If you haven’t read the full text of John Faulkner’s launch speech from yesterday, do it. It is sad, thoughtful, dignified and incredibly moving:

We value our history without caveat. The light on the hill,
and the shadows beneath, are both part of Labor’s past. And we struggle
to accept and learn from both.

We hold our history close in
the Labor Party, we breathe new life into old feuds. We use our history
as a guide and a justification. It is our weapon of choice in battles
against foes without and within the party. It’s our weapon of choice,
but it’s a two-edged sword. Labor’s close engagement with our history
risks uncomfortable truths and awkward revelations…

It’s
odd what can happen when NSW members of the Left talk about their
colleagues on the Right. Faulkner’s speech reminded me of a remarkable
analysis that old warrior of the Left, Tom Uren, gave of Treasurer Paul
Keating back on 25 August 1988, as leadership tensions mounted in the
ALP and news of the Kirribilli Agreement began to seep out. Uren’s
30-year career was drawing to a close, and he was reminiscing about
people and events in one of the first sittings in the new Parliament
House:

The other person I want to talk about is a present member
of parliament. Colleagues might have remembered that I said, on 3 June,
that Menzies and Whitlam were the two who dominated the parliament most
in my time but there was another emerging. Of course, that person was
Paul Keating. I have known Keating for over 20 years…

At the outset I want to stress to make it quite clear that
I am not one of those who is an advocate of Keating for prime minister;
not at this stage of history, anyway. But to give credit where it is
due, I have seen Keating grow as a member of parliament. This House is
his forum, in a way it is his home. He feels secure; not out there with
the people but here in the bullring of parliament.

He is the
Jack Dempsey of Australian politics. You can put him on the canvas but
then he will get off that canvas and achieve victory. That is what
happened when he was defeated on the consumption tax debate within our
Party; he was on the canvas but the tax package he came up with was his
victory. It was a Keating victory. It was not ours, it was not mine. He
knows I do not agree with his tax priorities but he is tough and he
knows what he wants to do. I think Keating is one of a handful in this
parliament – and I am talking about both sides of the House – who are
visionaries. There are very few visionaries but Keating is one.

Keating
can even be sensitive on some issues, but what worries me is that he is
not a democrat and he is not a collectivist; he is an elitist and he is
arrogant, but he is quite a remarkable character. He has such ability
that he may even overcome those great flaws… He always talks publicly
about his father. I think his mother is a pretty wonderful person and I
think his wife, Anita, is pretty special also. I will never forget
looking into the eyes of his first-born son. They were the most
beautiful eyes I had ever seen. I thought to myself at the time there
must be something of great beauty inside Keating to produce such a son.

Perhaps I could give Paul just a little advice. There is much I
could say about the benefits of collectivism against elitism, but he
might close his ears to that, so I will give him one word of advice –
patience. And I suggest that the next time he goes to Washington he
should study two exhibits standing in front of the National Museum.
They made a great impact on me personally. One is a petrified log of
wood 200 million years old. It comes from Arizona. The second is banded
iron ore, with alternating layers of red jasper and black haematite,
about 2,250 million years old from Jasper, United States of America. It
is something to remember, particularly about one’s own importance.

If only someone had said the same to Iron Mark.

Uren’s full speech is on page 361 of that day’s Hansard (here).

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.

 

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW