Paul Keating

Australian politician, 24th Prime Minister of Australia

Paul John Keating (born 18 January 1944), Australian politician and 24th Prime Minister of Australia from 1991 to 1996. As member of the Australian Labor Party (ALP), he previously served as the reforming treasurer of Australia from 1983 to 1991 and as deputy prime minister of Australia from 1990 to 1991. As Prime Minister, he won an "unwinnable" election of 1993. He left school at the age of 14, joined the Labor Party at the same age, served a term as State President of Young Labor and worked as a research assistant for a trade union. Elected to the Australian House of Representatives at the age of 25, he came to be seen as the leader of the Labor Right faction, and developed a reputation as a talented and fierce parliamentary performer.

Taiwan is not a vital Australian interest... we’ve always seen it as a part of China...


A familiar question for Australians is how much we are a product of our circumstances, and how much we are what we have made ourselves to be.
This is the sweetest victory of all. This is a victory for the true believers; the people who, in difficult times, have kept the faith.
In the end it's the big picture which changes nations and whatever our opponents may say, Australia's changed inexorably for good, for the better.
  • If this Government cannot get the adjustment, get manufacturing going again, and keep moderate wage outcomes and a sensible economic policy, then Australia is basically done for. We will end up being a third rate economy...a banana republic.
  • "The first thing to say is that the accounts do show that Australia is in a recession. The most important thing about that is that this is a recession that Australia had to have." Press conference, 29 November 1990.

Michael Stutchbury and Tom Dusevic (1990-11-30). "Wind knocked out of economy". Australian Financial Review. Retrieved on 2022-08-14. 

Labor in Power - Episode 4 - The Recession We Had to Have (2020-11-05). Retrieved on 2022-08-14.

