AS I was saying last week, defence and national security were never his strongest suits. Forty years after Bob Menzies began building or renovating Australia’s regional partnerships – of little interest back then to a Labor Party led by Soviet apologist (and alleged spy) H.V. Evatt – Keating convinced himself that he invented “engagement with Asia” (whatever that is). Labor had a 75 years-standing contempt for Asians when he was elected to Parliament in 1969. On Gough Whitlam’s watch, there followed ten more years of anti-Vietnamese, anti-Japanese and anti-Cambodian malice by the time Keating became Federal Treasurer in 1983. Like all egotists late to a turn-out, he believes that only he can get a party started. History has never been his strong suit either.
Keating’s statement today about AUKUS includes his traditional vanilla animadversions about the imaginary misdeeds of Liberal governments against the national interest. None is more laughable than his gripe that Menzies “did Britain’s bidding.” From Beijing’s de facto ambassador to his own country, this is the pot calling the kettle Sambo. On the nuclear submarine deal, however, Keating’s old collars don’t match today’s cuffs. Take, for example, his condescending attack on Penny Wong. Its primary assertion is that “Labor’s traditional stance” is “autonomy unconstrained by any power, including that of the United States.” Sorry, that’s not what John Curtin emphasised when he went begging to Franklin Roosevelt in 1941, “free of any pangs”.
At the root of Keating’s antique geo-political fantasy are two obsessions. The first has been noted: loathing of the Liberal Party. He has never been willing to accept that post-war Labor history was dominated by treacherous, small-minded cretins who were effortlessly humiliated by Menzies. All the more amazing in that context is the similarity of Evatt’s defence of Molotov in 1955 to his own loyalty to Xi Jinping. While the wickedness of his vanquisher John Howard is obvious to him, he claims China “does not attack other states” and has only peaceful intentions. He doesn’t mention coronavirus, concentration camps for Muslims or the attempted extermination of Christianity. If Evatt was was mad, he was no madder than this.
His second obsession is an enthralment with proximity that makes him sound like an octogenarian mailman on a bicycle. The Morrison government’s policy of reinvigorated alliance with Britain and the United States will cause Australia “to lose its way in the neighbourhood of Asia,” he says, after “finding its own way around the region” in his day. The Anglosphere is the “domain of the Atlantic” and “a world away.” These are the maxims of a hillbilly.
Australia does business and diplomacy on a global scale. If China has no territorial ambitions and is no threat to any other nation, why would it care if we deploy submarines in conjunction with our allies? Keating can’t say. He staggers between denying the existence of aggression and warning that China is unstoppable. By far the dumbest argument, however, is the pseudo-axiom that in a major war “land beats water every time.” This would have been reassuring to Ali Pasha prior to the Battle of Lepanto. More importantly, it’s the Bankstown Bonaparte doing what he does best: punching a straw man tethered to a chair. Nobody is planning to invade China. Relax, Paul. Your fee records at the China Development Bank won’t fall into the wrong hands.