They don’t make them like Paul Keating anymore

8.30 pm is the absolute worst time in the 24 hour cycle for me, but of course it is prime TV time and last night we were treated to the first of four interviews of Paul Keating by Kerry O’Brien.

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Are there any other politicians who could sustain our interest over four hours? I’d have to agree with Evan Williams: They don’t make them like Paul Keating anymore.

He’s right, the scheduling shows up the current mediocre lot now gathering in Canberra.

The 1990 Australian election was a close run thing. The ALP under Bob Hawke won by nine seats with 49.9% of the vote. Mark once told me Australia would have been a much better place now if Peacock had won. Peacock would have been a one-term time minister, followed by PJK for three terms, followed by some-one other than John Howard. We can but dream!

Elsewhere Keating was in fine form in the Remembrance Day address. He reworked the folly of the First World War in a way that enhances us all and makes us grow in spirit.

He made some fine speeches but was also the master of the one-line insult. Here too there was a rawness and honesty that shades the current lot, who often use one-liners thought up by their spinmeisters.

74 thoughts on “They don’t make them like Paul Keating anymore”

  1. Agree, there is no one like Keating these days – ever? Whilst I don’t really miss his withering jibes, I thought they were great, albeit plain cruel at times. Very entertaining, but at the risk of obscuring the issue at hand. Pollies still use diversion to avoid answers but nobody comes close to Keatings natural ability to use devastating rapier-like wit to hold a debate on his terms.

    His line at Peacock [who was trying to regain leadership 1989] “A soufflé doesn’t rise twice” might have been fairly leveled at Rudd.

    O’Brien is still one of the best interviewers although his labor leanings are usually pretty apparent. Hopefully that won’t skew the record of one of Australia’s extraordinary PM’s.

  2. Keating is both a big picture man and a formidable infighter.

    Three remarkable things:

    1. The quality of his childhood attire. Whoever dressed him had a huge sense of style.

    2. That watch. Keating clearly took ownership of his sense of style.

    3. Trench warfare in Labor branches. Keating’s single mindedness and self confidence were phenomenal.

    The child was the father of the man.

  3. Keating’s time as Prime Minister coincided with my commencing and completing an Environmental Science degree, and in the process paying close attention to the environmental policy performance of Australian Federal and State governments. For this reason I cannot share in the nostalgic enthusiasm for the Keating era, as his government was generally a failure on environmental and sustainability issues.

    Let me be clear here on the criteria for assessment. I am not simply saying that the Keating Government fell short of the demands of environmental NGOs and/or the Greens, or the recommendations of environmental scientists and other environmental policy professionals. I am saying that the Keating Government was responsible for failing to progress, and in some respects aborting and reversing, the environmental and sustainability policy achievements of the Hawke Labor Government. To some extent this was due to factors that were already in play in Hawke’s last 18 months – the accession of a weak and inept Environment Minister in the face of an aggressive clutch of Ministers in developmental portfolios determined to avenge the defeats of 1987-1990, and in the wider political environment a concerted push for a return to development as usual by conservative political forces, business interests, the conservative media and (under MrnFrsn’s leadership) the ACTU, expedited by the recession of the early 1990s. However the scuttling of Hawke’s Ecologically Development Process and its outcomes was something for which PJK must take considerable personal responsibility.

    Keating was the first Australian Prime Minister, and the first Australian Labor Prime Minister, to take office following the collapse of “actually existing socialism” in 1989-91 and the crisis of the Left that was associated with, but went beyond, those events. It was a time when people on the left were crying out, like Roger Milliss at the end of Serpent’s Tooth, “give me some star to steer by!”. Keating’s agenda filled that void for many people, and I think that this affective element helps to explain the reverence in which he is held by many. This plus the fact that Hawke was saddled personally with most of the Left’s opprobrium for the Federal Labor Government’s “moving right” during the 1980s (unfairly so IMHO considering that any other potential Labor PM during that period would have presided over much the same economic agenda, probably without Hawke’s saving graces on the social and environmental policy agendas, and almost certainly without Hawke’s electoral successes against a very conservative Coalition).

  4. Loved it, so far. Keen to see what excuse he makes for allowing the Australian Army to train with the Indonesian death squads though. That was his greatest error.

  5. I haven’t seen the program yet. I may try it later on Iview. I worked in Parliament House during the Keating prime ministership and didn’t then and cannot now join in the adulation of him. I was always intimidated by his sweeping passage with two or three similarly tall and sharp suited men. I found much of his ‘wit’ as cruel and sometimes vulgar.
    There was an emptiness at the heart of the government. And to my mind it damaged Labor for years. Don Watson’s book which I read years later confirmed me original impressions about the lack of will at the centre. I have know Parliament under other PMs and their force usually emanates through the whole place.

