Reflections on PMs past

The Hawke telemovie, airing as an election has been called, has had many wonks reminiscing about PMs past. There is still a lot of affection for Paul Keating from many Labor voters because of his wit, his vision and his passion. While I admired Rudd as PM, and feel that it’s disappointing that a government that actually performed well through difficult circumstances has been incapable of selling its achievements, he never really matched Keating in my mind.

Last night, watching the Hawke bio-pic, the difference between Rudd and Keating was crystalised for me in two moments, their respective victory speeches after winning an election. Both Keating and Rudd’s victories were impressive for different reasons, but after 11 years in the wilderness it’s not hyperbole to say that Labor supporters were absolutely desperate for their 2007 win and so had enormous expectations for Kevin Rudd.

This is what he gave them.

And there was another 15 minutes or so that you can search out if you like. I remember how ecstatic I was when Howard conceded, how thrilled I was to hear what Rudd would have to say, and how flat I felt after he delivered a pretty mediocre speech. Which is not to say he couldn’t deliver a great speech, the apology to the Stolen Generations gave me shivers, but on the night that he defeated Howard I wanted more than dull platitudes.

Compare that to the brilliance of Paul Keating speaking after beating John Hewson.

It’s hard to pick a favourite part from that speech, but I find the overall tenor, his belief in the people of Australia, inspiring.

And to the Australian people, through hard times, it makes their act of faith all that much greater. It’ll be a long time before an opposition party tries to divide this country again. It’ll be a long time before somebody tries to put one group of Australians over here and another group over there. The public, the public of Australia, are too decent, too conscientious and they’re too interested in their country to wear those sorts of things. This, I think, has very much been a victory of Australian values, because it was Australian values on the line and the Liberal party wanted to change Australia from the country it’s become: a cooperative, decent, nice place to live where people have regard for one another.

I think that for Keating it was about more than winning, it was about a vision for a more egalitarian and proud Australia. I wish that Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard could inspire such passion for our nation, we are all poorer for the anodyne, vacillating, focus group tested blandness that passes for political discourse from all of our major parties these days.

We miss you Paul.

(Hat tip to @cooo_ee who found the Keating audio and transcript for me.)