Cutting the mustard

After Words: The Post-Prime Ministerial Speeches

by P.J. Keating

Allen & Unwin, $59.99 hb, 628 pp, 9781742377599

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.

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Published in February 2012 no. 338
Neal Blewett

Neal Blewett

Neal Blewett has had a varied career as academic, politician, and diplomat. A Tasmanian Rhodes scholar, he taught successively at the Universities of Oxford and Adelaide and became Professor of Political Theory and Institutions at Flinders University. He has written books and articles on British and Australian history and politics. As Health Minister in the Hawke government he was responsible for the introduction of Medicare and Australia’s Aids policy. His diary of the Keating government was published in 1999. From 1994 to 1998 he was Australian High Commissioner in London as well as a member of the Executive Board of the World Health Organization. He now writes, gardens, and walks in the Blue Mountains.