  6. I wouldn’t have thought this needed pointing out, but can I just say that expressions of admiration and affection by people (including me) who were blown away last night by the sheer personal quality of Keating at 70 — his intellect, his self-awareness, his energy, his forcefulness, his breadth of knowledge, his articulateness, his charm, his love of ideas and ideals — do NOT equate to blanket approval of his policies or anything else about his time in government.

  7. There’s something in Keating’s delivery that reminds me of Barry Humphries. It’s very watchable and I now (again) want better politicians.

  8. PC – I probably will watch the interview, but while I can see why you list those qualities, my main memory of Keating the politician was the huge contempt and scorn he had for ‘losers’ – actually quite a lot of the population. Who did more to separate the ‘battlers’ from the ALP and send them off to Pauline Hanson or wherever?

  9. He sent them off? John Howard appearing on the 7.30 Report with his pictures of maps of Australia showing about 90% of Australian land coloured in, as a visual to scare people about Mabo and how much land would be reclaimed under Mabo had something to do with that, as I recall. John Howard flamed it, Pauline Hanson grabbed it quite by accident, John Howard took it back. Since then, it’s never gone away and both parties feed it with ‘illegals’ and ‘stop the boats’, instead of looking for its real causes.

  10. Well, there’s a comment in mod which makes sense of that last comment. But meanwhile, what do you mean by contempt for the ‘losers’? To what are you referring or do you have a quote you remember?

  11. Casey – I think Howard was remembered as the hated Treasurer under the hated PM, Fraser. What made it possible for traditional ALP voters to vote for him? Many things … but Hawke, and moreso Keating, were seen as enthralled with the big end of town. Keating was less interested than Hawke in convincing the average worker that neoliberalism (privatisation and the rest) was good for them. People knew he wanted to sell Telstra and so on, so in the end did he seem that different than Howard?

    Add to that Keating’s remarks about the arse-end of the world, and the only way to see Darwin was from 40,000 feet up in the air on the way to Paris (did he actually say that? well, he could have) and his apparent disdain for ordinary uncultured Australians, and that he became associated with the disapproving views of the educated elite ….I think his attitude disenchanted a lot of ALP voters, and at the same time he didn’t bother to differentiate his economic policies from Howard’s.

  12. My moderated comment refers to how Howard was able to stoke fear around the issue of Native Title and that’s what sent them to Hanson. But you are right I think that his personality and policies and plans were too uncomfortable for a lot of people:

    To quote MacIntyre and Clark from The History Wars

    The lesson of the 1993 election seemed clear. The electorate was weary of constant upheaval, sceptical of economic rationalism, craving respite from the dictates of the market. Many were uncomfortable with Keating’s vituperative style but at least he spoke to their doubts and uncertainties with a Big Picture of Australia and its place in the world. That Big Picture was far from impregnable. Many felt uncomfortable with its breadth and associated its colourful hyperbole with the antique clocks and Zegna suits of its creator. Many longed for a more homely, less challenging national story. The task of the conservatives was to provide it

    .

    And so they did.

  13. Casey – I was reading some political history the other day about W.A. and native title at that time, and it wasn’t only the conservatives that made it difficult for Keating. Brian Burke wasn’t exactly a friend of native title!

  14. Howard gave philistines permission to feel relaxed and comfortable.

    Anyone interested in this epoch of Australian history should crash through the pain barrier entailed in reading Howard’s Lazarus Rising. Howard is quite frank about how sedulously he laboured to manufacture that permission. Howard was a great believer in the Straussisn “noble lie”, and said so quite openly at the end of his book, reasonably calculating that anyone who attempted to read that far would have lost the will to live.

  15. Listen the for mine, the closest white Australia has ever to come to a full admission of the wrongs perpetrated against the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia was The Redfern Speech. It leaves anything else behind in the dust. Not Mabo, not Native Title, not the possibilities of Wik, and certainly not The National Apology came very close at all to the admissions of culpability made in the Redfern Speech.

    For that alone, he deserves respect. Here is the speech and the admissions are made at around 5.50 mins. You can hear people talking at first and then things quiet down as people realise what he is saying.

    While I understand that Paul Keating always had in mind a bright big glorious picture of Australia which he wanted to drive forward, the admissions made that day are startling. The pure shock of the way in which he bears witness to history stands the test of time.

  16. Excellent!

    Katz @ 3: Agree with you there.

    Keating’s greatest contribution was to get rid of an appalling Prime Minister; his greatest failure was to be defeated by another appalling Prime Minister.

  17. It would have been great to have a camera in the room of the Whitlam Cabinet when he proposed they should have Sir John Kerr arrested.

  18. For all Labor’s supposed toughness they have never grasped the fact that the coalition are capable of any immorality required to take government.
    We are in a sense too decent to stoop to the filth required to win at any cost. I have witnessed their level of bastardry at State and federal level for well over half a century. History repeats.

