It’s time to wheel out the famous Singo quote from Rip Van Australia once again: “Malcolm Fraser says he admires Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand says she admires Malcolm Fraser. Neither has a clue what they are talking about.”

Paul Keating fires back at Fraser’s failed treasurer, John Howard, and the incumbent dilettante in The Australian today:

It’s very Keating:

The first time I entered the treasurer’s office in Old Parliament House was on a sunny afternoon in March 1983. Everything had been cleaned out, except for the staplers and pencil sharpeners. There were only two documents left in the office: one was the Commonwealth Style Manual, a book that gave office staff choices of typefaces for publications, and the other was a copy of the Campbell report into the financial system. In one of those instances that reveal everything, the Campbell report was left lying flat on its shelf, faded by the western sun that streamed through the window opposite the old House of Reps’ side door …

If anything, Keating is too kind. He fails to remind us of the great record of privatisations from 1975 to 1983: Belconnen Mall.

“The great economic reform inheritance of Australia and the economic longevity that came from it belongs to the Labor Party: to the Hawke and Keating governments from 1983 to 1996,” Keating says. “Those two governments opened up the financial, product and labour markets of Australia.”

He omits the first giant step – the Whitlam government’s assault on the tariff wall, bitterly opposed by the Liberals and the country cousins.

And while he says bluntly how “Howard has spent two decades of his life trafficking in the lie that the Liberal and National parties in opposition supported the reform agenda of the Hawke and Keating governments,” Keating turns down a chance to twist the knife. He could talk about the Liberal Party’s reaction to compulsory superannuation, the policy initiative that has virtually guaranteed growth in Australia.

He does, however, spell out a number of Howard achievements “16% inflationary wages growth and 11% unemployment”. And Keating adds for good measure how Howard was also “the one who had turned a blind eye to the criminal avoidance of the tax system that had been revealed by the cynical Ship Painters and Dockers Union inquiry”.