Thursday, 4 July 2019
Hawke, Hon. Robert James Lee (Bob), AC
When I heard the news that Bob Hawke had died, I was in a meeting of the Noble Park Labor Party branch and it was a few days before the election. Someone came and whispered it in my ear. After processing it, I told the branch. At that point, whatever we were dealing with and had left to deal with in the preparations for the election suddenly seemed unimportant, and the rest of our evening was given over to reflections and impromptu tributes and so on about Bob's life and legacy. It was good, we all felt as we left, to be with our Labor family that night.
The legacy of Bob Hawke and his Labor government is unparalleled in modern Australian history. Bob was no timeserver. He was Labor's longest serving Prime Minister, but he didn't just play it safe to rack up the years as PM; he was a Labor Prime Minister who changed our nation for the better. Bob had a vision and courage, and he persuaded Australians and his party of the need for change. He did so, as has been remarked in previous speeches, with a deep and visible love for Australia and for Australians, and with the trust of the people.
Bob Hawke's legacy lives on in the daily life of our nation. I will touch on just a few areas—as we are the last couple of speakers, there is almost a sense of summing up, having listened to a lot of the tributes yesterday. To every Australian who carries and values their Medicare card, you can thank Bob Hawke and his Labor government. The very idea of Medicare was bitterly opposed by the Liberals. In 1975, they abolished Labor's first attempt to introduce universal health care. But it was Bob Hawke's conviction, his Labor values, that saw Medicare introduced. His four election victories ground the Liberals down to the point they begrudgingly had to accept Medicare, and universal health care became a part of our national fabric.
For all Australians, the environmental record of Bob Hawke's Labor government continues to enrich our country today. He was described as the first PM for the environment, and he saved so many of our national treasures. There was the Franklin River, the ancient Daintree, the banning of uranium mining in Kakadu, and the Uluru National Park being put on the World Heritage List.
Of course, when Bob Hawke became Prime Minister only three in 10 Australians finished high school. By the end of the Labor government that figure was eight out of 10, laying the foundations for a more educated, more productive and wealthier society.
The millions of Australians who retire now and in the decades to come with a better standard of living through universal superannuation can thank Bob Hawke and his Labor government. Bob laid the foundations for our system, which now sees more than $2.7 trillion of workers capital owned by 14.8 million Australians.
It's part of the current brand propaganda, if I can put it that way, that is spread about the major parties of government in Australia that Labor is bad for the economy. You hear this; it's nonsense. I don't believe it's borne out by the facts or the record, but many do believe it. When people raise it with me, the first truth I remind them of is that it was Bob Hawke's Labor government, with Paul Keating as Treasurer, that transformed Australia's economy, laying the foundations for the longest run of prosperity of any country in the world and for the wealth we still enjoy today, and he shared that wealth with ordinary Australians. No government is perfect nor every decision right, but undoubtedly Bob and Paul's vision to open Australia up to the world, to deepen our economic, social, political and strategic connections to Asia and our region was right.
Bob also represented Australia so brilliantly on the international stage, pursuing our national interest with values and conviction. He said that fighting apartheid in South Africa was one of his proudest life achievements. He took up this cause in 1969 as president of the Australian trade union movement, fuelled by his visceral distaste of racism and discrimination, and he never took a backward step. He used the office of Prime Minister skilfully and forcefully, supporting a ban on South African sporting tours, marrying two of his greatest passions—sport and politics. Those photos of Bob Hawke and Nelson Mandela when Nelson Mandela visited Australia in 1990 are truly spine tingling. And his decision to allow 40,000 Chinese students to stay in Australia—a captain's call of the very best sort—after the Chinese communist party massacred its own citizens in Tiananmen Square in 1990 reminds us what leadership looks like.
There are so many lessons from Bob's leadership in life, beautifully summarised, I thought, by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday: don't fear risk, persuade people, be among the people, listen, engage, bring people together. We in this place would all do well to remember his style of consensus leadership, bringing unions and business together—not bashing one or bashing the other but seeking consensus across the aisle. And, as the member for Maribyrnong reminded us yesterday, it was not a lowest common denominator but rather one born of negotiation to shift and bring together hearts and minds, fit for the times.
In closing, I was struck by David Marr's comment. He said that Bob Hawke showed us 'that change is possible, that policy matters and a better Australia is waiting'. So the great romance which has been talked about in the last month between Bob Hawke and his nation has ended, but it will remain a love story for the ages. Australia is a better country and we are a better people because of Bob's leadership and his reforming Labor government. Vale Bob Hawke, Australia's greatest peacetime prime minister.
I'm honoured to follow the member for Bruce and his wonderful contribution. There have been so many great speeches in this chamber in honour of Bob Hawke—from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition and from both sides of the chamber. Obviously, Bob Hawke is deservedly lauded by all in this House as an outstanding prime minister and a giant within the Labor Party.
We all have our own experiences of meeting Bob. I'll come back to that a little bit later, but I'd just like to explain what it was like as a Queenslander when Bob Hawke became Prime Minister in 1983—an election that I, as a 17-year-old, didn't get to vote in—and the sort of Queensland I had grown up in.