  19. The Redfern speech was superb. But credit where it is due, Keating was preceded by generations of radicals whose disgust at racial abuse informed him. He did not discover a new planet, or the historical reality of dispossession. In a letter to John Howard, dated Australia Day 1997, Judith Wright begins begins “your government has been both weak and corrupt”; her engagement with injustice towards Aborigines preceded Keating’s profoundly belated recognition, from the ALP, by a long time and was an appreciation of dispossession more subtle and nuanced than Keating could have imagined.

    Keating, great guy, but not the beginning of history.

  20. Thank you Casey.
    That speech was years before the Stolen Generations report, but note the applause when Keating mentions them. The language wasn’t even there yet to describe that horror, but the audience understood it and made clear their understanding of it. Whatever his failings, I think Keating was a genuine champion of Aboriginal Australia.

  21. Jungney @ 24:
    Yeah. Fair enough.

    It’s a bit like the mainstream entertainment media’s recent discovery of the “Indigenous” celebrity Noel Pearson when they ignored, for decades, everything that wise and far-sighted and innovative Aborigines suggested. They ignored the practical, beneficial, cost-effective ideas rest of us were listening to.

    Still, since Paul Keating’s Redfern speech did make things a bit better for Aborigines everywhere, I’m happy with the outcome.

    ((b.t.w: Don’t panic; it is only in an ironical or satirical context that you’ll ever hear me use the land-stealer, neo-colonialist term “Indigenous” instead of Aboriginal/Aborigine. I haven’t joined the Forces of Evil)).

  22. oops. sorry. that should have been “land re-stealer’; Aborigines had has their land stolen before too.

  23. Whilst on the subject of Whitlam, and with the Dismissal anniversary just 3 days old, it is seldom remembered that one of the last foreign policy actions of his government (on 10 November 1975) was to vote in the UN General Assembly against the Stalinist Resolution 3379 declaring that Zionism was “a form of racism and racial discrimination”. It is salutary to look at the list of odious regimes (provided at the link) that supported the resolution, and to thank Gough for keeping Australia out of that company.

  24. In his book, “A Secret Country,” John Pilger had this to say about Keating: “Keating is an egocentric and pugnacious man, self taught in economics, antiques dealing and neo-classical art, subjects upon which he pronounces a great deal. For example: “You couldn’t get any better than [neo-classical art]. There hasn’t been any better since; and, since deco, there have been only fag packets and bottletops.” His descriptions of the Opposition and others opposed to his economic policies include the following: harlots, sleazebags, frauds, immoral cheats, boxheads, brain damaged, loopy crims, stupid foul-mouthed grubs, pieces of criminal garbage, rustbuckets, scumbags, dimwits, dummies, perfumed gigolos, pissants, gutless spivs, stunned mullets, ghouls and barnyard bullies. Inexplicably, Keating is described by his supporters as ‘eloquent.”

    In the same assessment, Pilger, a strongly left leaning author himself, added that “Keating has spoken a great deal about Australians’ need for sacrifice, although he does not mention those exempt from his strictures, notably himself. Up until 1987, Keating listed his ‘principal place of residence’ as Sydney. This allowed him to claim more than $17,000 a year as tax-free living-away-from-home allowance, designed to compensate him from separation from his family. In fact, he and his family lived together virtually full-time in a rented house in Canberra.“

    All this, from an author who on the face of it would be expected to share Keating’s politics.

    Keating is hardly a person to admire, (although I must acknowledge the Redfern speech was admirable, but I doubt he wrote it). Perhaps we’re fortunate they don’t make them like him any more.

  25. Just as a matter of information: the term ‘stolen generations’ was coined by Sydney Uni historian Peter Read in the early 1980’s. As an aside he supervised my daughter’s history honours thesis on the Wanaruah mob’s purchase of their old mission at St Clair.

    Claims that at the time of the Redfern speech there was no language to ‘describe that horror’ are bunkum the proof of which is Bob Randall’s ‘Brown Skin Baby (They Took Me Away)’ which was recorded in the early 1970’s and which, as Paul Kelly commented, you inevitably would hear at any gathering among Aborigines all across Australia. Prior to that, of course, the poetry of Oodgeroo Noonuccal had been giving voice to Aboriginal concerns about this sadness from the mid-sixties on.

    Then there’s the writing of Kevin Gilbert who, in his (1978) ‘Living Black’ wrote:

    The real horror story of Aboriginal Australia today is locked in police files and child welfare reports. It is a story of private misery and degradation, caused by a complex chain of historical circumstance, that continues into the present

    Lets try and keep true history known.

  26. All this, from an author who on the face of it would be expected to share Keating’s politics

    Only in some bizarre parallel universe.

