James Walter reviews 'Keating' by Kerry O'Brien

James Walter reviews 'Keating' by Kerry O'Brien


by Kerry O'Brien

Allen & Unwin, $49.99 hb, 806 pp, 9781760111625

Paul Keating continues to fascinate. Influential commentators such as Paul Kelly and George Megalogenis now celebrate the golden age of policy reform in which he was central, while lamenting the policy desert of recent years. Still, it is not enough: Keating, the master storyteller, wants to control the narrative of his legacy. Yet he professes disdain for biography and memoir, and is niggardly with applicants for an audience. Researchers go ahead anyway, drawing on Keating's associates and on public domain resources, to reach conclusions that Keating may not like.

How then is Keating to regain control of his story? By accepting the approach, not of some earnest academic, but of Kerry O'Brien, one of the remnant 'god journalists' (as Margaret Simons once classified them). Respected and trusted by the demographic to which this book will appeal, O'Brien is the perfect interlocutor, until the right biographer comes along – for, on the evidence of this book, Keating's supposed lack of interest in biography is disingenuous.

O'Brien's book comprises extended transcripts from O'Brien's four-part television series, Keating: The Interviews (ABC, 2013), now elaborated through further questioning. It is ninety per cent Keating. This is not to diminish O'Brien's contribution. He asks the right questions. He provides concise and informative introductions framing each chapter. His interviews skilfully map Keating's life and achievement, the nature of political life, the details of policy development, and the relations with colleagues, opposition leaders, and his partner (and rival) in dominance of their era: Bob Hawke.

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James Walter

James Walter

James Walter is Emeritus Professor of Politics at Monash University, and has published widely on leadership, biography, and political ideas. Volume two of his history of the Australian prime ministership (with Paul Strangio and Paul ‘t Hart),The pivot of power: The Australian prime ministership 1950 –2016 (Miegunyah Press), was published in 2017.

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