Condolence Motion, The Hon Robert James Lee Hawke AC

03 Jul 2019
Canberra, ACT
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you Mr Speaker,

I move that this House records its regret at the death on 16 May this year of the Honourable Robert James Lee Hawke AC, former member for Wills and the 23rd Prime Minister of Australia, and places on record its appreciation of his remarkable service to our nation, which he loved, and offers its deepest sympathy to his family in their bereavement and indeed to the nation.

Mr Speaker, the first Prime Minister to speak at this dispatch box in this chamber, in this magnificent Parliament building was Robert James Lee Hawke.

But that meant he was also the last Prime Minister to do so at the Despatch Box at the Old Parliament House in the House of Representatives Chamber down the hill.

And in so many ways, not in just that physical way, he took our country from the old to the new.

He was personal enough that every Australian felt connected to him, regardless of their politics, and big enough that we actually entitled an era after him - the Hawke era.

As I said at his memorial, which I was very grateful to the Hawke family and to Blanche for being invited to participate in -Australians loved him, just as he loved them.

There’s was a great romance that played itself out in every part of this land with Bob Hawke.

They knew each other, he and the Australian people. They forgave each other, understood each other’s virtues and identified with each other’s weaknesses.

In Bob Hawke’s own words, it was ‘a love affair’ and indeed it was.

In 1983, Bob Hawke campaigned on the slogan: “Bringing Australians Together”.

And so he did.

From 1983 to 1991, Bob Hawke led a government that redefined our nation for a modern age.

Floating the dollar.

Deregulating the financial system.

Admitting foreign banks.

Dismantling tariffs.

Starting the privatisation of government-owned businesses.

Micro-economic reform in partnership with the states and territories.

Retirement incomes for all workers.

With sights firmly fixed on the long-term with his team, Bob Hawke opened up the Australian economy to the world, increasing competition and laying the foundation for a quarter of a century and more of economic growth that continues to this day.

Now, of course, it might not have seemed that way during the dislocation of the 1980s and the recession of the early 1990s, but our country had certainly at that point, turned outward under his leadership.

And I also wish to acknowledge that this work was done in a partnership most significantly with his Treasurer Paul Keating.

But it was also a work that was largely, almost completely, supported by those who sat in Opposition. Now this was achieved by Bob Hawke’s leadership and that’s what I acknowledge. His leadership to embrace common sense, common good, economic reforms, to make Australia stronger and to bring Australians together for that purpose.

He had many fights, whether in this place within his own ranks, his own party, and outside this place. But such was his passion, such was his commitment, such was his determination to see the future of Australia going down a common ground path that will be forever to his credit, and we will be forever in his debt.

And, as a result of his vision and commitment, the tempo and direction of this economic reform agenda that indeed started under the Hawke Government, has continued long after that, to this day, under my government and beyond.

The achievements of the government under Bob Hawke were not just economic they were social as well.

After all, economies are meant to serve people. He understood that.

They make those great social reforms possible.

They were landmark social reforms, made possible by that economic success. Social reforms that became embedded in our national life, and now in so many cases enjoy bi-partisan support that was not present when they were initiated.

The Medicare Card we all carry in our pockets is a reminder of his great contribution and its promise of universal access is an achievement that has stood, and will always stand the test of time.

As was the outlawing of gender discrimination in the workplace.

There was the listing of the Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves - what we know as the Gondwana Rainforests, the Wet Tropics of Queensland and the Uluru National Park on the World Heritage List – and the handback of Uluru to the traditional owners, the Pitjantjatjara people.

His work, along with Health Minister Neil Blewett, ensured Australia’s response to the AIDS epidemic was the best in the world – tens of thousands of people are alive today because of those efforts.

And abroad, he stood against Apartheid, committed Australian forces to the liberation of Kuwait, and was pivotal to the establishment of APEC which endures to this day.

Bob Hawke was the most electorally-successful Federal Labor leader in our history: the winner of four successive elections and is our third longest-serving Prime Minister.

But like John Howard, I agree that he was Labor’s greatest Prime Minister.

Now Bob Hawke would never accept that he would say that that honour belongs to his hero, and so many in this place, to John Curtin. And there is no doubt that war takes a great toll on prime ministers. And with that sacrifice, with John Curtin there will always be great, great honour.

But what Bob Hawke did with peace and in peacetime, I think was the greatest tribute you could pay to those who fought for it, including John Curtin.

Mr Speaker, some say that the path of Bob Hawke was a destiny pre-written.

That was certainly what his mother believed – and his father too.

When pregnant with Bob, his mother repeatedly found herself drawn to the words of Isaiah:

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder.

It was a legend he felt entirely comfortable with. But destiny was not an easy partner for Bob Hawke- and we know that through his well-told story of his life.