    Perhaps we’re fortunate they don’t make them like him any more.

    The qualities that Keating, for all his faults had in spades; intelligence, wit, conviction and an ability to fight for what he believed in, a lack of cowardice, are the very qualities that are so missing from current ALP leaders.

    Rudd’s major flaw was his dithering lack of conviction when it counted, and the apparently insatiable need to be super popular. Gillard had a similar lack of conviction, and the majority of the ALP today lack the vital killer instinct.

    So yes, unless you happen to be a coalition supporter it is very unfortunate they don’t make them like him anymore.

  27. Keating’s Redfern speech was great, but IIRC the native Title Act itself was the first attempt to limit the damage and rights gained from the Mabo decision. So its lost a bit of shine, and Keating too, since his govt drafted the legislation/ Its a bit like KRudd really. he apologised to the stolen generations, and at that moment we were all with him, and thought him a worthy person. But it was downhill from there.

    Don’t panic; it is only in an ironical or satirical context that you’ll ever hear me use the land-stealer, neo-colonialist term “Indigenous” instead of Aboriginal/Aborigine.

    Bullshit whiteboy. Call “them” Blackfellas, cos its generic and covers everyone – the Noongars, Murries and Goories around the place.

    If you really respected people you’d make the effort to learn their individual mob, where they come from, and refer to them as Githabul, Bundjalung, Yurringir, Nyul Nyul, Gamilaroi or whatever.

    Better yet, call them by their names.

    FFS I haven’t been online for ages and the first thing I see Is GB being a dill. Again.

  28. Jules, my memory of Keating’s decision on Mabo was that he didn’t want to legislate beyond the decisions of the High Court in that one case; he explicitly stated at the time that he wanted the High Court to rule on further title issues, and he was waiting for Wik. I recall him stating this explicitly in a TV interview at the time (?) You may recall he couldn’t act on Wik because the dessicated coconut beat him in the 1996 election, but I think had he done so he would not have explicitly legislated to extinguish title (as Ratty did). Remember Harradine dancing with the Wik appellants in front of parliament, then selling them down the river so he could get a cheap concession on pr0n from Ratty? Those were dark times, and I don’t think Keating would have done things in the same way.

    For all his many flaws, and despite his obvious deviation from a lot of radical left economic ideas, I think Keating was serious about Indigenous issues, and although obviously compromised by the politics of his era, he really did his best.

  29. Wik only found that there was a possibility that title could be shared. It would have required further court cases to decide on that. Howard’s ten point plan shut that possibility down, but you know, that possibility – now that was reconciliation in all its potential – how radical could that have been? All gone now.

    Mabo itself failed from the outset when it found that there had been self-governing-people here at settlement but refused to rule on Indigenous sovereignty, saying that it could not visit the issue because it’s parliament’s job and no, apparently this could fracture of the skeleton of the white law. So the court won’t rule on pre-existing sovereignty even though it found that sovereign peoples lived here when if found that people were self-governing here and the Parliament will not visit the issue, cause please, as if they will give up anything. Where do Indigenous people go next? It was a nice tie up.

  30. PK’s description of the coalition from Pilger

    harlots, sleazebags, frauds, immoral cheats, boxheads, brain damaged, loopy crims, stupid foul-mouthed grubs, pieces of criminal garbage, rustbuckets, scumbags, dimwits, dummies, perfumed gigolos, pissants, gutless spivs, stunned mullets, ghouls and barnyard bullies.
    sounds reasonable to me.

  31. FN its been a while since I followed this particular argument.

    However broadly speaking and IIRC – the native title act made it so all pastoral leases automatically extinguished native title at all times. Mabo wasn’t so explicit. It left certain room for movement depending on the actual land use/characteristics of the lease and whether or not the lease actually stopped ongoing connection with the land. I think this was what the Wik people relied on when they appealed to the High Court regarding their Native Title claim from 93.

    Didn’t they win the appeal despite the Native Title Act? Thats my recollection. Tho its been a while, and I stopped following it all with the same interest in the early 0ies.

    For all his many flaws, and despite his obvious deviation from a lot of radical left economic ideas, I think Keating was serious about Indigenous issues, and although obviously compromised by the politics of his era, he really did his best.

    You may be right about Keatings attitude re the NT Act and waiting for Wik. What would have happened hyad he won in ’96 is one of those things we’ll never know about. I’m sure it would have been better tho.

    And yeah blaming Keating for flaws in the NT act isn’t fair either. He wasn’t the overlord of world at the time, just PM. Tho a PM might be ultimately responsible for something in her or his govt they aren’t necessarily in control of every detail in every piece of legislation.

    I still remember some of the things he said in defense of reconciliation and the criticisms he made of bigots who hated Blackfellas. He was definitely committed to a fair go for Blackfellas in Australia.

    We’ve gone so far backwards since then.

  32. Casey – I thought it was definite that title could be shared, cos thats what their appeal hinged on. Tho as i said its been a while so i could be wrong.

    as far as indigenous sovereignty goes .. i don’t think the High court could rule on it. I’m pretty sure there’s a provision in the constitution that states the HC can’t make a ruling that makes itself invalid – it can’t rule against its own authority.

    I spose if it could, then that very ruling would lose its authority making it an invalid ruling. Its a logical conundrum. Like saying:

    “The next sentence is true. The last sentence was false.”

    Thats why it was up to parliament to make that ruling. And I agree – they failed abysmally. If Keating won in 96 things might have been very different. Howard hated Blackfellas. Dunno if anyone remembers the reconciliation Convention in ’97 where Howard’s opening address involved him yelling and shaking his fist at the audience.

    (Also for some reason i have this memory of John Howard not watching Cathy Freeman’s race in 2000, but going to the basketball instead. That can’t be right tho – surely not.)

  33. Casey my memory is that Keating wanted to deal with the last part of the tangle after Wik, and I have no doubt that he would not have extinguished title in his response to Wik. My memory is that Mabo ruled Native Title and freehold title had to coexist, and Keating was waiting for Wik to be decided before he legislated the last part of it. And I also remember Howard chose the path of maximum destruction at that point, because Howard is a nasty hater.

    I remember thinking that Keating’s response to Mabo didn’t go far enough and that it seemed unwilling to upset or disenfranchise even a single landholder. I also remember Keating was very eloquent in his defense of what he was trying to do, and quite reasonable.

    Maybe my memory is all wrong now.

    Jules, at that 1997 conference he banged his hand on the lectern too. Also he and his govt launched a scathing attack on the author of the Stolen Generations report, trying to traduce his reputation and his authority. They were absolutely nasty about native title in the early years. And wasn’t HOward’s very first policy announcement the dismantling of ATSIC?

  34. My memory is that Mabo ruled Native Title and freehold title had to coexist, and Keating was waiting for Wik to be decided before he legislated the last part of it.

    Here is my understanding, FN. I’m no lawyer, but this is my reading of it. Mabo ruled that freehold extinguished native title. I think it also ruled that leasehold extinguished native title until the Wik and Thayorre peoples went to court and then it gets very complicated as to whether leases are to be considered under common law or statute law. If statute law, then the majority view held that that doesn’t necessarily extend exclusive possession and therefore extinguish native title. The result of Wik was that it was up to the Wik and Thayorre peoples to press their claims in further court cases. It was indeed hopeful but then Howard enacted legislation which effectively extinguished it. But if you look at Mabo, it ruled that the Government can simply enact legislation to extinguish native title anyway. Mabo (or rather, Native Title) was so scary to everyone but it had been securely chained to the white law by the time the ruling came down, no doubt about that.

  35. ah! I think I agree with your version Casey. I was trying to remember the other title besides freehold. In the interview with keating that I saw he said openly that he wanted to leave the decision about how to handle freehold to the Wik decision, and would deal with that issue after. I think he saw Mabo as laying hte groundwork, offering a chance to calm people down and get them used to the idea of native title and white law coexisting in some way. Of course, he never got the chance.

    I remember thinking that the basic conditions of Mabo rendered it ineffective as a form of social justice because the only people it applied to were those who didn’t need it. You had to show continual connection to the land in order to qualify for Mabo rights, but in that case you didn’t need the rights! And of course the most abject victims of genocide – those driven from their land and dispossessed of their culture and their children – would never be able to meet Mabo’s conditions. So it ended up justifying their exclusion within the law. It may have overturned terra nullius, but it legally validated terra exterminus.

    But maybe Keating was hoping to build on it with Wik. Instead Ratty started the great unravelling.

  36. You had to show continual connection to the land in order to qualify for Mabo rights, but in that case you didn’t need the rights! And of course the most abject victims of genocide – those driven from their land and dispossessed of their culture and their children – would never be able to meet Mabo’s conditions. So it ended up justifying their exclusion within the law. It may have overturned terra nullius, but it legally validated terra exterminus.

    Totally! It didn’t take into consideration those removed by the child removal policies, as you say. If you couldn’t prove connection, title was extinguished. Period. Very tame beast.

    Still, I was working in Parliament House the day Mabo came down. I was very young and had no idea what was going on. All I knew was that everything went very quiet and everyone was away down at the court. It really spooked the pollies, I remember that. However tame it was, it had power. It was the beginning of things. All movements forward, however, small are good things.

  37. And with choice between Paul Keating and Mark Latham whose words would and should be considered with more respect?

  38. Good for you. Comparison of the two individuals’ political track records, and general contribution to public life, is pretty telling.

  39. I often don’t agree with Guy Rundle, but I thought his summary here was pretty spot on:

    By 2012, stories about internal disputes appeared to be written without any sources whatsoever, and were pretty much fact-free. Did Rudd add a new and toxic level to a party toxified by the micro-factional “leaders”, who have spent two decades turning the party into a political Balkans? Doubtless to a degree, but there is a sense in which he is being used as a scapegoat to bear these troubles away.

    The idea that Roxon, Conroy, Swan, Ludwig et. al. had never witnessed political opportunism before in their lives has always been hard to swallow. As has been the idea that all failings of the Gillard Labor Govt. 2010-13 can be laid at the feet of K. Rudd. For a start, you could look at the tactical nous of John McTernan to see where at least some of Julia Gillard’s problems came from (Real Julia, Rooty Hill etc.).

  40. Totally! It didn’t take into consideration those removed by the child removal policies, as you say. If you couldn’t prove connection, title was extinguished. Period. Very tame beast.

    That’s not a correct reading of Mabo. To claim native title an aboriginal group of persons had to establish a continuing connection to an area of land. If a member of a group had been removed from the group by child removal policies but were recognised by the group as one of its members then they were entitled to participate as a group member in its native title claim.

    Where native title had been extinguished was where either the land had been alienated by an Act of Parliament granting freehold title to the land to new settlers (e.g. the Settlement Acts of the 1860s onwards, which opened up vast swathes of land to European farming) thus extinguishing all native title to the land, or the Aborigines had been driven off their lands and herded into reservations (e.g the various Native Protection Acts), breaking their connection with their traditional lands.

    The beast had been made very tame long before the child removal policies of the twentieth century.

  41. but were recognised by the group as one of its members then they were entitled to participate as a group member in its native title claim.

    Er, that was my point right? How are you to be recognised when you’ve been removed and the generations have passed and nobody can recognise you because that’s the thing that has been stolen? So the govt steals your ties to land, not only you, but your whole history, then tells you that you can’t claim them back because you can’t prove you are part of a group because they don’t know who you are.

    Such a knitpicker, Greg, I know Mabo well. Please don’t say ‘it’s an incorrect reading’. It was not a complete reading but that would take 10,000 words to do that.

  42. Casey @ 51
    Sorry to be a nitpicker, Casey, but it’s nitpicker (not knitpicker)

    As in picking nits – having had three long haired children once, a thing I know a lot about 🙂

  43. My understanding of what Mabo entailed, from what I can remember of what I studied of it at legal studies in high school, is very similar to Casey@40’s interpretation of it. Then again, I am in no way at all a legal expert, so I’m almost certainly not up on the technicalities of it

    Looking back on the Keating years, I am somewhat bemused and perplexed at my reactions to it all at the time. I was somewhat young and naive at the time and perhaps that influenced the way I viewed the prism of the Keating government through much of its tenure.

    I personally disliked Keating intensely during much of his time in office. Recently, I have been trying to search for the reasons as to why my dislike of him was so palpable and I have traced it back to his first challenge to Hawke in 1991. I lived overseas at the time and was just beginning my political education/enlightenment and Bob Hawke was an early political hero of mine. When I heard that Keating was preparing to try and unseat Hawke -and without living in the country and knowing the background to those events – I considered it at the time intensely treacherous and disloyal and it passionately turned me against Keating evidently much more than I realized in subsequent years.

    In between Keating’s first and second challenges, our family moved to Australia permanently. By the time the second challenge rolled around, I could understand and even support the reasons why Hawke had to go but my dislike for Keating still ran deep. And it remained that way for much of his premiership. I actually supported the Coalition and Dr Hewson strongly come 1993 but thankfully was too young to vote but I do stand by my warning I gave to prospective voters among my friends and family that year that, if you did not vote for Dr. Hewson this time around, you would get someone worse next time around

    And yet -ironically -as much as I disliked Keating, I vociferously agreed with much of what he did in terms of Aboriginal reconciliation, engagement with the Asia-Pacific, multiculturalism, the Republic and so on. The disconnect between my personal and intense dislike of Keating and my respect and admiration for his policies perplexes me now -how I could so passionately support what he was doing and yet oppose his premiership

    The turning point came when John Howard was elected as Liberal leader. I had Howard pegged as the racist, reactionary, right-wing ideologue of a twit that he was from the first time I laid eyes on him and, when he was regained the Liberal leadership, it snapped me back to reality. I started to re-evaluate my feelings about Keating and slowly but steadily, I made my peace with him. By the 1996 federal election, I was in the Keating camp and was desperately cheering him on to win. To no avail, sadly, and the nation has paid a bitter price for it

    Now, when I look back on the Keating years, I am dismayed by how much we took for granted during that period and how, just two decades on, it has mostly been lost in our political discourse and policy-making. Keating was a truly visionary Prime Minister, dragging Australia kicking and screaming towards ideals in domestic and foreign policy that were way ahead of its time.

