Farewell to a humble giant

St Mary's Church, Ipswich
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese
Prime Minister

State funeral for the Honourable Bill Hayden AC

It is an honour to stand here as Labor Leader, and as Prime Minister, and pay respect to all that Bill Hayden did – for his party, and for the country he loved.

Bill gave the Australian Labor Party the chance of a future. Patiently, humbly, courageously, he gave Labor fresh relevance and new focus.

He made it possible for Labor to return to its core mission of governing in the national interest and lifting the lives of Australians.

Some giants cast a shadow, but Bill Hayden wasn’t one of them. With his quiet strength of character, this legend of the labour movement shone the light that let us see the road ahead.

As we mourn him in death, we celebrate what his life meant in all of its integrity, substance and consequence.

We take heart from all Bill made possible, and every life he changed for the better.

We rejoice in all that he fit into his nine decades – as Governor-General, Minister for Social Security, Treasurer, Foreign Minister and Labor Leader.

As a husband, as a father.

And we give thanks for all he gave to this country he loved so deeply. Not just the scale of his contribution, but its enduring power. 

The truth is Bill Hayden didn’t just light the road ahead, he did so much to lay its foundations.

We can be grateful that this child of the Depression turned police officer joined the Australian Labor Party to advance his values.

There must have been times when life in the Labor Party struck Bill as more challenge than solution.

In the aftermath of 1975, he was the last Labor MP left standing in Queensland. He served as Leader through six hard years in Opposition, only to be denied at the last moment the chance to lead the party to an election many believed he would have won.

Understandably, much has been made of how narrowly the prime ministership evaded him. Bill himself ensured its immortality with the most famous dog in Australian history until Bluey.

He may never have resided in the Lodge, but Bill Hayden was the fulcrum on which the Labor Party’s fortunes turned for the better.

In the days since Bill’s passing, just how much we owe him has been so perfectly encapsulated by Paul Keating – and it is an honour to follow him today.

It is a measure of the calibre of both men that even in the very early days, they so completely recognised the qualities in each other – and, crucially, the potential.

As Paul has put it, Bill’s leadership made the turn to “Labor Mark II”, which laid the foundation for the social and economic reforms that created three decades of economic growth and delivered Australia a new era in education, foreign affairs, environmental policy and, of course, universal healthcare.

But before Mark II, Bill had to deal with Mark I.

A party slowly emerging from two decades of opposition after the Split, the high of the 1972 Whitlam election victory, followed by an all too brief time in office, then devastated by the Dismissal.

With clarity, discipline and intellectual rigour, Bill could envision the road along which Labor would have to travel if it was to survive.

As he told Labor’s national conference in 1979, “We will not find our future in the past.”

He knew that earning the public’s trust on economic management was the entry ticket to becoming a credible opposition. And he knew that to be a government that truly meant something, the actions had to speak louder than the words.

As a reforming Minister for Social Security, Bill introduced Medibank, Australia’s first plan for universal healthcare.  

As a former police officer who knew all too well how poverty can trap women in violent relationships, he introduced Australia’s first single mother’s pension. 

As Foreign Minister, he laid the groundwork for the plan that would finally bring peace to Cambodia.

He was ahead of so many with his advocacy for gay rights.

And, crucially, he empowered a new generation of talent, planting the seeds of what would grow into an extraordinary legacy of reform. 

Every step of the way, he had his clear eyes on a stronger future, always seeking out ways to translate his love for Australia into the reality of an even better Australia.

A humble man in a field rich with ego, he never lost his faith in our party’s capacity to improve our country. Nor did he ever doubt Australia’s ability to make a difference in the world.

And throughout all the ups and all the downs, he never lost his sense of humour.

He never lost sight of what mattered.

On behalf of the Labor family, I express my deepest sympathies to his family, who so generously shared him, especially his beloved Dallas.

Dallas, you and Bill were each other’s great fortune.

To Georgina, Ingrid, Kirk, and to all other family members, our sincerest condolences.

We give thanks for the life of a remarkable Queenslander.

A great Australian.

And a profoundly good human being.

May Bill Hayden rest in peace.