Paul John Keating was born in Sydney on 18 January 1944, the eldest of four children of Min and Matt Keating. His father was a boilermaker and union official, and the family lived in the industrial suburb of Bankstown in Sydney's southwest. Keating had three years of high school at Bankstown's De La Salle College. On 16 January 1959 he took a job as a pay clerk at Sydney's electricity authority and joined the Labor Party. Keating was much more interested in the education he could get from the radical Labor figure Jack Lang.
He arranged to meet the 80-year-old Lang in 1962, and then called on him every week to talk Labor politics. In 1964 Keating joined Sydney's Labor Youth Council, becoming president in September of 1966. He took a job as researcher and union advocate with the Federated Municipal and Shire Council Employees Union. Keating won pre-selection for the federal seat of Blaxland and won the seat at the election on 25 October 1969. He entered parliament in a wave of new Labor backbenchers, when the party increased its House of Representatives seats from 41 to 59. At the next federal election in December 1972, the coalition's support continued a downward slide and Labor won government with 67 seats in the House of Representatives. Gough Whitlam became Prime Minister.
The three years of the Whitlam government provided invaluable experience for both the new Labor members elected in 1969 and 1972, and the veterans. Labor had not governed for 23 years.
In January 1975 Paul Keating and Annita van Iersel were married in Holland. The couple made their home in Gerard Avenue, Condell Park in Sydney, which was not far from the Keatings' family home. Keating was 31 years old, and when he became a minister later that year, he was among the youngest federal ministers in the parliament's first century.
Keating's opportunity for the front bench came when Minister for Minerals and Energy Rex Connor was required to resign after revelations of negotiations to secure overseas loan funds from unofficial sources. In the subsequent ministerial re-shuffle, Keating replaced Rex Patterson as Minister for Northern Australia on 21 October 1975.
Keating was minister for just three weeks. On 11 November 1975, Governor-General Sir John Kerr dismissed the Whitlam government and commissioned Liberal leader Malcolm Fraser to form a government. As Prime Minister, Fraser then sought a double dissolution of the parliament and called an election for 13 December 1975.
Labor was once again in Opposition With former ministers now doubling up to cover the portfolio functions. Paul Keating was spokesman for a wide range of portfolios.
He was equally active in both the federal parliamentary Labor Party and the New South Wales Labor Party. On 21 September 1979 he was elected president of the State party.
When Gough Whitlam retired from parliament in July 1978, Bill Hayden won the leadership of the parliamentary party. Labor's electoral reversal in 1975 did not improve in the December 1977 election. In October 1980 Labor made inroads into the Liberal majority, winning 51 seats - one of them the seat of Wills won by Bob Hawke.
When the Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, called an election for 5 March 1983, the Labor Party leadership was vacated by Bill Hayden in favour of Bob Hawke.
On 11 March 1983 Bob Hawke was sworn in as Prime Minister. His new ministry included Lionel Bowen as deputy Prime Minister, Bill Hayden as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Paul Keating as Treasurer.
Opponents, as well as his colleagues in Cabinet, observed Keating's extreme nervousness in this new role. With only three weeks of ministerial experience and no tertiary qualifications, the Treasury portfolio was challenging to say the least.
In 1983 the Keating's had three small children and continued to live in the Sydney suburb of Condell Park. With Labor now in government, the family faced the problem common to front bench parliamentarians. Paul Keating spent much of his time working in Canberra, while his family lived in Sydney. Both John Howard and John Stone encouraged Annita Keating to make the decision to come to Canberra. By mid-1983 the couple had rented a house as their Canberra base, and Keating no longer stayed at the Hotel Kurrajong for his frequent and extended trips to Canberra.
In December 1983 the government, rather than have the value of the dollar tied to another currency or fixed by government regulation, made the decision to float the Australian dollar. The change was even supported by shadow Treasurer John Howard, but Andrew Peacock the Leader of the Opposition, the National Party and some of Keating's Labor colleagues opposed the float.
The float was part of a broad financial deregulation program introduced by the Hawke government and guided by Treasurer Paul Keating. It included licensing foreign banks to operate in Australia, and removing direct controls on interest rates and other restrictions that created competitive disadvantage for Australian companies in international markets. Critics pointed to the danger of speculation and of the vulnerability of a globalised economy to market crises. This was demonstrated after the New York stock market slump in October 1987. The very public collapse of some high-profile corporate entrepreneurs in Australia indicated the inadequacy of Australia's company laws.
Labor had lost much of its majority at the 1984 election, but at the election in July 1987 the Labor government improved its position in the House of Representatives. It continued the deregulation program, abolishing Australia's two-airline policy and extending general tariff reductions. Paul and Annita Keating were at Kirribilli House on 25 November 1988, when Hawke and Keating talked over the idea of Keating succeeding Hawke after the next election.
Labor felt the impact of high interest rates at the March 1990 election - the Liberal Party made significant gains in the House of Representatives, while Labor lost eight seats.
Lionel Bowen retired at this election and Keating became deputy Prime Minister. When the new ministry was sworn in on 4 April 1990 he had an additional portfolio, as minister assisting the Prime Minister for Commonwealth-State Relations. In an address at the parliamentary Press Gallery's annual dinner on 7 December 1990, Keating was indirectly critical of Hawke's leadership - and for good measure, most previous leaders. The speech fanned the flames of speculation about a leadership challenge. Hawke had made no move to retire, as proposed at the Kirribilli House meeting in 1988, and a rift had developed between the Prime Minister and the Treasurer.
By 1991 economic problems had worsened. With unemployment as high as in the Depression 60 years earlier, Australia was in recession. Keating argued the recession was itself an economic lever that would correct problematic trends - "the recession we had to have".
On 3 June he stood against Hawke in a Caucus leadership ballot and lost. Keating resigned both his Cabinet posts and returned to the back benches. Six months later, he made his second challenge. This time he won the ballot and the prime ministership.
After more than four years in office Keating took the nation to his second election as Prime Minister on 2 March 1996. By this time mounting foreign debt, high unemployment and high interest rates were causing widespread concern, and his government's ability to manage the economy was increasingly in question. Labor suffered a resounding defeat, the Liberal-National Party coalition under the Opposition leader, John Howard, winning convincingly.
After the election defeat on 2 March 1996, Paul Keating resigned as Labor leader and resigned his parliamentary seat on 23 April 1996.