    I am well aware of the tendency to lionize former political leaders without remembering their faults. Keating did have his share of faults and policy deficiencies. It’s worthwhile remembering, for instance, that he was the Prime Minister who pushed mandatory detention to the forefront of our immigration policy. His political expediency in campaigning for the 1993 election -pledging that tax cuts were “L-A-W law” -was just ill-advised and stupid and he of all people should have known better (I’ll give him some leeway in that he was probably of the belief at the time that he was headed for defeat and that he would never have to deliver on his promises but that was still incredibly short-sighted).

    None of these things, however, detracts from my belief now that he was a truly great and visionary Prime Minister and one of the best we’ve had.

    I had the privilege of both speaking with and listening to a speech given by Keating when he came to my university in the lead-up to the 2001 federal election (pre-Tampa/9/11). He was there at a private function to support a local Labor MP and it was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. From the rock star reception he got when he entered the room to the electrifying speech he gave where he absolutely excoriated Howard in a way that Labor leaders during that time and after struggled to do, it was certainly a night to remember.

  44. Totally! It didn’t take into consideration those removed by the child removal policies, as you say. If you couldn’t prove connection, title was extinguished. Period. Very tame beast.

    Depends on what is meant by “you” in the above.

    The Native Title Act did not grant property rights to individuals in the sense that an individual could assign them to any other individual. These property rights were deemed to be the possession of a group. The members of that group were entitled to decide which individuals were entitled to enjoy those property rights.

    An individual who allegedly suffered removal and who claimed membership of a group whose property rights were recognised under the Act may or may not be recognised as a member of that group.

    This act of recognition was entirely at the discretion of the group, however that recognition was signified.

    Thus if the above “you” is the second person singular, then the statement is correct. However, assignment of that title is at the discretion of the group, not any government or judicial tribunal.

    If the above “you” is the second person plural, then the statement is self-evident.

  45. Yes, as you say Katz. I think my wording has been confusing everyone or something.

    But I’ve got a question for you and I hope you might answer:

    In Mabo, Majority Justice Brennan said that to rule on the question of Aboriginal sovereignty was something that was beyond the ability of the court. I can’t remember the wording now but something like because the court was essentially the servant of the law it couldn’t rule on anything that might break the skeleton of that law. I’ve always wondered if that was the only possible decision the judges could come to under the law? Could there have been another interpretation there?

  46. Casey, a strict distinction in law exists between property rights and sovereignty. NSW was an unusual British colony in that Captain Cook’s declaration of British sovereignty over the eastern 2/3 of the continent also involved declaration of the territory as being owned by no one. Contrast that with India and Malaya where prior property rights were recognised.

    Thus Cook was doing two things on Possession Island. He declared British sovereignty and he declared that 2/3 of the continent was waste land. In later debates it is the unfortunate case that these two concepts were conflated. This reflects the insularity of the Australian debate.

    The first 50 years of British administration followed the lead provided by Cook. Thus, land law was founded on the principle of terra nullius. However, in the 1830s, when most of the land of NSW was alienated, this process occurred under revised guidelines, which belatedly recognised the persistence of some native property rights. These were revived by Mabo.

    Parenthetically, it should be noted that Murray Island was NOT part of the claim established by Cook in 1770. Rather, Qld claimed Murray Island in 1880, against a German threat. Thus, Cook neither extinguished Murray Is sovereignty nor any pertinent property rights. If opponents of the Mabo decision had known a little Australian history, then they may have conceded Eddie Mabo’s claims without the inconvenience of having the principle apply to the entire continent. Bummer, huh?

    Anyhow, High Court judges cannot question sovereignty without risking committing a seditious act.

  47. Thanks Casey. Who says that Australian history is boring? If you like lawyers’ picnics, Australian history is the most fascinating history of any nation’s.

    To complete the discussion of sovereignt: it is of course the prerogative of the Australian people to determine by means of the referendum process the nature of Australian sovereignty, as it applies to domestic matters — always subject to the reserve powers of the sovereign as defined by Section 59 of the Constitution of Australia.

  48. Katz @ 56
    Without going back to the books, I’m not completely certain, but I’m pretty sure that the closer settlement provisions of Victoria in the 1850s and later still referred to “waste lands of the Crown” – which I have always taken to refer to both sovereignty and terra nullius. How does that fit with your thesis?

