As well as an Australian republic, new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, geopolitics, and even Mr Keating’s fashion preferences were up for discussion when the pair sat down on stage in the sold-out Sydney Opera House concert hall.
The former prime minister was welcomed by a standing ovation. For the obvious fans in the audience, he left no doubt about the vision he had for Australia when in office.
“What I wanted Australia to be was an open, competitive, cosmopolitan country, which was a republic … had I won in 1996, we would be a republic by now,” he said.
“…And it requires a prime minister to take it on. You could have all the republican movements you like, but if the prime minister doesn’t want to take this on, it won’t happen.”
He said he felt confident Australia’s best-known republican, Mr Malcolm Turnbull, could one day lead the charge for a republic.
“In this parliament no … I don’t really think he’s in a position to do that in this parliament. In the following parliament he could certainly take it on.”
It was Mr Turnbull who was chosen by Mr Keating in 1993 to chair the Republic Advisory Committee to determine the constitutional and legal machinations required to achieve a republic.
Mr Keating said for Australia to “wait for Prince Charles to inherit this throne” was “deeply sick”.
“What, are we going to end up with Charles and Camilla? For God’s sake – we don’t need [Prince William] and his lovely wife as our heads of state … it would be a spoof, it’s a spoof on everything we’ve tried to do with ourselves to get this far in our history.
“No great country has the monarch of another country as their head of state.”
Since the 2013 ABC series, Keating: the Interviews, O’Brien has been building on the transcripts in continued conversations with Mr Keating. Their time together has culminated in a book of new material canvassing the Keating years.
Asked by O’Brien what he thought of Mr Turnbull as the new prime minister, he said “the bar is now so low,” adding that he had seen a change in Mr Turnbull in the last few years.
“He has grown through his parliamentary career. His defeat has made him think about himself. I think he’ll be a better PM for it.”