Queensland was just about to re-elect a Bjelke-Petersen state government for the sixth time in an easy win for the Bjelke-Petersen led Country Party. The gerrymander gave them an unassailable electoral advantage, and this was the pre-Fitzgerald era, where the Queensland Country Party's currency was brown paper bags filled with cash. There was a pervasive criminal culture. We would eventually realise that it had actually infiltrated to the highest levels of the police service and even into the government itself. It was in that climate that Queenslanders welcomed a fresh Prime Minister, the 23rd, and voted in on a landslide a bloke they called Bob. He came in on a slogan of 'Bob Hawke. Bringing Australia Together'. He may have been a Victorian via Western Australia, but Queenslanders thought of Bob as being one of us.
Queenslanders know what bad government looks like. The Hawke government was the antithesis of the government we had in Queensland at that time. It would be another four years before the Fitzgerald inquiry would be established, but the air in Queensland was already thick with the stench of corruption that could not be ignored. It was known throughout.
Bob was a leader that Queenslanders could actually believe in. He was a leader that we could trust. He had vision, he had values and he was one of us. He was the Prime Minister Queensland needed through those dark days of the pre-Fitzgerald era and during the shocking revelations of the Fitzgerald inquiry 30 years ago. Ironically, Joh Bjelke-Petersen was embarking on a swap to federal politics at the time when the Fitzgerald inquiry was called. Shortly after the Fitzgerald inquiry was commissioned, Bob called a federal election and Joh, thankfully, abandoned his tilt at federal politics. I'll give credit to Bob Hawke; I'm not sure if he deliberately waited until Joh Bjelke-Petersen was out of the state and forgot to nominate for a federal seat. I think Joh was in LA at the time, and so it ended up that the push for Canberra faltered completely.
So while Queensland was a state in crisis, Bob got on with the job of reforming Australia and, as detailed by so many, creating the modern Australia—the modern economy: floating the dollar; Medicare; universal superannuation; Landcare, celebrated by many of the National Party people in this place; preserving the Antarctic and the Daintree in Far North Queensland; and preserving the Franklin River in Tasmania. I would note that I'm not encouraging that any government should do so by sending an F-111 to spy against a state government, but it got the job done—a little bit unusual, democratically, but it got the job done.
Bob Hawke not only encouraged opportunity, he made sure young Australians could access it. When Bob Hawke became Prime Minister, I was one of the only three in 10 Australian students who had graduated from high school. By the time he stepped down as Prime Minister he had turned that figure around to seven in 10, education being the truly transformational work of government.
It was Bob's values that made him the legend we remember today. As mentioned by so many people, the fact was that Bob Hawke abhorred racism; he found it repugnant. Bob Hawke always stood up for those who could not stand up for themselves, as a real Christian should. Bob's tearful response to that bloody massacre in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, offering Chinese students studying in Australia asylum, was a torrent of compassion through one of the saddest days. Yet, Bob still went on to be a good friend of China. We all loved Bob for that Tiananmen Square moment and for reminding us that good leaders—good friends—speak bluntly to other countries when they need to.
I know for a fact that Queenslanders still love Bob. When I was a candidate in 2004, '07, '10 and, I think '13, Bob Hawke often came to Moreton, as a marginal seat, trying to win it for Labor and then to retain it for Labor. I remember after that Kevin '07 launch in Brisbane, when Bob Hawke and Paul Keating came out and stood together—even though they weren't the best of friends at the time. There is a wonderful photo of that; in fact, my wife is standing right in front of them and I actually got Bob Hawke to sign the picture for my wife that next day. It took me quite a bit longer to get Paul Keating to sign it, but that's a different story!
In Moreton we would just work Bob incredibly hard. Even when he was in his eighties we would go from Sunnybank Plaza shopping centre across the bridge to Sunny Park, then across to Market Square and then to Sunnybank tavern. All the time Bob was talking to everyone; there were queues of people coming up to talk to him. I think he might have been trying to get a few phone numbers off some of my constituents, but people were so drawn to him. He loved people; it was evident in those walk-throughs, and the people loved Bob. Whether you were a US President, like Ronald Reagan, or just a normal shopper in Sunnybank, Bob was just Bob, and that's what everyone loved about him.
Today, we honour Labor's greatest peacetime Prime Minister and mourn the man. Bob Hawke will always be an inspiration to Labor and this grateful nation, because Bob showed us what we can achieve as a nation and individually. He showed us fairness, he showed us the benefits of hard work and building consensus, and he showed us hope. So I extend my sympathy and gratitude to his family for sharing him with us. Bob Hawke, may you rest in peace. I'll be raising a glass of Hawke's Lager to you sometime over the weekend, just like I did last night.
Bob Hawke's passing has cast a sad shadow over our nation. Whether you voted for or against him, nobody would deny the contribution that he has made to this country. I pay tribute to all the contributors to this condolence motion on all sides of the House over the last 24 hours. There has been an outpouring of genuine affection and a genuine respect for the contribution that Bob Hawke has made to this country and to this parliament.
