back to top

Inside The Slightly Crazy Paul Keating Fandom

BuzzFeed News enters the incredible world of the Keating fandom.

Posted on

Standing underneath a lovely white backyard deck in Sydney's Blue Mountains yesterday, the former Aussie PM was back at it again during a fiery (but fairly meandering) speech at a local fundraiser.

And when it came to the punchline of the speech (28 minutes later) he went in.

"Malcolm Turnbull... fundamentally he is a cherry on top of a compost heap," he said.

The Keating 🔥🔥🔥 drew wild whoops and cheers from the crowd, which had an average age of about 65. He pushed on.

"This is a very, very ordinary government, with people falling out of it, ministers being lost, resigning, having to leave."

"The great risk for Malcolm is that he doesn't remain a cherry but turns into a sultana."

It was the high point in a surreal afternoon in the leafy backyard of former Hawke-era health minister Neal Blewett, who was hosting the Keating fundraiser to support Labor candidate for Macquarie, Susan Templeman.

I am west of Sydney in Leura... and about to see Paul Keating speak at a backyard Labor fundraiser. What a time.

BuzzFeed News had been invited to attend on the strict proviso that no questions could be asked of Keating.

Despite this we went along, hopeful that one of the architects of the modern Australian economy would comment on whether he thought Malcolm Turnbull's radical plan to give income taxing powers to the states, was a good idea.

Looking around, scattered among the 150 attendees - made up of old, white, wealthy couples and young, university nerds - were the "true believers" who appeared to be clutching Keating's latest hefty biography like bibles to their chest.

When it came to get their books signed, it was like something from a Kim Kardashian guest appearance at Westfield: they rushed for places in the line, frantically organised mates to take the right photo and there were tears.

"I told him that when he lost the election in 1996 *Susan stops to catch her breath and wipe her eye*... sorry I just get emotional. I wrote him a letter and it had ink marks on it because my tears fell on the letter."

Blake said that Keating sent a personal, hand-written letter back, which she still has at her home in Springwood.

The Keating ~fandom~ also has young followers. Just ask 20-year-old government relations student Dylan Williams who was so overcome he took a creepshot selfie with Keating in the background.

Mark Di Stefano/BuzzFeed

Dylan was one of several 20-year-old Labor hacks in attendance. Their hero is not Julia Gillard or Kevin Rudd but a PM who was last in power the year that they were born.

"He makes politics, engaging and enthralling," Williams told BuzzFeed News.

Another student and Labor branch member, Michael Elliot gushed about how Keating was "our greatest reformist treasurer".

Another, Kieran Ash, said Keating's savage verbal burns were made for Twitter: "It's not too late to get him an account!"

During Keating's speech he sounded excited about the future: "In my lifetime, the great change has been the internet. The network is the great change, I think will shift the way the world works."

We're going to see people compete with managerial capitalism. We're starting to see the erosion of markets. We've seen it with taxis and Uber. Amazon with a whole lot of other groups including publishers and bookshops. We can't believe that the old industrial structures will just stay there. Organised labour, the command of people in unions is dropping as the workforce changes and we're going to reach this point where there's going to be a blur between work and leisure. There'll be so many free goods produced on the net, like there is already. There'll be a change in the nature of work and we have to think about how to support people with wage payments off the budgets or whether we tax wealth, because asset growth will continue and just taking income is not really going to make it. This is where the Labor party have to be really thinking. We have to have a party with an open heart and a good mind and proper motives.

As Keating left the fundraiser there was a tiny chance to defy his minders and ask him a question.

"Mr Keating, hello I'm a reporter for BuzzFeed News, can I just ask you what you think about Malcolm Turnbull's tax restructure?".

Keating, hardly looking up, clasping his glass of French chardonnay in one hand and swatting lazily with other, replied...

"No, no, no, no, not at all."

He went back to his fans, who were all still buzzing about how he'd totally owned Malcolm Turnbull.

"A cherry on top of a compost heap". Paul Keating on Malcolm Turnbull, today in Leura for @Susan4Macquarie.

Mark Di Stefano is a political editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

Contact Mark Di Stefano at mark.distefano@buzzfeed.com.

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.