Keating and Howard Governments

Southeast Asian Affairs, January 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

Keating and Howard Governments


There is a perception among some people, both in Australia and in the region, that the Howard government has moved away from Asia in contrast to the Keating government's promotion of close relations. However, while Paul Keating's rhetoric was stronger than John Howard's, the policies their governments have followed are not that different. Neither Keating nor Howard has ever suggested that Australia should forget the rest of the world, but both have said that the Asia-Pacific is Australia's region of prime strategic interest. Both support the U.S. alliance. Neither has suggested that Australia is "an Asian country". Both have talked about human rights as being an essential part of Australia's approach to the world. When he came to power, John Howard tried to outdo Keating as someone who was close to Asia. It was only when the Asian economies started to weaken and domestic politics started to intrude that Howard modified his rhetoric. It is not possible to say what Keating would have done under the same circumstances.

Neither had any real interest in Asia before coming to office --- in most countries, people do not get elected on foreign policy issues, and Australia is no different. Keating probably acquired greater enthusiasm for the cause than Howard did but, to be fair, Howard does not collect French clocks, or wear Italian suits. …

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