Inside the Hawke-Keating Government
A Cabinet Diary
By Gareth Evans
Published by Melbourne University Press
RRP $49.99 in hardback
This is a departure from the normal military history fare …. I certainly get some interesting political books across my review desk (and I appreciate that).
For readers interested in the Cabinet deliberations, processes and decision-making of the first and second Hawke Governments in particular, Gareth Evans’ book will be of real interest, although it covers a period of only two years from late 1984 to late 1986.
Evans explains this truncated time frame in his introduction. Having failed to gain pre-selection for a House of Reps seat, he settled for life in the Senate and began dictating diary entries from that point in September 1984.
By the end of 1986, to use his own words, he was so ‘emotionally wrung out by the Lionel Murphy affair’ that the impetus to record his daily political life evaporated.
It is therefore only in a footnote that we read about his earlier decision, as Attorney-General, with the cooperation of the Defence Minister (Gordon Scholes), to have the RAAF send a Mirage to photograph the area around the site of the proposed Gordon Below Franklin Dam in Tasmania. This all blew up spectacularly with Evans adding fuel to the press fire by saying ‘Whatever you do, don’t call me Biggles’ and later, to the National Press Club, ‘It seemed like a good idea at the time’.
For readers more narrowly focused on defence and strategic issues there are diary accounts of meetings with Indonesian officials and some commentary on matters concerning Kim Beazley as defence minister. There is also colourful commentary about Bob Hawke’s style in the early days of his government. The final diary entry records the death of Lionel Murphy.
It’s the type of book that you think you’ll delve into for five minutes and then half an hour later you lift your head. You’ll find yourself searching the memory banks for exactly who occupied each portfolio and over what period (Hawke and Keating aside) and then reaching for a technology not imagined in 1984 (except perhaps by George Orwell) and asking Google’s help.
I remember having just taken up a posting at the Australian Embassy in Washington in March 1983 as the Hawke Government was elected. One of the first signals I remember seeing was ‘Court stops dam.’ I still have a copy of it in my scrapbook of ephemera from the period.
Gareth Evans bio:
Gareth Evans was a Cabinet member throughout the Hawke-Keating years, as Attorney-General (1983-84), Minister for Resources and Energy (1984-87), Minister for Transport and Communications (1987-88) and Foreign Minister (1988-96).
As Senator for Victoria from 1978 to 1996, he was Deputy Leader (1987-93) then Leader of the Government in the Senate (1993- 96); as Member for Holt (1996-99) he served as Deputy Leader of the Opposition from 1996 to 1998. He left Australian politics to become President and CEO of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group from 2000 to 2009, and has been Chancellor of the Australian National University since 2010.