Growing up in working-class Bankstown, a suburb of Sydney, Keating left school at age 14. He became involved in trade union activity and Labour politics and was elected in 1969 to the House of Representatives at age 25. Acquiring a reputation for both pointed political invective and party loyalty, he was chosen by Prime Minister Robert Hawke to be federal Treasurer in 1983. Although lacking any formal education in economics, Keating went on to become arguably the most reforming Treasurer in Australian history. During his time as Treasurer, the Australian dollar was floated, the financial sector deregulated, certain state sector industries were privatised, a capital gains tax was introduced, and a Prices and Incomes Accord was struck. In 1990 he was elected Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and made Deputy Prime Minister.
Keating later challenged Hawke for the leadership in June 1991, and resigned from the Government following defeat. Six months later he challenged Hawke again, this time successfully, and subsequently became Prime Minister. As Prime Minister, Keating inaugurated financial programs aimed at national recovery. Keating’s initiatives as Prime Minister included the passage of Indigenous land rights legislation, encouraging the process of reconciliation between Aboriginal and other Australians, and supporting the writing of a ‘new national story’ that acknowledged the conquest and capture of the continent from Indigenous peoples. The government also established the Republican Advisory Committee to facilitate debate on the possibility of an Australian republic, supported reform of vocational education and training, and introduced policies encouraging economic competitiveness.
He was reelected Prime Minister in his own right in 1993 as the economy regained strength, but his government was defeated by a coalition of the Liberal Party and the National Party in the 1996 elections ending 13 years of rule by the Labour Party.
Soon after leaving Parliament, Keating became a director of various companies and a senior adviser to Lazard, an investment banking firm. Keating is currently a Visiting Professor of Public Policy at the University of New South Wales. In 1997, Keating declined appointment as a Companion of the Order of Australia, an honour which has been offered to all former Prime Ministers since the modern Australian Honours System was introduced in 1975.