This great, and I truly mean great, speech is a benchmark. Here is where the journey started, and here is where we need to go to take our bearings again. In time I hope more Australians recognise that.
It’s a paradox. The sometimes seedy Paul Keating was a greater exemplar of fundamental decency than his Sunday School shiny successor. Once hated by some for his arrogance, Paul Keating was an infant in that regard beside John Howard whose arrogance is far more potent.
Today’s Sydney Morning Herald features a major article on Keating by Peter Hartcher: The prime minister we had to have.
…Keating has a second theory, another explanation for the warmth of the reception he now receives. He says it is a reaction against Howard, part of a yearning for something more. Australia’s prosperity, the uninterrupted economic growth of the past 15 years, has made Australia “richer, stronger and more optimistic”, he says, but many people hope for something more.
“I do believe the one thing that’s missing out there – and this is in the quietness of the Australian political debate and the sallowness of it – is that there is now no guiding light. A lot of these guiding lights have been put out. The tricky-poo over the republic referendum – putting the wrong question to get the wrong result – and the sort of trying to, you know, hog the mourning, whether it’s the First or Second World War, hog the mourning.
“John Howard always pops up at these occasions – he’s at every national, international catastrophe, sort of representative of White Lady Funerals.
“He’s made an art form out of sadness and sorrow, rather than painting the picture of optimism and enlargement. That’s what I think national leadership is about.”
He used to call John Howard “Mister Magoo”. He was not wrong.