House debates

Thursday, 30 May 2013


Hawke, Mrs Hazel, AO

3:56 pm

Photo of Simon CreanSimon Crean (Hotham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to join in this condolence motion for a great Australian, which was moved in the House by the Prime Minister and seconded by the Leader of the Opposition.

Of course, I refer to the sad passing last Thursday of Hazel Hawke. Hazel died of complications from Alzheimer's following a stroke. At the time there was a collective expression of grief around the country, that this greatly admired and much loved Australian had passed peacefully and surrounded by her family. My thoughts and sympathies are with her children, Sue, Stephen and Ros, and their six grandchildren, David, Paul, Hamish, Sophie, Sam and Ben.

Carole and I have known Hazel for over 40 years. Through her partnership with Bob as ACTU president and subsequently as Prime Minister, and subsequent to their separation, we knew her in many different forms. Hazel was always welcoming and always interested in what you were doing—being strong in the expression of her views in relation to some of the things that we were doing—but always encouraging.

In November 2011 I had the honour of speaking at the launch Sue Pieters-Hawke's book on Hazel, Hazel: My mother's story, here at Parliament House. I mentioned at the time that whilst in Hazel's condition then she was not able to remember us well, we as a nation would remember her because of what she did. I return to those words today because it is important in remembering Hazel Hawke's life and legacy: what she did, and the qualities and values she brought to doing it.

Hazel was Bob's constant support and, importantly, with the huge demands on his life, became what the family described as 'both mother and father' to the children. So, a devoted mother she certainly was. But when Bob Hawke became Prime Minister she became a hugely admired and respected 'first lady'.

Hazel Hawke once stated that, 'I had the experience of many women; of needing to define myself and to find my self-esteem as a person, not simply as somebody's wife and mother'. And whilst it was in the role of the wife of the Prime Minister that she was cast into the public spotlight and life, Hazel was never simply somebody's wife.

My great friend and colleague Bill Kelty remarked incisively at her passing:

She was the Australian equivalent of Eleanor Roosevelt.

History remembers Eleanor Roosevelt not simply as FDR's wife but as a woman of deep intelligence and great spirit; a connector with the nation. Hazel shared these very same qualities. Both Eleanor and Hazel shared a genuine compassion that compelled them to action, a sense of justice that was pioneering for their times and the capacity to bring people together and relate to them with their own down-to-earth natures. It is the quality of these women that defined and distinguished them. We remember and define Hazel through her values. She had integrity in spades, a quality most Australians admire. It is this quality that defines her.

Hazel Hawke also understood the importance of education, lamenting her early missed opportunities and always urging young and mature age students to better themselves through education. Hazel Hawke famously typed Bob's thesis that he wrote while a Rhodes scholar, but her own educational achievements are important to mention. Hazel enrolled as a mature age student in welfare studies at the Caulfield-Chisholm Institute of Technology—now Monash University's Caulfield campus. Her studies were interrupted by Bob's preselection as the Labor candidate for the seat of Wills—and the current member for Wills is sitting beside me and will be speaking on this condolence motion later. But Hazel's experience of education broadly gave her a sense of independence and confidence.

As first lady of Australia Hazel had the affection of the nation, an affection that never faded. This was because Australians saw their best selves in Hazel—passionate, courageous, humble and hard working. When Bob led the Labor Party to victory in 1983 Hazel, unable to find a seat in his crowded press conference, sat on the floor. So from those memories with the television cameras of her coming onto the stage poised and sensing the moment, we also saw the other side: the humble and the accessible.

Hazel's move to the Lodge brought with it many challenges. It brought the scrutiny, the invasiveness and the demands on her time, but as always she rose to every one of those challenges. In 1984 she spoke candidly with journalists in a 'public confession' at the National Press Club. She spoke about herself, her life and her own perceived weaknesses and strengths but she voiced too the fears, the hopes and the feelings faced by so many in our community.

Of course, Hazel's position was extraordinary and one she herself said was an opportunity to do something. Hazel, as the wife of the Prime Minister, was able to advocate for causes close to her and to raise awareness and support through the status that her position as first lady gave. She was in touch and she showed a dedicated awareness of so many issues. She was a magnificent contributor on many of these fronts. She led by example. She not only studied social welfare but worked in the field with the Brotherhood of St Laurence and always advocated for those who were most disadvantaged and overlooked.

Hazel was a great supporter of improving conditions for aged care and of women's rights. She was an integral member of the Australian Children's Television Foundation board. She had a great love of the arts and she was an accomplished pianist. At a concert in the Sydney Opera House that she performed in it was clear how much joy music gave her.

