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Australian elections Sunday, 4 October, 1998, 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK
Kim Beazley: Too nice a guy?
Colleagues speak of him as an amiable, intelligent and passionate man
By Sydney Correspondent Red Harrison

The Federal Parliament has a life of three years, but Kim Beazley, a genial, rotund man whose generous girth is a gift to cartoonists, wanted more.

The leader of the Australian Labor Party since 1996 asked voters to elect him for two terms of government - six years.

At the centrepiece of Labor's election strategy was a tantalising promise to bring unemployment down from more than 8% to 5%.

Applause and tears

[an error occurred while processing this directive]Mr Beazley launched his policy at a rousing gathering of supporters flanked by two former Labor Prime Ministers, Gough Whitlam and Bob Hawke.

Mr Whitlam, who was dismissed from office by the Governor-General, received a tumultuous welcome from the party faithful. Mr Hawke, as he has done before, wept at the emotion of it all.

There was no sign of Mr Beazley's predecessor, Paul Keating, and no one mentioned his name.

This was hardly surprising. Mr Keating had the unenviable sobriquet of being the most despised politician in Australia, thoroughly out of touch with the public, and he is still held to be personally responsible for Labor's dispiriting defeat nearly three years ago.

A logical antidote to the Keating years

Kim Beazley, 49, has none of the viciousness of Paul Keating's tongue and little of Bob Hawke's charisma. Colleagues speak of him as an amiable, highly intelligent and passionate man and newspaper profiles of him are peppered with words like avuncular, trustworthy, honorable and decent.

Curiously, however, these same qualities lead some political writers to wonder at times if he sincerely wants to win the election - as if trust and decency might be considered weaknesses in a politician - and they ask: Is he ambitious enough? Tough enough? Competitive enough?

Mr Beazley says he has enough political experience to ignore such criticisms. He was born into a political family and his father, also named Kim, was a popular minister in Gough Whitlam's government.

Kim jnr studied at Oxford and lectured on social and political history at Murdoch University in Perth, his home city, before being elected to parliament in 1980.

He is one of only four ministers to have served the whole 13 years of the Hawke and Keating Governments and his administration of the Defence Ministry is regarded as having been singularly successful.

On a personal level, it is clear many voters felt his qualities of leadership remain unknown and untested.

Politically, economists raised serious questions over his plans to reduce unemployment. His target of 5%, they say, is simply not achievable and, on his own analysis, cannot be believed.

He says jobs will come from strong domestic and international growth yet, at the same time, he predicts an economic downturn in which Australia in particular will be buffeted by the Asian financial crisis.

Even the usually left-inclined Sydney Morning Herald commented that Mr Beazley's jobs policy leaves his credibility somewhere between Santa Claus and the tooth fairy.

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