Saturday, September 5, 2009

How some of us miss Paul Keating

Former Australian Prime minister Paul Keating was quoted recently on the death of world renowned classical pianist Geoffrey Tozer. Keating described the loss as a national tragedy, but one that hardly made headlines. Here's Keating's reported comments:
"Had he been a boneheaded footballer who was biffing fellow players and chasing women down hotel corridors late at night he would have probably had a premium on his career..... But to have been among one of a handful of the world's greatest pianists with all that learning and comprehension was not quite up to it".
Vintage Keating. He has a way with words and a capacity to condense great truths into a hilarious sound bite. I find him so entertaining and a great loss from public life.

I often wonder how different this country would be if Keating had been re-elected in 1996 instead of John Howard. Ah regrets we have a few.

Keating was a rare politician. Like Howard, Keating polarised people, and certainly had plenty of failings, but he was funny, as well as being an outstanding public orator. Keating could speak unpaltable truths, sometimes in a hilarious and devastating way that made you laugh and wince at the same time, and at other times he could move you in a deeply significant way about issues that are at the core of this country's history and identity.

Here's Keating in devastating form on former Federal Treasurer Peter Costello:
" The thing about poor old Costello is he is all tip and no iceberg. He can throw a punch across the Parliament but the bloke he should be throwing a punch to is Howard, but of course he doesn't have the ticker for it.

He has now been treasurer for 11 years. The old coconut is still there araldited to the seat. The Treasurer works on the smart quips but when it comes to staring down the Prime Minister in his office, he always leaves disappointed. He never gets the sword out"
And here is Keating's speech at the Funeral Service of the Unknown Australian Soldier, Canberra 11 November 1993:
" Because the Great War was a mad, brutal, awful struggle distinguished more often than not be military and political incompetence; because of the waste of human life was so terrible that some said victory was scarcely discernible from defeat: and because the war which was supposed to end all wars in fact sowed the seeds of a second more terrible war- we might think that this Unknown Soldier died in vain. But in honouring our dead as we always have, we declare that this is not true. For out of this war came a lesson which transcended the horror and tragedy and the inexcusable folly. It was a lesson about ordinary people- and the lesson was that they were not ordinary. On all sides they were the hereoes of that war: not the geenerals and the politiciasn, but the soldiers and sailors and nurses- those who taught us to endure hardship, show courage, to be bold as well as resilient, to believe in ourselves to stick together".
And there is his Redfern Speech from December 10 1992, given to a predominantly Indigenous adidience in which he explicity acknowldged the injustices, (nay the genocide) perpetrated by non Indigenous Australians. The Redfern Speech was voted by ABC Radio National listeners as the most unforgettable speech by an Australian and third most unforgettable ever, behind Martin Luther King's " I have a Dream" speech, and the Sermon on the Mount. Watch the video of the speech and you can see and hear the response of the audience to the power of his words when he acknowledges that it was " we' white Australians- who commited the acts:
"And as I say, the starting point might be to recognize that the problem starts with us non-Aboriginal Australians. It begins I think, with the act of recognition. Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We bought the dieases. The alcohol. We commited the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practised discrimination and exclusion. It was our ignorance and our prejudice. And our failure to imagine these things being done to us. With some noble exceptions, we failed to make the most basic human response and enter into their hearts and minds. We failed to ask- how would I feel if this was done to me? As a consequence, we failed to see that what we were doing degraded all of us.

The message should be that there is nothing to fear or to lose in the recognition of historical truth, or the extension of social justice, or the deepening of social democracy to include indigenous Australians."

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