24 August 2007

Keating! the statesman

In this interview, Keating trumpeted himself as the great pioneer of APEC - then admitted that tensions in northern Asia have gotten worse, not better, during its watch. He had no suggestions of how APEC could work better.

He keened that his opinion was not sought by the Howard government. Howard and his senior ministers still bear the imprint of Keating's Italian loafers on their faces. Keating has done nothing to soften the sharp edges, the snappy lines that delighted his supporters and made him the most reviled figure in Australian politics since Billy Hughes. Howard has sought Keating's counsel about as often as Keating sought Fraser's.

He trotted out the 'security in/from Asia' line, ignoring the fact that it failed miserably in 1995-96 and reassessments like this.

It's all very well to say that you can wade into the simmering China-Korea-Japan tensions, with the Americans geostrategically moribund and nobody else thinking that there is more good than harm in such daring recklessness. "At least I tried" might be good enough for Bush in Iraq, but any Australian leader trying this on is courting humiliation, if not disaster - especially after a decade-and-a-half of APEC skirting and shirking this issue.

Where is the vision for the region - post-Suharto Indonesia, Timor Lorosae, PNG, the Solomons, Fiji? Have they been forgotten in all the big-ticket hoopla?

Like his mentor Jack Lang, he is going to be a bitter old man who blasts people for avoiding his pet causes which can't and don't work. Does he want to be colour-and-movement or does he want to be the wise old sage? This is Paul Keating's mid-life crisis. All such 'crises' can be funny so long as you're not directly involved, so long as you don't take the perpetrator/victim seriously - but that's part of the problem.

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