30 years ago, Labor replaced Australia’s most popular prime minister (Hawke) with the least popular (Keating).

Austin G Mackell
3 min readDec 16, 2021


*Correction — in highlight 4/5 I say Newspoll when I mean Nielson

This Sunday marks the 30th anniversary of the intra-party coup which saw the Labor cabinet remove Bob Hawke as party leader. Hawke still holds the record for highest approval rating of any Australian PM with 75%.

The following day, December 20, the new Labor leader Paul Keating replaced him as PM. He would go on to break the record for the lowest approval rating of any leader in Australian history, at 17%.

The record high is from a Nielson poll, taken in 1984, included in a list of the highest poll ratings achieved by each of Australia’s prime ministers since 1972, when Neilson polling commenced. At the bottom of this list with the lowest high, as it were is William McMahon with 34% in 1972. However the Nielson polling only commenced in 1972, and McMahon took office in 71, meaning a potential high point of his popularity could have been missed.

If we cross him off the list for this reason, Keating gets the prize of lowest-high, with a peak satisfaction rating of only 40%.

If we look at the numbers from Newspoll, Australia’s other major historic (and only continuing) tracking poll of leadership approval, we see a similar issue. Hawke is only number 3 in terms of their list of peak approval ratings — but the poll only began in 1985 two years after Hawke took office, missing his 1984 high point.

Keating left, Hawke right. (National Archives of Australia)

If we look at their list of lowest lows we see Keating at the top. With just 17% approval rating in 1993.

Defenders of the Labor leadership might quibble that I am comparing a Nielson high with a Newspoll low — but this would only lead to a distortion in the low single digits, and no perfect comparison is possible, as both datasets begin part-way through a PM’s term and therefore have incomplete values for them. We can fix this with McMahon and the Neilson polling by removing him completely (leaving Keating with the lowest score on every list). But removing Hawke from the Newspoll list would render it useless for our purposes .

Those who want to say that because the data isn’t perfect, it doesn’t tell us anything, are hiding something, probably from themselves. What the data tells me is the same thing my interactions with the Labor party in real life tell me, that party insiders have contempt for the public at large, including, perhaps especially their own base and membership, who they view as a liability and not an asset.

It’s worth noting who comes second in the Nielson list of highest peaks -and first in the Newspoll one — Kevin Rudd, who was replaced in a similar putch by Julia Gillard, who comes in behind Keating as the second least popular, with a low of 23%.



Austin G Mackell

I sell mirrors in the city of the blind. www.writeinstone.com