Former foreign minister Alexander Downer says Paul Keating’s “exaggerated and callous” attack on Peter Dutton reflects a Donald Trump-style of politics that Australians are not prepared to stomach.
- Mr Keating yesterday urged voters to “drive a political stake” through Mr Dutton’s “dark political heart”
- Mr Downer said Mr Keating’s personal attacks contributed to his own political downfall
- Mr Downer also called Twitter a “garbage tip of abuse” where activists engaged in “toxic” politics
Mr Keating yesterday said he had not seen a public figure “as mean or as mean spirited” as Mr Dutton in 50 years, and urged voters to “drive a political stake through his dark political heart”.
Mr Downer, a former Liberal Party leader, said he believed Mr Keating’s record of making personal attacks was one of the reasons he lost the prime ministership.
“We remember that sort of language — but you still see it today, that sort of language, you see it from Donald Trump. It’s the same sort of approach,” Mr Downer told ABC Radio Melbourne.
“You make exaggerated and pretty callous criticisms of your political opponents and you hope that at least your own supporters and perhaps some other people will warm to them.
“I’m not into that sort of politics: you single out an MP, you describe him as the worst imaginable person in history, and all of this sort of thing.
“One of the reasons why Paul Keating was summarily evicted from power in March 1996 was because of that sort of language.”
Following the comments on Tuesday morning, the Home Affairs Minister hit back on Twitter.
“Paul Keating almost destroyed my Dad’s small business with his heartless mismanagement of the economy and he inspired me to join the Liberal Party,” Mr Dutton tweeted.
Mr Dutton is in a battle against Labor’s Ali France to retain the Brisbane electorate of Dickson, which he holds with a margin of 1.7 per cent.
Twitter is ‘absolutely toxic’: Downer
Mr Downer, who was the high commissioner to the UK from 2014 to 2018, said he was saddened to see Australia’s political discourse become so nasty, particularly on social media.
He described Twitter as a “garbage tip of abuse”.
“It’s just absolutely toxic. And I think that’s very sad. We’re not talking about the politicians on Twitter, we’re talking about … political activists,” Mr Downer said.
“Since I left politics, which is now 10 years or more ago, political activists have become more aggressive and more abusive than they have ever been.”
Mr Downer said he did not blame leaders Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten, who he said had been “quite polite, as politics goes”.
“I think there’s a realisation in both political parties that the sort of Keating-Trump style of politics is not what we really want,” he said.
“I know a lot of Keating supporters, Labor supporters, loved all his abuse of the Liberals and personal abuse but honestly, at the end of the day, middle Australia couldn’t stomach it.
“And I don’t think we particularly appreciate the sort of language that Trump uses about his political opponents.”