I last spent quality time with Bob Hawke up your way, Deputy Speaker McVeigh, at the Woodford Folk Festival where he was a regular attender as a guest of his good mate, Bill Hauritz. On that evening, just after New Year's Eve, a small group of us gathered together for a dinner and some entertainment. Yes, there was plenty of beer flowing, lots of good jokes and plenty of songs. Bob, as he always did when more than two or three people gathered together, took no little urging to burst out in a verse of 'Solidarity Forever'.
I reminded him at the time that I'd had the opportunity of voting for him and his then Labor opposition in my first election, way back in 1983. That time was full of hope for what a Hawke Labor government could do for the country. Even in my wildest dreams, I could not have anticipated the achievements and the challenges that that government confronted over its years in office. They made great strides across all portfolio areas, and he had a great team. Many contributors to this debate have said, 'Yes, Hawke was a great leader and an inspirational Prime Minister, but he had the benefit of leading a great cabinet and a great caucus.'
Most of the speakers have pointed to some of the seminal contributions that the Hawke and Keating Labor governments made to this country, and I just want to single out a few of them. What comes to mind is what was thought of as a great challenge as he came into office: how was he was going to strike a relationship with the then powerful Australian trade union movement to ensure that we could do justice to the working people of this country, ensure that we kept inflation under control and ensure that we could modernise the country? It was the accords struck between the Labor government and the ACTU which were an essential element in that modernisation project.
It is little known to many people who sit in this place on this day that the Medicare that we celebrate was actually a feature of the social wage that was at the heart of the Prices and Incomes Accord. The trade-off for unions in moderating and restraining wage growth was the social wage element of which Medicare was one. In fact, there was a wage offset in one of those early national wage cases under the Hawke and Keating Labor governments, in recognition of the benefits that Medicare was going to flow through to working people and their families. Medicare is a part of our national fabric, but it was not always so. Medicare and its precursor, Medibank, were hotly contested. Today it's the common sense of the nation; back then, it was hotly contested.
Another part of the important social wage was occupational superannuation, and it has been mentioned by a number of Labor speakers previously. Occupational superannuation is now part of the common sense of our nation; it wasn't in the early 1980s. In fact, if you were a manager, a public servant or a male, you were more likely to have occupational superannuation. If you were none of those things, you were most unlikely to have any occupational superannuation and, therefore, very little savings for your retirement. The fact that we now have a pool of occupational superannuation totalling $2.4 trillion is a tribute to the courage, the commitment and the leadership of the Hawke Labor government, in partnership, through the accord process, with the Australian trade union movement. Australians today, whether they know it or not, were the beneficiaries of that great vision under those leaders back in the early eighties.
Under Hawke's leadership, Australia emerged from the economic doldrums of 1983 to be one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. More than 1.6 million jobs were created, inflation was constrained and the massive budget deficits they inherited from the Fraser governments were transformed into record surpluses. The legacy of the Hawke and Keating governments was a modernisation of our economy and a new way of thinking about work in this country.
I want to say a few words about the Hawke government's contribution to the Illawarra. I represent an Illawarra and Southern Highlands based seat—an area where I have spent most of my life. It's a wonderful region, but, during the early 1980s, it was going through some of its great challenges. The steel industry across the country was on its knees and the steelworks at Port Kembla was no different. It was hit by recession, a world oversupply and competition and it was crushed by outdated technology. In 1980, the Broken Hill Proprietary company, BHP, who were then owners of the Port Kembla and Newcastle steelworks, employed in Port Kembla some 20,500 employees. By 1984, the year after I left school—it was the reason I became a lawyer not a boilermaker!—it had shed over 35 per cent of its workforce.
Within a year of the Hawke government coming into office in 1983, the Hawke government secured support for a steel development plan, a comprehensive plan to ensure there was a future for the steel industry and a demand for steel products. But there was also a transformation plan put in place for the workers in the steel industry—a bounty system of over five years that allowed local steel producers to retain between 80 and 90 per cent of the domestic market. The steel industry plan helped create a favourable environment for re-investment in the steel industry. Important investments were made during those early years after the steel industry plan, which have seen the steel industry and the Port Kembla steelworks go on to prosper up to today.
When Bob was asked what he would like to be remembered for, he replied, 'As a bloke who loved his country and still does, and loves Australians and who wasn't changed by his high office.' It's clear to see that Bob loved Australia and Australians loved him. Bob was a legend of our movement but he is also a legend of this country: it is for people like me, who were so inspired by his leadership in those early years of my life in politics, to speak of him in the past tense. We mourn his passing; we celebrate his contribution to this great country. There is a special place in the hearts of every Wollongong boy and every person from the Illawarra for the great contribution he made to our region in listening to and coming to the aid of our region and its heart and soul, the manufacturing workers and the manufacturing industries of the Illawarra, in that difficult period through the 1980s. It's why he continues to be much loved throughout the region, and he will never be forgotten.
After 89 colourful years of life, Hawke's legacy will live on through his life-changing policies and his powerful words of wisdom, which continue to inspire Australians and Australian Labor to this day. I thank the House for the ability to make these contributions to this wonderful debate and to pay tribute to this wonderful man and his contribution to our nation.