  49. Last night’s episode but more than a bit disturbing. You lose your job in a factory, but that’s okay if you end up in “hospitality” which, so far as I can work is as adept or more adept at wage slavery than the manufacturing industry. But then again, I spose one could get a job as a tour guide climbing the Harbour Bridge or wrangling crocodiles. The latter, at least would be more exciting from piecework.
    So last night, Keating’s blindness to the consequences of his policies were on show for all to see.
    Theory doesn’t get you the wages to buy the fish and chips for your Friday night tea, Mr. Keating.
    Though I still love him. I’ve always had those and other reservations.

  50. I wish Paul Keating would disappear he is no longer in Politics. He is remembered mainly for his vile outbursts in Parliament. He can’t seem to accept he is now a non entity he is a nobody like the rest of us!

  51. C Anderson

    I’m no fan of Keating and never have been. That said, you should complete sentences with a full-stop and begin new sentences with an initial cap. This aids reading for sense.

  52. I am no fan of Keating either but his stories should be told even though he he no longer in politics. Other stories from his time should also be heard as well. That helps us to understand our history and thence our present (and future).

  53. He [Tony Abbott] is remembered mainly for his vile outbursts in Parliament.

    Now it’s fixed good, I reckon.

  54. Katz @ 56
    Without going back to the books, I’m not completely certain, but I’m pretty sure that the closer settlement provisions of Victoria in the 1850s and later still referred to “waste lands of the Crown” – which I have always taken to refer to both sovereignty and terra nullius. How does that fit with your thesis?

    The term “of the Crown” should provide a broad hint.

  55. @70
    ? Do you mean ‘of the Crown’ refers to sovereignty, because I get that. It’s the descriptions of the land as ‘waste lands’ that simultaneously encompasses the concept of terra nullius, as I understand it – ie they are lands that have not been used for anything. That’s what they used the term waste lands to mean.

    Again I haven’t got time to go and look them up, but you can find references to idle useless savages not using the land etc, hence white men being justified in taking it. It was certainly a common understanding that the land was terra nullius, and waste lands is almost an exact translation of that.

    I know that Batman paid representatives of the Kulin nation some blankets and things, but I don’t think the Crown ever recognised that as a genuine contract, did it? I think it was specifically said not to be.

  56. @ 80
    Ok my research in this area is a bit old but I looked up my old dissertation and it says that Batman and his associates signed a treaty with representatives of the Kulin tribes in 1835, but the treaty was deemed to be illegal under Crown law, because all lands outside the so called settled areas, which at that time did not include any part of present day Victoria, were deemed to be ” waste lands of the Crown”. I’m sure that means they were considered terra nullius – empty, unused (“waste”) – and that the Crown was also considered to have sovereignty over them.

    The main reference I relied on was MF Christie ‘Aborigines in Colonial Victoria 1835-36’ (1979) – as I say a bit old but I don’t see why Christie would have been wrong?

    I can’t find the quotes from contemporary white settlers about idle useless Aborigines who didn’t make use of the land ( the popular understanding of terra nullius). I used them in other research which I haven’t kept, but those kind of remarks have been widely quoted.

    Of course it was a legal fiction and ideological justification in the sense that settlers actually knew that Aborigines used the land, and it was only the administration in England that could pretend they didn’t (the self justifying settlers were actually saying the Aborigines didn’t use it properly, like white people would)

    I can’t see though how all that fits with what you said @ 56 ?

  57. And I was on the wrong track in referring to the closer settlement provisions of course, because prior to closer settlement most settlement was through pastoralists moving on to the land and taking it up illegally (illegally under Crown law), following which the Crown negotiated leases with pastoralists, which were later broken up by closer settlement from the 1850s onwards. Rough summary – probably still not totally right on detail.

  58. Without going back to the books, I’m not completely certain, but I’m pretty sure that the closer settlement provisions of Victoria in the 1850s and later still referred to “waste lands of the Crown” – which I have always taken to refer to both sovereignty and terra nullius. How does that fit with your thesis?

    The relevant Act is the Sale of Crown Lands Act of 1860 (An Act for regulating the Sale of Crown Lands and for other purposes).

    It refers to Crown lands (3,000,000 acres- about 12000 square kilometres – of which were to be surveyed within 12 months of the passing of the Act) but does not refer to them as “waste lands of the Crown”.

    As Katz points out the words “of the Crown” is the key. Under the terra nullius doctrine all lands in Australia, and in this case Victoria, were Crown lands over which no prior or better title, such as native title, was recognised. As such the Crown could sell them off, gift them or otherwise dispose of them as it saw fit and in doing so give the purchaser or donee an absolute or conditional title in fee simple to the land, which the owner could then sell.

    The prior occupants (and owners) of the land didn’t get a look in and if they were still occupying the lands when the new owners arrived to take up the land they had bought off the Crown the new owners could drive them off as trespassers.

    Sovereignty is a different concept. In simple terms it means right to rule. This includes the right to make laws in and for a territory and the people who live in it.

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