With the onset of Alzheimer's Hazel Hawke turned to seeing the opportunity in this illness—she took advantage of the adversity and promoted it. Perhaps this was most finally clear in the way she responded to that Alzheimer's diagnosis. The diagnosis led to her—and I again quote her—'doing her bit' to raise awareness and support for the prevention of 'the bloody A thing', Hazel's way of referring to the disease. It was a cause that her family championed too.

I mentioned before the book that I was associated with the launch of. Sue wrote two best-selling books and a passionate submission to the Caring for Older Australians Productivity Commission inquiry in 2011, advocating for better care, awareness and support for those suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia. It is timely that we reflect on the needs of older Australians as the House debates legislation on aged care. It is timely then, too, that we reflect on Hazel's words from one of her final public speeches, quoted by Sue at her book launch in 2011. With a central provocation of 'What kind of country do we want Australia to be?' Hazel stated that she was arguing to:

… reassert the place of social policy alongside economic policy in national debate and national priorities, and national and community values … We must look forward, we must seek, we must hope; but we must do this in a spirit of compassion, and with a sense of inclusion. The whole of this nation, in all its diversity, must be on board.

Hazel asked us to think about what this country could be, inspiring Australians to approach their futures creatively and hopefully. We remember Hazel's words and we remember Hazel the woman for the way that she lived her life for 'the whole of this nation'.

As we remember Hazel's legacy and show our condolence and support to the family at this sad time, as a nation it would be a fitting recognition of that memory to advance the cause that she so courageously championed. Having raised awareness of Alzheimer's disease and dementia, we need to respond better on the treatment and the care. It is a challenge for both sides of the parliament. Dementia affects almost 300,000 Australians and their families. It needs a bipartisan response. Hazel's legacy should propel that response. My sympathies to her family.

4:07 pm

Photo of Josh FrydenbergJosh Frydenberg (Kooyong, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is my privilege to follow the member for Hotham and that powerful and heartfelt condolence that he extended for Hazel Hawke. I take this opportunity to pay my respects to Hazel Hawke's family on her passing on 23 May this year. Hazel Hawke was one half of a dynamic combination that saw her husband, Bob Hawke, become a very successful Prime Minister in the years from 1983 to 1991. But she was a great woman and a great talent in her own right. We have heard that she was an accomplished pianist and actually played at the Sydney Opera House. She was a patron of the arts. And she was an author, having in 1992 written an autobiography and in 1994 authored a book, A Little Bit of Magic: Thoughts for Women.

As we have heard from the member for Hotham, she suffered, tragically, from Alzheimer's, but she was a great advocate for building awareness of this disease among the wider community. I have great sympathy with sufferers of Alzheimer's and their families, having known many people who have faced that debilitating disease—and Alzheimer's Australia Victoria is in my electorate of Kooyong.

I think of the words of Ita Buttrose, the Australian of the Year, when she described Hazel Hawke:

Hazel Hawke's life was a life to celebrate and one devoted to many causes and especially those Australians who suffered disadvantage.

Hazel embodied a sense of fairness and concern for other Australians. She was the first and only well-known Australian to speak publicly about her life with Alzheimer's disease. Her courage to speak openly about her dementia journey has left a lasting legacy in raising the profile of Alzheimer's disease and reducing the strong sense of isolation experienced by the thousands of Australians who have dementia. Hazel Hawke was always dignified. Those who knew her well said she was most charming and, of course, she was extremely modest. She had four children, Susan, Stephen, Roslyn and Robert Jnr, who died in 1963.

Regardless of which side of the political divide one comes from, we all come together in this place to pay tribute to fine Australians who have served their country in so many ways. Hazel Hawke is one such person. She will be remembered fondly as someone who was eternally decent, she will be remembered fondly as somebody who thought about helping those less advantaged than her and she will be remembered fondly for being one half of the dynamic political combination which saw Bob Hawke as a respected Prime Minister of this country from the years 1983 to 1991. I take this opportunity to pay my respects to the family, to send my condolences to her friends and to her many friends in the Labor Party and I say thank you to Hazel Hawke for a wonderful contribution to Australia.