Of course, Bob Hawke always revelled in his belief about the purpose of his life. It’s a good thing.

When he was asked to conduct Handel’s Messiah for his 80th birthday, which those of us who were there were able to re-live, Bob felt he had to remind people that the music was actually not about him! Not terribly convincing though.

And when we look at the extraordinary events of 3 February 1983, one might just have to wonder.

A day unlike any other in Australian politics.

A prime minister seeks an early election.

A governor-general makes him wait and wait.

A leader of the opposition resigns.

He was Leader of the Opposition just 36 days - no doubt a great mercy. In a coincidence, the current Leader of the Opposition equals that record tomorrow.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Are you saying something?

PRIME MINISTER: It was to our country’s fortune that Bob Hawke seemed to have more than his share of luck.

When he took office, the drought broke and of course Australia emerged from recession. Welcome developments, and we only pray that that will happen now in terms of the drought.

And on September 26, 1983, little more than six months into the Hawke Government, the nation was galvanised by an unlikely triumph that we all remember in sport.

I was a young teenager at the time- and I can still remember that morning.

It seems like yesterday.

In my mind’s eye, I can still see him at the Royal Perth Yacht Club.

The joy. The exhilaration. The chaos.

A reformed teetotaller drenched in champagne.

That gaudy red, white and blue jacket emblazoned with the word AUSTRALIA!  How good was that? Sadly, they don’t make prime ministerial jackets like that anymore.

We can hear his laughter, the way his body wrenched around, and a bold declaration that reminded us that this prime minister was very much one of all of us - whoever we were. Whatever background we had, wherever we sat within the great spectrum of Australia, he was always one of us.

It was pitch-perfect for the times: fearless, brash, Australian, as Australia beat the world, and he was so comfortable about who we were.

Signature notes for the advancing tide of the 1980s’ optimism.

Mr Speaker, if destiny was Bob Hawke’s friend, he understood as I said it was not a passive relationship.

The call to do great deeds is itself a deed – a silent contract involving an obligatory call to discipline, sacrifice and restraint which he exercised.

Bob Hawke, for all his powers of reasoning, could also be pretty acutely visceral. A few journalists understood that from time to times, I’m sure people in this chamber did, on both sides of the House.

But he had a capacity to feel, to not disguise or hide his emotions. He shed tears and at times, he rose to anger.

He expressed joy, he was empathetic as well but maybe that’s because he had his own share of pain.

As a boy, he watched his only brother die of meningitis.

And as a young father, he carried an infant son – his namesake to his grave. A pain so dreadful he could not visit his son’s grave for almost 20 years.

Of course, he was fiery too.

The tears he shed public tears over his daughter’s struggle with substance abuse– and he also shed them for the victims of Tiananmen Square as well.

Through it all we saw the totality of the man.

His authenticity and its imperfection.

He never hid it.

I’m told of a story, it may be, I’m not sure, I’m pretty convinced it’s true, that on one occasion, at Kirribilli House, the AFP officer on duty on the day, who was there tasked to bring forward the papers and put them in the sort of, Vestibule on the entry to Kirribilli House, one morning got to see all of Bob Hawke as he opened the door, in all his glory!

The AFP adopted a different protocol for the launching of the submission of those documents each morning, with greater care, so as not to be exposed to the full glory of the great Robert James Lee Hawke!

So he did never hide himself, physically or otherwise.

And Australians loved him for it.

Mr Speaker, in honour of the life and service of Bob Hawke, I am pleased to announce that the Government will provide $5 million to the existing endowment fund of The General Sir John Monash Foundation to create an annual scholarship known as the Bob Hawke John Monash Scholar.

The Scholars, chosen by the Foundation, will study in any field deemed in the interests of the nation.

The aim will be to support, for up to three years, talented young Australians with ability and leadership potential to develop their skills at leading overseas universities.

We believe that this is an appropriate way to recognise the memory of such a great Australian. To see it lived in the lives of many great Australians who will follow in his footsteps in this regard into the future.

Mr Speaker, on behalf of the Government, and indeed this parliament and the nation, I sincerely want to extend to Mr Hawke’s widow Blanche and to his family, the deepest sympathies of our country. And we share and thank you for caring for Bob through the long sunset of his life.

Again today, as I did on the day he passed, Jenny and I, particularly want to acknowledge the support and contribution of the late and wonderful Hazel Hawke, who was a tremendous support and inspiration to Bob and his family and is also deeply and sorely missed by a nation who loved her also.

Mr Speaker, Australia is grateful for the leadership and service of Robert James Lee Hawke.

Australians all can rejoice for his life.

Having served his country tirelessly and diligently and passionately, may he now rest in peace.