Talking up a Legacy: Australian Prime Ministers and the speeches we remember them by
“When you change the government, you change the country,” Paul Keating declared. It reminds us that the outlook and actions of the government of the day have widespread ramifications in the lives of people “on the ground.” Within the extraordinary complexity that a government must be, the leading indication of
its values and of the strategic thrust of its actions is the behaviour of its leading official, the prime minister. He or she is the clearest and most observed example of what a government can or cannot, will or will not do.
Its particular interest is in speeches. These set pieces of talk have conventionally been regarded as each prime minister’s opportunity to entrench a legacy. A growing weight of evidence over the years since Keating’s term in office has turned the tables, though, so that we now need to see the speech itself as a “legacy medium”—like vinyl records.
Talking up a Legacy does not specifically offer an insider or partisan account,
but it aims to cast light on some of the most difficult challenges of political communication, using language and concepts that speak to non-specialist readers. The author has been an insider and partisan himself (as a speechwriter for premiers in Victoria and NSW).