4:11 pm

Photo of Kelvin ThomsonKelvin Thomson (Wills, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to support the remarks made by the member for Hotham and by the member for Kooyong. From October 1980 to February 1919, when my predecessor as member for Wills the former Prime Minister Bob Hawke represented the Wills electorate, Hazel Hawke captured the hearts and imagination of the constituents of Wills. Hazel Hawke would make the trips to Wills when the Prime Minister could not. She became the Prime Minister's ambassador in his electorate. Hazel would regularly accept invitations by local schools, community and senior citizens groups, as will as special invitations from the local mayors of the then city of Coburg such as the late Murray Gavin, Mr Frank Cox, Mr Athol Attwater, Mr Peter Plumridge, the late Gordon Perlstein and Mr Alan Davis. They all found Hazel an inspirational speaker and a warm guest of honour at any function to which she was invited.

Hazel Hawke was passionate about issues concerning young people like homelessness, which underlined her strong commitment and voluntary work for the Brotherhood of St Laurence for so many years. Hazel spoke out about a number of social issues. About which she felt strongly, particularly women's health issues and, as is well known, displayed great courage in speaking out about Alzheimer's when she was diagnosed with that illness. I personally remember when I was the state member for Pascoe Vale between 1988 and 1996 being very impressed by Hazel's strength of character and the energy she demonstrated when she crammed in a full day's events, such as visiting Saint Monica's Primary School in Moonee Ponds to promote reading among young students, planting trees at Strathmore Secondary College, visiting the Oak Park railway station located opposite my then Pascoe Vale office, to promote local youth artists for a mural project to brighten the underpass of the station and then Hazel spent an afternoon with the children at Coburg Primary School answering questions about what it was like to be the wife of the Prime Minister of Australia.

Hazel attended many locally organised functions by the mayor's wife. There was the late Mrs Amy Gavin, Mrs Clarice Cox, Mrs Verna Attwater, the late Mrs 'Millie' Davis, Beryl Plumridge and the late Margaret Perlstein meeting local women volunteers like my own mother, Dorothy. She thoroughly enjoyed being in Wills promoting awareness of the social issues close to her heart and her deeply held values.

Mimi Tamburrino was Bob Hawke's electorate officer for the 11½ years he was a member and she has been my electorate officer for the past 15 years. She recalls one occasion when Hazel Hawke, after attending the official opening of the Sussex Street Neighbourhood House, made a visit to the electorate office and she was quite overwhelmed by the reception that she received. She said she felt so at home in Wills and that people were so welcoming and approachable. I believe that was because Hazel made anyone she met feel special and important. She respected and valued everyone she met. She went out her way to make them feel important.

Mimi recounted to me her experience with Hazel when, several years before her illness, Hazel rang Mimi to ask whether she could stay over at her place because she did not feel comfortable staying at a hotel. Hazel was visiting a dear friend of hers in Kensington to celebrate an anniversary. Mimi was naturally delighted to have Hazel as a guest overnight and on the following morning she was to drive Hazel to the airport.

She prepared breakfast with a few roses from her garden to grace the dining table and before Hazel came in for breakfast Mimi hunted up her camera—not unreasonably, she wanted a photo of Hazel. She was ordered by her son to put the camera away and not take a photograph. However, after they had breakfast and were getting ready to leave for the airport, Hazel said, 'Hang for a minute, Mimi, before your son goes to school, I would like him to do something for me.' She rummaged through her handbag and fished out a tiny digital camera and, turning to Mimi's son, said, 'Before you go, please take a photo of me and your mum. I want to remember this moment.' Mimi treasures that photograph which Hazel posted to her with a handwritten thankyou note.

On another trip to Melbourne in 1999, Hazel visited Murray Gavin, former Mayor of the City of Coburg, who had had a stroke and for whom Hazel had great respect. Another former mayor, Frank Cox, upon hearing of Hazel's passing, rang my office because he wanted to speak to someone who knew her and he recalled her great affection for the people of Wills. She kept in touch with people in Wills, wanting to know how they were and, even after she was no longer the First Lady, she accepted invitations to the electorate to promote voluntary community work and to present awards and certificates.

Hazel was a people's person who valued and appreciated the work of people in the community. Hazel was an exceptional Australian, a down-to-earth remarkable woman with a great sense of humour and an extraordinary gift for reaching out to people and touching their lives. She was popular, even loved, right around the country. I agree with the words of Susan Ryan, one of the ministers of the Hawke government, who said that Hazel was 'a most remarkable woman. By being one of us, she made Australia a better place'. I think that she was a remarkable woman whose legacy will endure the passing of time, and I extend my sympathies and condolences to her family.

Photo of Dick AdamsDick Adams (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The debate is adjourned, and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for a later hour this day.