I am ashamed to share membership of the same party with you

Rather than congratulate Labor MP John Robertson following his being sworn in as a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council in 2008, famously outspoken former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating, incredibly unhappy with Robertson’s conduct, chose instead to send him this wonderfully scathing letter. Indeed, Keating’s worst fears were realised in March of this year as Robertson was elected Leader of the Australian Labor Party in New South Wales. Presumably Keating didn’t congratulate him for that either.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of ABC. Huge thanks to the many readers — the first of whom was Bella Counihan — who have suggested this letter after it was made public earlier this year.

Image: ABC




PO BOX 1265

Mr John Robertson
The Legislative Council of New South Wales
Parliament House
Macquarie Street
Sydney 2000

27 October 2008

Dear John

I am writing on the occasion of your swearing in as a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council.

But this is not a letter of congratulations.

You have replaced a man, who despite his idiosyncracies, had much to offer the people of New South Wales and the Labor Party. And indeed, someone who in troubled times, had an economic position and a framework to work in. Like his colleague, the former Premier, Morris Iemma, he sought to deal with the great and unfinished problem of New South Wales electricity and the provision of capital for new base load power.

Your manipulation of the union base in New South Wales with the connivance and support of the Party President, Bernie Riordan, succeeded in destroying the political life of both men, and with them, probably the life of the Labor Government in New South Wales itself.

When I came to see you about the Iemma Government’s electricity privatisation proposals in April 2008, you will remember me telling you that reckless indifference by you and Bernie Riordan to the Government’s fortunes, may see the Government destroyed and for which, you and Riordan would be held accountable.

This letter is about that accountability.

Notwithstanding the fact that a new and I believe good leader, has been elected to the Premiership, I think he will have an uphill battle in prosecuting the next election against a Liberal Party made resurgent, in the main, by yours and Riordan’s behaviour. And, if the Government goes down, the lethal tally of men and women who will have lost their lost seats will be to your account and that of the Party officers who were complicit in the melee; namely Riordan, Bitar and Foley.

But Riordan, Bitar and Foley have not accommodated themselves with a Parliamentary seat at the public expense; you have. And a seat previously occupied by the person you had disparaged and targeted.

When I met you and went through the history of the establishment of the east coast electricity market by the Government I led in the 1990s, and why the privatisation of the New South Wales power stations was consistent with the benefits of that market, you never offered one serious point in rebuttal. Not one cogent economic argument to thwart the logic. You batted the argument to one side, implying it would somehow be sorted out before the rupture arose.

But instead, like a banshee on a rampage, you tore at the Government’s entrails until its viability was effectively compromised.

Now I understand, you are thinking about a transition to the Legislative Assembly from the comfort stop you are currently occupying. And that that transition, in the medium term, is about the Party leadership and the Premiership.

Let me tell you, if the Labor Party’s stocks ever get so low as to require your services in its Parliamentary leadership, it will itself, have no future. Not a skerrick of principle or restraint have you shown. You have behaved with reckless indifference to the longevity of the current Government and to the reasonable prospects of its re-election.

It may be a novel concept for you, let me say that conscientious business of governance can never be founded in a soul so blackened by opportunism.

The people of New South Wales may have their problems, but they would be way better rattling through than turning to someone like you in some hope of redemption.

I am ashamed to share membership of the same party with you.


PJ Keating


Bernie Riordan
Karl Bitar
Luke Foley
Mark Arbib
Morris Iemma
Michael Costa
John Faulkner