One of the persistent themes from the government in question time lately as it tries — futilely — to explain its budget is what wonderful governments Bob Hawke and Paul Keating led in comparison to the modern Labor Party. This has been going on for several weeks and continued this week, with the Prime Minister saying in Monday’s question time: “Once upon at a time, we had serious people in the Labor Party. When the Labor Party was led by people like Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, they had some serious answers for our country. They were prepared to take some tough decisions to reform our nation and to help set up the prosperity of the future.”
How times change. Unsurprisingly, the Hawke and Keating governments were attacked constantly by the then-opposition — that’s what oppositions do, after all. Moreover, far from that era being some sort of nirvana of bipartisan reformism it’s often portrayed as, in which a responsible opposition supported reforms that were in the national interest, the Hawke and Keating governments were often attacked for pursuing reforms the Coalition now claims to support. For example, John Howard famously wanted to “gut Medicare”, and the Coalition tried to block the introduction of compulsory superannuation in 1992.