Senate debates

Tuesday, 28 November 2023


Hayden, Hon. William George (Bill), AC

3:49 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | Hansard source

I rise on behalf of the opposition to associate ourselves with the remarks of Senator Wong as Leader of the Government in the Senate, to support the motion moved by the leader and to pay tribute to the life of the Hon. William George Hayden AC—or Bill Hayden, as he was known across Australia. From tributes given following his passing, what was certainly clear amongst all of them was that, in every public role he held, Bill Hayden was devoted to serving Australia. His life was one of intellectual journey. But, throughout his life, he was always one for commitment to values and particularly to putting the interests and the human interests of Australians first and foremost.

Born in 1933 in South Brisbane to Violet Quinn and George Hayden, Bill Hayden had the upbringing that Ben Chifley spoke of as the 'lottery of life' or the 'shafts of fate' that so often lead to the shaping of a person's trajectory in their life. Facing hardship at home, Bill Hayden was awarded a scholarship, attending high school in Brisbane before joining the Queensland Police Force in 1953—a vocation, as Senator Wong touched on, that would contribute to Bill's policy ideas and inform his perspective in valuable ways. Simultaneously, he undertook an unusual path for a Queensland copper, of studying economics part time whilst working.

It's reported that Bill Hayden, with a strong interest in policy and ideology, had some difficulty, initially, in finding a political home, reportedly being rejected firstly by the Communist Party at the time, because of his police background, but then initially by the Labor Party, because he was perceived to be too left wing. However, in 1957 his Labor membership was accepted, and, following his time as a police officer, at the young age of 28, Bill Hayden was elected to the Australian parliament as the member for Oxley in 1961. Oxley, at that stage, had been a relatively safe Liberal seat, and Bill Hayden's election to this parliament was achieved with a remarkable 11 per cent swing towards him to unseat the sitting Liberal member. He would go on, though, to represent the community of Oxley for some 27 years, retaining their support through 11 consecutive re-elections.

Under the tumultuous years of the Whitlam government, Bill Hayden was appointed to serve firstly as Minister for Social Security and later as Treasurer. Bill Hayden's ability to establish Medibank—which would go on, in later iterations, to be known by all Australians as Medicare—would become a crucial part of his legacy in implementing a universal health insurance scheme. He went through great political battle to do so, with the 1974 double dissolution election being fought particularly over those reforms, but they were successfully implemented. It was also during this time that that experience as a Queensland police officer would see him increase welfare support and the social safety net for single mothers, with his own childhood and that influence in the Queensland police service giving him a true understanding of the importance of financial independence and how that could provide support to women experiencing hardship or abuse and help create their own independence.

Bill Hayden was appointed as Treasurer to replace the somewhat ill-fated Jim Cairns. It was too little too late for the Whitlam government, even as Bill Hayden was acknowledged as valiantly trying to restore some budget integrity in his time as Treasurer. Following the dismissal of the Whitlam government in 1974 and the repeat electoral thrashing of the Labor Party under Gough Whitlam again in 1977, it was perhaps the greatest kind of political challenge for Bill Hayden when he was appointed as leader of the Labor Party. He faced the test of restoring cohesion and policy credibility whilst reforming the Australian Labor Party in what is I think regarded pretty well universally across the major parties as the toughest job in Australian politics—that of Leader of the Opposition.

In his five years as Labor leader, Bill Hayden steered Labor to a 4.2 per cent swing towards them at the 1980 election, and, whilst not enough to form government, it saw another 13 members elected to the House of Representatives for the Labor Party, in a parliament much smaller than it is today. Perhaps ominously for Bill Hayden, that election also heralded the entry to the House of Reps of Bob Hawke. Nonetheless, Bill Hayden continued to work on ensuring the Labor Party became evermore electorally viable. And it was his commitment to equality, which Senator Wong spoke of, and, indeed, great prescience, in being ahead of his time, that saw him oversee the reforms that enabled the ALP to commit to and to adopt a quota for women in the parliament of 30 per cent over 10 years.

As the unpredictable and uncontrollable sliding-door moments of our lives occur, it was, of course, the day that Bill Hayden had been persuaded to stand aside as Leader of the Opposition that Malcolm Fraser would announce the 1983 general election. It was the election that would ultimately make way for Bob Hawke to become the next Prime Minister for the Labor Party and for Australia, and we can all only speculate on what that outcome would have been had Bill Hayden remained as Labor leader, with many believing, including Bill Hayden himself, that the steady guidance of his leadership is what paved the way for Bob Hawke to be able to achieve victory. Senator Wong acknowledged it was at that time that Bill Hayden famously said that a drover's dog could lead the Labor Party to victory. The phrase entered Australian political folklore—so much so, that Bill Hayden reportedly rued saying it in the first place.

Following the 1983 election, Prime Minister Hawke appointed Bill Hayden as Minister for Foreign Affairs—later with the addition of the trade portfolio, where he remained, until his resignation from the parliament, serving Australia on the international stage. During his time as foreign minister, Bill Hayden completed what was no small feat of international diplomacy in that era, undertaking close to 40 official visits to almost 90 different countries. Taking particular interest in bilateral relations with nations across the Asia-Pacific, Bill Hayden quite rightly focused on developing closer ties for Australia with the region in which we live, recognising that it would be of growing importance to Australia in the decades to come. It was also under Bill Hayden that one of his greatest achievements was had, in playing the leading role, as acknowledged, in the development of a peace process in Cambodia, leading international thinking, well ahead of its time, towards the establishment of a UN transitional authority that would eventually come into force under his successor.

It was not long after Bill Hayden resigned from parliament in 1988 that he was appointed Australia's 21st Governor-General and, in what was evidently his astuteness for every public role he held, Bill Hayden would remain in that role for a position of some seven years. His dedication to service as Governor-General was remembered by current Governor-General David Hurley, stating that he set an example of putting others before self, dedication and compassion. His interest in the lives of the Australian community is still remembered, and, three decades on, visitors to Government House recall his warmth. His was a life well lived that enriched our community.

After his extended term as Governor-General, Bill Hayden remained engaged with the Labor Party, the politics of the day and the many different issues that he had developed interests in. He was always resolute in his beliefs but constructive in his approach. He was a giant of the Australian Labor Party and left a transformative and lasting impact upon Australia. It was in later life that Bill Hayden, reflecting upon his time as a parliamentarian and his work in public life, said:

Well, I hope people can say he used his time in office fairly and helpfully for those who had a need for help, and he did it honestly and with integrity. You can't ask for more than that in public life.

As we in the Australian Senate today reflect upon Bill Hayden's life, it is with much certainty that I can say—and I'm sure we can all concur—he achieved exactly that.

We thank Bill Hayden for his exceptional dedication of lifelong service to Australia and pay our respects to his wife, Dallas, and their three surviving children, in Georgina, Ingrid and Kirk. Vale, Bill Hayden. Thank you for your contribution to Australia.


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