Labor 1993 win not to be repeated in 1996

In 1993 Labor won an unexpected election victory which gave Paul Keating a full term as prime minister but that victory was unlikely to be repeated in 1996.

Labor prime minister Paul Keating declared his unexpected 1993 election success the "sweetest victory of all".

He then embarked on a succession of his trademark big picture reforms, which three years on, would not slow a disillusioned public from booting him and his government.

The policies included the government's Working Nation plan to return Australia to full employment, progress towards an Australian republic, forestry, the information superhighway, environment and a security treaty with Indonesia.

Cabinet documents for 1994 and 1995, released on Monday by the National Archives of Australia, show a government hard at work with Keating setting his stamp more firmly on its direction and practices.

There seemed to be plenty in its favour. It started 1994 with encouraging economic trends and an opposition not in great form.

Alexander Downer had succeeded John Hewson as opposition leader. Among Downer's gaffes was his series of puns about the Liberal slogan "Things that Matter" in which he declared policy on domestic violence could be called "things that batter".

Labor would also go on to some notable moments in Australian political history.

Perhaps the most memorable remains the the "sports rorts affair" in which Sports Minister Ros Kelly explained how she allocated $30 million of grants to different electorates on the basis of a group discussion with her advisers around a whiteboard in her office.

The opposition charged that this was nothing more than pork-barrelling of marginal Labor electorates for the 1993 election.

Kelly resigned from the front bench on March 1, 1994.

There were others. Treasurer John Dawkins quit in December 1993 over lack of support in Labor for his 1993 budget.

Graham Richardson, who succeeded Ros Kelly in arts, sports, environment and tourism portfolio, quit on March 29, 1994, citing ill health. He denied allegations of impropriety, maintaining associates with criminal links and acquiring of prostitutes.

Kim Beazley, special guest speaker at the December launch of the cabinet documents, said he had no doubt Labor should have lost the 1993 election.

"In a sense we had a feeling from 1993 to 1996 that there was a sword of Damocles hanging over the head of the government - that really the Australian people respected us but had run out of patience with our approach," he said.

Beazley, deputy prime minister and finance minister for the final eight months of the Keating government, said election analyst Malcolm Mackerras' dictum, that a party always lost the election after the one it should have lost, did not bode well for Labor.

"The loss of senior members from what had been one of the most effective governments the nation had, created a sense in the public mind that this was a government gradually drifting away."

He said he thought Keating was exhausted of the reserves needed to be a day-to-day PM, although he retained energy for the big-picture items, such as Working Nation.

As leader of the house, Beazley found Keating a demanding task master.

"He would ring me up and say 'I want you to go into the chamber now and immediately move censure on the opposition for this'," he said.

Keating's beef could be as insignificant as a minor story quoting John Howard deep inside Sydney's Daily Telegraph newspaper.

"Over time I didn't argue. Over time I would say 'Yes, Paul' and do nothing," Beazley said.

Coalition polling showed they were unlikely to win government with Downer as leader and in January 1995, he quit, with John Howard elected unopposed.

Beazley said Labor always had a sense Howard would be an effective leader.

"There were semi-serious discussions around the government while Alexander Downer was leader that perhaps we needed to find some reason to get ourselves to the polls," he said.

Beazley said Howard was canny enough to use the times in his favour. He had been criticised in the 80s for declaring that the times would suit him.

"But it showed a level of calculation that was potentially quite formidable," he said.

"People were exhausted by the reform process and these were folk who could vote either way, a lot them skilled workers or blue-collar small business."

These were "Howard's battlers" who in March 1996 helped bring him to power.

Source AAP

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch