24/07/2007 - 22:00

Less is more from ex-PMs

24/07/2007 - 22:00


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What is it about so many former Australian prime ministers that prompts them to look publicly foolish?

What is it about so many former Australian prime ministers that prompts them to look publicly foolish?

Maybe that’s a question that will only be answered by a bright spark taxpayer-funded political science doctoral student.

Since the late and always dignified Sir Robert Menzies hung up his political spurs in 1966, several of his successors have publicly demeaned Australia’s top political post.

Gough Whitlam firstly launched a silly “maintain your rage” campaign over his well and truly deserved sacking by then governor-general, Sir John Kerr, whom, incidentally, Mr Whitlam chose for the job.

After retiring, he popped up on TV screens advertising spaghetti, or was it an imported pasta sauce?

It’s almost as though his hefty prime ministerial pension and other taxpayer-funded benefits weren’t adequate to keep him accustomed to the lifestyle he’d become so used to as Werriwa’s MHR from 1952 to 1977.

Then came Malcolm Fraser, who lost his pants – of all things – one night somewhere in Tennessee.

Bob Hawke, ever conscious of the dollar, emerged soon after retirement as an international consultant to, of all places, China, one of the world’s most authoritarian regimes.

This was the same PM who had publicly shed tears – and rightly so, I should add – over that communist regime’s killing of Tiananmen Square students who simply wanted their tragic nation democratised.

And now his successor, Paul Keating, who remains so bitter and twisted over not still being PM that he uses every opportunity to publicly disgrace himself with attacks upon the man who toppled him, John Howard.

If Mr Keating had even a skerrick of self-respect he’d stay silent on Mr Howard for the rest of his life and enjoy his hefty PM’s pension and whatever else he’s earning as an international consultant.

But he’s incapable of holding that loose tongue.

Let’s be clear.

State Scene isn’t saying ex-PMs should be seen but never heard.

Far from it.

It would be wonderful, even uplifting, if our ex-PMs were occasionally heard – and very loudly.

But what’s needed is for them to pick their moments and their issues, something none has shown themselves to be capable of doing.

Mr Keating’s latest effort came on July 11, in a speech at a Sydney film school festival – where else?

He claimed Mr Howard wasn’t a patriot and went on with some hair-splitting about differences between patriotism and nationalism.

Somewhere along his potted line Adolf Hitler, of all people, surfaced as if the late fuhrer has any relevance to contemporary Australia.

Where all this misguided pontificating is supposed to lead is difficult to say.

But the one thing we can be sure of is that it wasn’t supposed to be a constructive or far-sighted comment; just vindictive self-pitying recrimination, yet again.

The fact of the matter is that Mr Keating cannot get accustomed to the fact that he’s no longer PM.

His political days are well and truly over and no amount of outrageous commentary, thankfully, will take him back to pre-1996. Yes, he lost that long ago.

He should come to terms with this very simple and obvious fact and cease rubbing salt into his own self-inflicted political wounds that he allows to keep festering.

The more he comments about Mr Howard the more he confirms that he’s The Lodge’s sorest-ever loser.

So sore that the last time he appeared on television he even let fly with a barrage of vindictive remarks about current Labor leader, Kevin Rudd’s staffers, who held Labor policy advisory positions when Mr Keating lost power.

When will someone quietly tell him – in words of not more than one syllable – that it was his overbearing personality that became Mr Howard’s greatest asset in the 1996 campaign, not something any Labor staffer did or didn’t do.

Most Australians had simply had enough of Mr Keating’s persistent smart alec and insulting comments about others.

Rather than thoroughly reform himself, he’s continued down that same old overbearing and insulting path, targeting all and sundry, especially Mr Howard.

In other words, the only thing that’s changed is that, thankfully, he’s not doing this as PM, but as a tedious and repetitive ex-PM.

None of these observations, I repeat, should be seen as wanting Mr Keating or Messrs Whitlam, Fraser and Hawke, silenced.

What a pity none of them ever speaks out on truly important, indeed, crucial issues.

Coincidently, one such issue surfaced the day before Mr Keating launched his latest anti-Howard rant.

I refer to the criminal kidnapping of Iran’s brave union leader, Mansour Osanloo, who can rightfully be seen as that nation’s Lech Walesa.

The 48-year-old Mr Osanloo, president of Iran’s Union of Bus Drivers, was abducted by a “group of bearded men” armed with clubs and knuckle-dusters.

Allegedly shouting, “You are an enemy of Islam”, these thugs pushed him into their car and drove away.

According to Iranian correspondent Amir Taheri: “Witnesses said Osanloo was severely beaten, and his attackers continued to beat him even after they had forced him into their car.

“Passengers on the bus, which had halted, tried to restrain the attackers but were held back at gunpoint.

“Osanloo’s friends and relatives say that secret service agents had followed him round the clock since his return from Europe last month.

“On that visit, he addressed a number of international labor meetings in London, Brussels and Geneva.”

Yet none of Australia’s former PMs has seen fit to publicly comment or call for Mr Osanloo’s immediate release.

Who knows, such a public comment, especially if the four had done so jointly and demanded to meet Iran’s ambassador to Australia to protest, may save his life.

What did we get instead? Silence from Messrs Whitlam, Fraser and Hawke, while Mr Keating picked the day after Mr Osanloo’s abduction to gripe about Mr Howard.

What a pathetic bunch of former politicians; all four of them, but especially the three Labor ones who rode to power, glory and super large salaries on what now certainly looks like empty rhetoric about workers’ rights.

Three years ago, Mr Osanloo helped establish one of Iran’s first independent trade unions since the fanatical mullahs gained power in 1979.

Since 2004 he’s led two major strikes that forced the government-owned bus company to make concessions to workers.

Before his criminal abduction Mr Osanloo had been jailed twice, including a spell in Evin, also known as the ‘Islamic Alcatraz’.

Although he has focused solely on bread and butter issues, not political ones, Iran’s fanatical president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, sees him as a threat.

“Osanloo especially angered the authorities with his success in mobilising international support for the Iranian labour movement,” Mr Taheri said.

“They released him from prison earlier this year, and let him go to Europe for the annual conference of the International Transport Workers Federation.

“His friends believe the authorities had hoped that he would stay in Europe, joining other former dissidents in exile. But Osanloo had no such intention.

“In London, he made a passionate appeal to workers throughout the world to support their Iranian counterparts in their quest for decent wages, human working conditions and freedom of association.

According to one of Mr Osanloo’s friends, he met leaders of the General Council of the International Trades Union Conference in Brussels and managed to “open their eyes to the realities of workers’ conditions in the Islamic Republic”.

“Osanloo also convinced the leaders of the International Labor Organization (of which Iran is full member) to oppose Ahmadinejad’s new draft labor code,” Mr Taheri said.

“This would abolish virtually every right won by Iranian workers over decades of struggle, and impose rules that the Workers’ Organizations and Activists Coordinating Council calls ‘conditions for slave labor, not employment in a free society’.

“Mansour Osanloo is a voice for wisdom, moderation and peaceful change in a society ridden by potentially explosive contradictions.

“To silence that voice would be a tragic loss for Iran’s future.”

Unfortunately, the four Australians who seem least capable of appreciating this are ex-PMs.


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