After Words: The Post-Prime Ministerial Speeches
Allen & Unwin, $59.99 hb, 628 pp
As of writing, Australia has six living ex-prime ministers – not quite a record. Of these, one, of course, is still in parliamentary harness, and may still aspire to the top job. Of the remaining five, all but one have provided us with voluminous accounts of their stewardship. The exception is our twenty-fourth prime minister, Paul Keating (1991–96). Not that he has not promised, or rather threatened, such an account, telling his great rival Bob Hawke, ‘if I get around to writing a book, and I might, I will be telling the truth; the whole truth ... [of] how lucky you were to have me to drive the government during your down years, leaving you with the credit for much of the success’. One can imagine how his publishers must salivate at the prospect. This might explain this grand piece of vanity publishing – more than 600 pages in hardback – containing the ex-prime minister’s speeches in retirement. Apart from one notable exception, they cover the period 1996 to 2011 and range in subject matter from Mahler’s Second Symphony – ‘go[ing] beyond any music of its kind ever written’ – to the ending by Labor of Australia’s ‘jurassic economy’, along with big picture approaches to international politics and perceptive analyses of the contemporary world’s economic woes.