PARADIGM whisperer Paul Kelly, editor-at-large at The Australian, likes grand declarations about endings and beginnings in political economy and history. Heralding the end of something became fashionable and commercially shrewd after Francis Fukuyama’s 1992 treatise on the upshot of the downfall of the USSR. Over the past 40 years, only Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time was more brilliantly named than The End of History, more essential on a coffee table and more unread. As for beginnings, the only ones of abiding significance for Kelly are those made by Labor Prime Ministers. In May, he wrote a feature on the new federal government with the bizarre Maoist title, “Dawning of the great national realignment.” His 1992 book, The End of Certainty, was about the Hawke government’s institutionalisation of supposed economic rationalism and the annihilation of post-war dirigisme. The goateed ghost of Manning Clark can be seen in its gilding of slim pickings to lionise progressives – Clark the Australian pseudo-Herodotus having always mistaken prolixity for substance and his own piety for national romance.
Enter on that cue, Troy Bramston, a kind of Kelly protégé in the Labor chronicling trade. In 2017, he wrote a hagiography of Paul Keating adoringly subtitled, The Big Picture Leader. At 800 pages, it was only a few hundred pages slimmer than Andrew Roberts’ celebrated biography of Churchill. Generous treatment for an MP who spent a third of his political career doing not much of anything in Opposition. On Wednesday, Kelly sourly rehashed he and Bramston’s 2020 anti-Kerr analysis of The Dismissal, The Truth of the Palace Letters, to claim now King Charles committed a “blunder” and a “serious mistake” in 1976 when he penned a note to the then Governor-General assuring him that sacking Gough Whitlam was right, courageous and that “most Australians seemed to endorse your decision.” The Prince was correct on all counts. And how.
It sticks in the craw of the few Gough disciples still living but in December 1975 Sir John’s decision was indeed given the highest affirmation there is – no appeal possible – when Malcolm Fraser won the largest majority in Australian history. Charles was 27 at the time. Whitlam was 59 in 1975 when he ridiculed Joh Bjelke-Petersen as a “Bible-bashing bastard,” Tirath Khemlani was commissioned to sniff around the Middle East for $22 billion (in 2022 terms) and a torturer for Saddam Hussein reportedly flew in to Australia to give him $500,000 for settling Labor’s campaign debts (in return for what exactly, the world’s intelligence agencies must have been keen to know). But Kelly – who gushed of Whitlam in 2002 that “I still love him” – believes it was Charles who was “unwise.” His cheap shot isn’t impartial analysis; it’s an attempt to control history. He and Bramston recoil from any “big picture” that isn’t of a left-wing hero lit like a Titian with a saintly glow. If the King’s Kerr call is evidence of his foolishness, long may he reign.