  • The Placido Domingo of Australian politics.
    • Self description, based on the assessment that Domingo's performances are "sometimes great, and sometimes not great, but always good." Press Gallery Christmas dinner, 1990.
  • Hewson: I ask the Prime Minister: if you are so confident about your view of Fightback, why will you not call an early election?
    Keating: The answer is, mate, because I want to do you slowly. There has to be a bit of sport in this for all of us. In the psychological battle stakes, we are stripped down and ready to go. I want to see those ashen-faced performances; I want more of them. I want to be encouraged. I want to see you squirm out of this load of rubbish over a number of months. There will be no easy execution for you. You have perpetrated one of the great mischiefs on the Australian public with this thing, trying to rip away our social wage, trying to rip away the Australian values which we built in our society for over a century.
  • It was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the diseases. The alcohol. We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practised discrimination and exclusion. It was our ignorance and our prejudice. And our failure to imagine these things being done to us.
  • This is the sweetest victory of all. This is a victory for the true believers; the people who, in difficult times, have kept the faith.
  • The excesses of the 80s must not reappear in the 90s, The last thing we need now is a return to the 80s philosophy of 'greed is good' and that the only useful interest is self-interest.
    • From a speech he delivered in Bankstown, New South Wales on the 24 February 1993[1]
  • A familiar question for Australians is how much we are a product of our circumstances, and how much we are what we have made ourselves to be. In truth, by the act of migration the country was made: by that voluntary act and by the emigrants' ambitions it was built.
    • Address to the Dáil Éireann, the lower house of parliament of the Republic of Ireland, 20 September 1993.
  • We will not adopt the fantastic hypocrisy of modern conservatism which preaches the values of families and communities, while conducting a direct assault on them through reduced wages and conditions and job security.
  • By the year 2000 we should be able to say that we have learned to live securely, in peace and mutual prosperity among our Asian and Pacific neighbours. We will not be cut off from our British and European cultures and traditions or from those economies. On the contrary, the more engaged we are economically and politically with the region around us, the more value and relevance we bring to those old relationships. Far from putting our identity at risk, our relationships with the region will energise it.
  • In the end it's the big picture which changes nations and whatever our opponents may say, Australia's changed inexorably for good, for the better.
  • Paul Keating ‘liked to say’, Professor Huntington asserts confidently, that I was going to change Australia from being ‘“the odd man out to the odd man in” in Asia’. Despite Professor Huntington’s authoritative quotation marks, I liked to say no such thing, and I never did. What I did say, and many times, was that Australia was not Asian or European or American or anything except Australian. This is what history and geography have delivered us. It is the only option we have and one which we have every reason to celebrate.
  • We have heard often since the last election the mantra that Australia doesn’t have to choose between our history and our geography. It appears again in the Howard government’s recently released White Paper on foreign policy. But just think about that assertion for a minute. What could it possibly mean? No choice we can make as a nation lies between our history and our geography. We can hardly change either of them. They are immutable. The only choice we can make as a nation is the choice about our future.
  • I mean (blowing lips), I mean he's going Mr Speaker, Mr Speaker, he's going troppo, he's going troppo, he's more to be pitied than despised, he's simply going troppo.
  • You just can't have a position where some pumped up bunyip potentate dismisses an elected government.
  • [Australian Reserve Bank] Governor MacFarlane said recently when Paul Volcker broke the back of American inflation it's regarded as the policy triumph of the Western world. When I broke the back of Australian inflation they say, "Oh, you're the fellow that put the interest rates up." Am I not the same fellow that gave them the 15 years of good growth and high wealth that came from it?
    • 7:30 Report interview, 8 May 2006
  • Between 1999 and 2004 there was no investment in Australia, it all went into housing and consumption all borrowed on the current account. When Peter Costello runs around saying, 'Oh we've paid off the debt,' it's like the pea and thimble trick. The Government debt or the massive private debt abroad? It's continuing to grow.
    • 7:30 Report interview, 8 May 2006
  • The little desiccated coconut is under pressure and he is attacking anything he can get his hands on... (he is) still there araldited to the seat.
    • In reference to Prime Minister John Howard. ABC Radio interview, 5 March 2007.
  • All tip and no iceberg.
    • Referring to Treasurer Peter Costello, ABC Radio interview, 5 March 2007.
  • The fact is, Burke is smarter than two thirds of the Western Australian Labor Party rolled together
    • Referring to disgraced former Western Australia Premier Brian Burke, ABC Radio interview, 5 March 2007.
  • For John Howard to get to any high moral ground he would have to first climb out of the volcanic hole he's dug for himself over the last decade. You know, it's like one of those deep diamond mined holes in South Africa, you know, they're about a mile underground. He'd have to come a mile up to get to even equilibrium, let alone have any contest in morality with Kevin Rudd.
    • ABC Radio interview, 5 March 2007.
  • He's a pre-Copernican obscurantist.
    • Referring to Prime Minister John Howard's attitude to industrial relations. ABC Radio interview, 1 May 2007.
  • Because in the end those kind of conservative tea-leaf-reading focus group driven polling types who I think led Kim into nothingness, he's got his life to repent in leisure now at what they did to him.
    • On Kim Beazley's ALP Leadership, Lateline interview, 7 June 2007.
  • The Labor Party is not going to profit from having these proven unsuccessful people around who are frightened of their own shadow and won't get out of bed in the morning unless they've had a focus group report to tell them which side of bed to get out.
    • On the modern ALP, Lateline interview, 7 June 2007.
  • Silly what's his name, the Shrek, whoever he was on the television this morning?
    • Referring to Howard Government Minister Joe Hockey, Lateline interview, 7 June 2007.
  • He’s the greatest L plater of all time.
    • Referring to Treasurer Peter Costello, Lateline interview, 7 June 2007. Lateline interview
  • Clodhopper
    • Referring to former Treasurer Peter Costello, launch of Unfinished Business - Paul Keating's Interrupted Revolution, 6 August 2008. 7.30 Report Interview
  • I used to refer to him as Thallium, a slow acting dope
  • This is a low-flying person.
    • Referring yet again to former Treasurer Peter Costello, 7.30 Report, 8 August 2008. 7.30 Report Interview
  • While frenetic activity, in the end suiting journos; running at the behest of little press secretaries does not pay off
  • The dogs may bark but the caravan moves on.
  • John Howard turned the prime ministership into something like a state police minister. He's at the scene of every crime, twice a day on radio, the guy did no thinking.
  • This society of ours is better than the United States. It’s more even, it’s more fair, we’ve had a 50% increase in real income in the last 20 years. Median America has had zero, zero... We don’t shoot our children in schools and if they were to be shot we’d take the guns off the people who shot them. The Americans do not do this... The idea that… we are some sort of subordinate outfit that has to get a signal from abroad before we think of ours is a complete denial of everything we have created here.
  • China is simply too big and too central to be ostracised. My point is that China is now so big and it is going to grow so large, it will have no precedents in modern social economic history.... we haven’t come to a point of accommodation where it acknowledges China’s pre-eminence in east Asia and the Asian mainland, in which case we can start to move towards a sensible relationship again with China.
    The key point is – is the rise of China legitimate? Is taking 20 per cent of humanity – 1.4 billion people – from abject poverty something the world should welcome?
    And in our terms, it has completely remodelled the Australian economy. If we give China the recognition I believe it is due in terms of its legitimacy … then I think a lot of these issues, the so-called 14 points, sort of fall off the table.... We have no relationship with Beijing, so why would the Prime Minister of Malaysia or Singapore or Thailand talk to us about east Asia when we are non-speakers with the biggest power, the Chinese?

[In Full: Paul Keating addresses National Press Club of Australia, Sky News Australia]

  • Taiwan is not a vital Australian interest. We have no alliance with Taipei. There is no piece of paper sitting in Canberra which has an alliance with Taipei. We do not recognise it as a sovereign state – we’ve always seen it as a part of China... My view is Australia should not be drawn into a military engagement over Taiwan, US-sponsored or otherwise...
  • (On rebuilding relationships with Beijing) At least give it respect. What the Chinese want, I think, is respect for what they’ve created. Our central proposition should be that the rise of China is entirely valid. What the Chinese want is acknowledgement of the validity of what they have done and what they have created: the legitimacy of the rise of China from its colonial past and from poverty.
  • (On Xi as president for life: ‘A belief in harmony’) Well, it’s a good way to stay in power, I guess. It’s not my way. I actually believe in a community’s right to dismiss the government. But you’ve got to remember that China is broadly a Confucian society that believes in harmony, in authority, and it is with this background that it accepts, I think broadly, the role of the Chinese Communist party. I mean, the idea that we have that if you don’t vote at the local ballot box, that is, if you are not a Jeffersonian liberal, then you are a savage, belies the fact that China has a 4,000-year history which has these characteristics about it.

*(On Britain’s tilt to the Indo-Pacific: ‘Old theme park’) You know, here’s our old friend – what’s his name – the British prime minister waxing lyrical down there in Cornwall. I mean, Britain is like an old theme park sliding into the Atlantic compared to modern China. China is just going to be huge.

  • In October 2020, the IMF in its annual report nominated China as the world’s largest economy. It says China’s economy is now 20% larger than the United States, 24tn versus 20tn – a report which was endorsed by the CIA. So you have the IMF and the CIA out there saying China is 20% bigger than the United States now. These are the key numbers. American GDP per capita is $60,000. China’s GDP per capita is $10,000. But as China is moving out of its old model of cheap manufactured goods, their income is going to rise. But at 10,000 US dollars per capita, China is 20% bigger than the US. How many years is it going to take China to get to 20,000? Not 60 … but with the highly urbanised economy of theirs, it will take a decade, perhaps. If it gets to $20,000 US per capita, it will be 2.5 times bigger than the United States. To which the United States says: “That is all very interesting but, look, if you behave yourselves, you Chinese, you can be a stakeholder in our system.” And you would not have to be Xi Jinping to take the view, if you are a Chinese nationalist, “let me get this right, we are already 1.25 times bigger than you, we will soon be twice as big as you and we may be 2.5 times as big as you, but we can be a stakeholder in your system, is that it?” It would make a cat laugh.
  • (China debate ‘informed by the spooks’) Australian public debate is informed by the spooks. Our foreign policy debate now in Canberra is informed by the security agencies, so you are not getting a macro view of China as it really is.
    China wants its front doorstep and its front porch, that is Taiwan, its sea, it doesn’t want American naval forces influencing that. It wants access out of its coast into the deeper waters of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific. That’s what it’s about fundamentally.



Quotes about Keating

  • Former Australian prime ministers tend to be less conspicuous in public life than their counterparts in other countries... But there are a few radiant surprises...The Labor side of politics has Paul Keating, the last, dare one use the word, visionary, in the prime ministerial pack... Not a day goes by that does not see Australian politicians sign themselves up to the next suicidal conflict that might take place over Taiwan or over the South China Sea. On November 10, Keating, at the Australian National Press Club, was bursting to speak to the audience about his taking of the geopolitical temperature. It was his modest effort to try to arrest this seemingly imminent move...
    The reaction to such sober edged analysis was never going to go down well in the lunatic, zombie establishment gearing, and oiling, for war. There are invisible submarines to build, a regional arms race to encourage, false promises to make... There have been some defenders of the former prime minister, insisting that he has something sensible to say. ABC host and commentator Stan Grant tells his audience that Keating “is not an apologist for Chinese authoritarianism but a cold-eyed realist about Chinese power and how it can be incorporated into a global political order.” But realism, for the moment at least, has been anathemised. The Anglophone alliance that is AUKUS is testament to that fact. Blood-thirsty nostalgia, and the ning-nongs, are intent on running the show.
  • Monday will be the 25th anniversary of one of the most prophetic speeches in Australian political history. Then prime minister Paul Keating told the National Press Club: "When the government changes, the country changes ... but what we've built in these years is, I think, so valuable - to change it and to lose it, is just a straight appalling loss for Australia." He was dead right. The legacy of John Howard's government is the opposite of the picture he painted on election night in 1996...

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