“Get your retaliation in first” is a phrase coined in 1974 by the great Irish and Lions rugby captain Willie John McBride – but if you didn’t know that, it would be entirely understandable to guess it came from Paul Keating.

While Keating used Lateline to set a whole bag of cats loose in the political aviary, he also took the opportunity to sink a pre-emptive slipper into a union leader no-one much had heard of a week ago. And he did it without even using his name.

Overlooked by all but insiders, Keating went out of his way to have a slash at one individual union and its leadership – or, perhaps, just its leader.

“Any Labor Party that turns its back on a collective group of people is no Labor Party at all,” said Paul.

“But that doesn’t mean to say they have to become apologists for lolling about. You take for instance, the liquor, allied entertainment, restaurants, entertainment industry in this country since the ’80s. It’s been massive. Unionisation hasn’t happened. There’s some of it there, basically hasn’t happened. Why?Incompetence.”

So the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union is incompetent. I guess there’s an implication there that the bloke who’s been the union’s national secretary ever since 1990 – “since the ’80s” – is incompetent, “lolling about”.

That would be Jeff Lawrence, unelected unopposed yesterday to take over from Greg Combet as the ACTU’s national secretary and no doubt, in time, to collect his superannuation payout of a safe seat in Federal Parliament.

One must presume Keating knew a week ago that the Lawrence deal had been stitched up. Why else bother to throw such a punch in the dark of the ruck – a punch 99 per cent of the audience wouldn’t have seen?

We can only guess at the machinations, but Crikey told us that left-winger Lawrence took the job from John Robertson, the secretary of Unions NSW. That’s the right wing – Paul Keating’s right wing.

Keating didn’t/doesn’t have the build to be a rugby forward, but what a great tactician to have on the coaching panel. Maybe it’s not too late to sign him up for our World Cup campaign.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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