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Prime Minister with Andrew Denton.

ELLEN FANNING: We begin with a riddle. Who am I? I am not arrogant, I don't think power is sexy, I haven't a good word to say about a Liberal and apparently I haven't forgotten my roots.

PAUL KEATING: Well, for a start I lived for 40 years in Bankstown in western Sydney. I grew up there and worked there, lived there, and you end up with all of the frame of reference, mores, values of that community. I am a westie.

ANDREW DENTON: You're a westie?

PAUL KEATING: I am a westie.

ANDREW DENTON: Where are your ugh boots? Come on.

PAUL KEATING: I've got them on, can't you see.

ELLEN FANNING: The Prime Minister during a half-hour interview with the Seven Network's comic, Andrew Denton.

It was a very different Paul Keating to the one seen nightly by voters attacking the Opposition across the treasury boxes in Parliament and clearly that was the intention.

Airing as it did in the same week that Labor began a television ad campaign in marginal seats, it inevitably stoked election fever to an even higher temperature. The Prime Minister has until Monday to call an election for 9 December widely considered to be the last feasible date this year.

Canberra correspondent, Catherine Job, tuned in.

CATHERINE JOB: The Prime Minister's office are playing down the significance of last night's appearance on the election timetable pointing out that TV and radio formats offer very limited opportunities for a more expansive interview. And, they say, it's by no means the first one Paul Keating's done, citing his appearance on Don Burke's garden show last year, and interviews with Geraldine Doogue and Philip Adams on ABC radio.

Just the same, last night's appearance was no accident, what better time than shortly before a very close-run election to soften up the Prime Minister's rather too-harsh image. Though when Labor's most marginal MP, Tasmanian Silvia Smith, told reporters yesterday she had warned the Prime Minister people would prefer a different image of him, she can't have hoped in her wildest dreams for such a dramatic response. It was force-10 Keating charm as the Prime Minister relaxed and beaming traded jokes with Andrew Denton.

ANDREW DENTON: Is power sexy? Is it a sexy thing?

PAUL KEATING: Well, I don't think so. It wouldn't interest a sexy fellow like you. But it is uplifting and exciting. It's uplifting and it's exciting partly because it's a high-wire act. It's always big issues, with a lot of moment, always done mostly under difficult circumstances so it is the ultimate high-wire business. And you can't be on the high wire and not be excited or elated or....

CATHERINE JOB: Unless of course you are a Liberal.

ANDREW DENTON: You like passionate people, don't you?

PAUL KEATING: I do. I love stars. I like people who are good at what they do.

ANDREW DENTON: What about passionate Liberals?

PAUL KEATING: How can you be a Liberal and be passionate? It's a contradiction in terms to say: 'I am a conservative, but I am passionate about it.'

ANDREW DENTON: Can I put you in your worst nightmare? John Howard dies tomorrow, you have to go to his funeral and say something nice about him - what would you say?

PAUL KEATING: No, I'd say that he stuck by the ideology and the philosophy that he believed in. But, of course, I think that's all wrong for Australia....

ANDREW DENTON: Yes, we know that.

PAUL KEATING: ...for Australia at the end of the twentieth century.

ANDREW DENTON: He stuck by it passionately would you say?

PAUL KEATING: Dogmatically. There's a difference.

ANDREW DENTON: There is a difference.

CATHERINE JOB: And then there were tales from the trenches - Paul Keating's definition of a truly harrowing experience.

PAUL KEATING: I said in the Parliament if Labor loses the election we'll pass a GST in the Senate and our mob went 'Ahh' and I thought, Oh, they will be right in a couple of minutes. But they weren't, they weren't right. They all had a Bex and a good lie down after that. The whole lot of them. I mean, seeing a full Caucus having a Bex and a good lie down, that's a moving sight.

ANDREW DENTON: Yes. I just thought of Kim Beazley and Robert Ray lying down.

PAUL KEATING: Well, you can always pick them out. But .. and I thought: 'Did I call this wrong?', but I was sure I didn't, you see. So the public thought: 'This is getting serious, we are going to get a GST, because if this other joker wins this one will pass it.' And from that moment it became real - that discussion.


PAUL KEATING: And the moment that became real the pressure came on Hewson and then the cracks started running through the stratas - you see what I mean? Whereas before I couldn't get the weight on him, but then the crack started appearing in the stratas. So, you said: 'What was harrowing'? Living through the little period until everyone decided it was a masterstroke and not a mistake. That's the definition of harrowing.

ELLEN FANNING: Paul Keating, on the Seven Network last night with Andrew Denton. And Catherine Job prepared our report.