tony Abbott’s failure to release detailed costings of his policies.
The former Prime Minister prefaced an address to a capacity crowd at Victoria University in St Albans to launch the campaign of a man considered a future Labor leader, Bill Shorten, with the words: ‘‘I’m rusty at this, you’ve got to make allowances.’’
‘‘You get a choice in public life: you can be with the angels or the others. It’s not a difficult choice to make,’’ he began on Friday night.
‘‘We’re on the side of the angels and of course, the Libs are on the side of the others – and, of course, we’ve made a lot of the others so much wealthier.’’
Speaking without notes for almost 30 minutes, Mr Keating described the Liberal Party as a party of convenience, while the Labor Party was a party of conviction. ‘‘It’s always been the same, always will be the same. But more than that, we’ve been a hugely successful party. and I can’t think of any party of the moderate left around the world that has succeeded in the way in which we have,’’ he said.
‘‘Bob Hawke and I took the country from the old economy to the new economy. The others never had the imagination to do any of this. You’ve got to drag them along like a ball and chain. You have to create a new plateau and then lift them up to it.’’
He paid generous tribute to Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, saying they guided the country safely ‘‘through the valley of economic death in 2008, 2009, to be what no country in the world has been – no recession, no great dip in employment, no shooting star of unemployment’’.
Labor was now engineering another transition in the economy ‘‘from the north-west of the country, from the mines and the gas fields, to the south-east, back to the cities’’.
Borrowing a phrase from one of Australia's first game shows Pick A Box, Mr Keating said Labor's stewardship in challenging times over the last six years meant the country could now ‘‘have the money and the box’’.
‘‘What we’ve done in the last six years of Labor is we’ve banked the future. We’ve built this massive capital stock in iron ore, in oil and gas, in the great minerals sector of Australia and as a consequence of that we’re going to be much, much richer and stronger into the future. What we’ve got to do now is get the cities back up,’’ he said.
‘‘And if we bank the money and get the cities back up, we’ve got the money and the box – and as we speak it’s happening.’’
Mr Keating received most applause when he lampooned the Coaliiton as ‘‘mean, mean little people – no imaginaton, no bigness and no heart’’.
Lamenting that the natural political cycle meant that ‘‘every now and then they get another go’’ in office, he said of Tony Abbott: ‘‘He has these three things. Stop the boats. He says, ‘We’ll get rid of the mining tax, the carbon tax.’ But these things are slogans and can never represent an organising principle for the country.
‘‘And you say, ‘OK, but what do you really believe? What sort of country should we be?’ Nothing to say, even on the most basic thing about integrity in public policy in terms of budgets.’’
Mr Keating said he had introduced acountability and transparency in public finances that made the country a better place ‘‘so the kind of fiscal cheating we used to see can’t happen’’. He acknowledged the Liberal Treasurer Peter Costello had taken this even further, but said the Coalition was now ‘‘wilfully destroying a standard which has taken 30 years to create’’.
‘‘Peter Costello, I used to call him the talking knee, one of those knees you paint a face on, but I’ll give him his due,’’ he said.
Interviewed before he spoke, he warned that the rebalancing of the economy would be imperilled by an Abbott government, which would want to ''rip the budget back into surplus too early''.
''They've been injected with the surplus needle - the needle of hysteria that budgets can only be good in surplus.''
Mr Keating described Mr Shorten as a builder, citing his contribution to superannuation and DisablityCare, and saying: ‘‘I’m here to pay Bill regard and respect, and to say that he is a very significant person in the Labor movement.’’
Mr Shorten later lauded Mr Keating as a Labor icon who won the ''unwinnable election'' in 1993 and ''saved the country from a heartless right-wing radicalism''.
''We have 14 days to go, 14 days to win another election that many consider unwinnable,’’ he told the crowd. ‘‘We've done it before. We can do it again,'' he said.