CONDOLENCE MOTION – ROBERT JAMES LEE HAWKE

03 July 2019

Thank you Mr President.
 
It's appropriate the parliament pauses today to reflect on the life of Robert James Lee Hawke.
 
Bob, Hawkie – Australia's 23rd Prime Minister. Few people have so fundamentally changed the course of our nation as he did. 
 
Even fewer have managed it with such wit and warmth.
 
Bob Hawke possessed an extraordinary characteristic: simultaneously he was both everyman and leader without peer. 
 
Australians responded to Bob Hawke because they saw themselves, their mates and their neighbours in him. 
 
But Australians trusted Bob Hawke because they recognised his capacity to diagnose and comprehend the challenges the country faced, and his resolve and clarity in meeting those challenges and making Australia a stronger, fairer place.
 
Long before I moved to Australia, I knew about Bob Hawke. 
 
In 1989, as a political science undergraduate at the University of Dayton, I wrote two essays on Bob Hawke. One was on his commitment that Australia take a leadership role in tackling global pollution—what we would today call emissions reduction—and the other was on the manner in which the Labor leadership transitioned from Bill Hayden to Bob Hawke. 
 
I wish I could say that I wrote these essays because I possessed the foresight to know how important it would be to have a thorough understanding of both of these topics later in my career. But, truth be told, at that stage in my life, living in Ohio, I couldn't even have imagined a set of circumstances in which I would ever meet Bob Hawke.
 
That opportunity did arise in 1999, however, three years after I married my Australian husband, Ben Keneally. As a young at-home mother, I supported the Australian Republican Movement campaign in the referendum that year. 
 
On referendum day, my son Daniel, then 18 months old and sitting in his pram in his 'Yes' T-shirt, had his first experience of handing out 'how to votes' at a polling booth. 
 
That night, Ben and I took Daniel to the Yes campaign event and I spotted the hero of my university essays, Bob Hawke, across the room. 
 
Even though the night was not one of celebration for the Yes campaign, Bob received me, an enthusiastic fan, as he always did with the countless Australians that he met – with grace, good humour and an open smile.
 
Bob posed for a photo that is one of my most cherished possessions – me clutching Daniel, Daniel clutching a Yes campaign balloon, and Bob Hawke clutching a beer. All of us were happy in that moment.
 
Bob came to office at a crucial time in our collective history.
 
When Donald Horne wrote of The Lucky Country, he didn't intend it to become a beloved moniker of our great country. His 1964 book described 'an insular and protectionist society, one that suffered from lethargy and a lack of ingenuity, a relic of British colonialism adrift in a region when it couldn't comprehend its role or its future'. 
 
His writing was an indictment of a country in stasis, and a call for reform and a reformer. 
 
Some of the criticisms were warranted and some remnants of Horne's Australia followed us into the 1980s.
 
But that changed in 1983 with Bob Hawke. 
 
Today we call ourselves 'the lucky country' with great endearment because we have been a lot luckier since Bob Hawke was our Prime Minister. The Hawke Government pursued a wide-ranging progressive agenda of social and economic reform, the likes of which had never been seen in our country before. 
 
He floated the dollar, abandoned the old regime of trade tariffs and opened our economy to the world. He knew the tension this economic shift would cause, but sought to balance that against the competing demands of the union movement and industry with the price and income accords. It was an especially bold line for a former trade union official to pursue. It required a deft hand and an enthusiasm for consensus — things that came naturally to a man who had already been plying his trade in the union movement for decades.
 
Since 1969, Bob had served as the President of the ACTU and earned a reputation as a persuasive and passionate advocate for the rights of ordinary Australians. 
 
He didn't win every battle, but he possessed an immense intellect and a knack for leading people to work collaboratively and find where they were willing to compromise to achieve better outcomes for all. Through his role in the labour movement his popularity grew to outstanding heights.
 
There is one gift that Bob Hawke has given to Australia as Prime Minister that no-one and no political party will ever be able to take away. 
 
Bob ensured that we would have Medicare, a system of universal health care that remains the envy of many First World countries today. There are few things more universal to all Australians than the green and gold card that sits in each of our wallets or purses. 
 
Every Australian will always have Bob Hawke to thank for their health and wellbeing, an extraordinary legacy that is testament to the things that Bob valued most. 
 
Bob acknowledged our neighbours in the Asia-Pacific and the role that we as a proud, developed and sovereign nation play on the world stage.
 
When Bob came to office, Australia had one of the lowest school retention rates in the developed world; by the time he left parliament, he had more than doubled it. 
 
We were fortunate to get a Prime Minister who possessed a great vision for our nation and the necessary ability to bring the country with him through difficult reforms. His was a paradigm shift for the Australian people, and one that has brought us immense prosperity. 
 
It's not a stretch to say that much of the country's unmatched economic success over the past 30 years flows directly from the decisions made in Bob's cabinet in the 1980s, or perhaps at The Lodge after a couple of games of tennis on a Sunday afternoon.
 
It wasn't just his enormous policy success that defined Bob's time in the Parliament. He did enjoy a genuine and enduring affinity with the Australian people. 
 
He was and always will be an exemplar of our country's inherent larrikinism and wit. 
 
The Prime Minister famously donned the now-iconic white jacket emblazoned with Australian flags and gave the nation an ironclad excuse for a sickie. Or on some days he was known to be more focused on the horses he was backing than the TV cameras surrounding him. 
 
At the same time, he was a Prime Minister who wasn't afraid to shed a tear when sharing his shortcomings as a parent or as he watched his fellow man and woman face egregious regimes abroad.
 
The persona of Bob Hawke, larger than life, unpretentious and frank, has sometimes overwhelmed our understanding of his accomplishments. 
 
Behind the cheeky smile was a sensitivity, complemented by his towering intellect and a courageous commitment to fighting injustice wherever he saw it. 
 
On the domestic front, Bob was an unwavering warrior for equality and social justice. 
 
Bob prioritised the advancement of women in the workplace, passing two key pieces of legislation, the Sex Discrimination Act and the Affirmative Action Act, which still underpin our current system today. 
 
Bob was a proud environmentalist, and his efforts to preserve our beautiful sunburnt country can be witnessed in the natural wonders of the Daintree Rainforest, Shark Bay and the Gondwana Rainforests. 
 
Bob co-signed the historic Barunga Statement in 1988, returned Uluru to its traditional owners and fought for a treaty with our First Nations people.
 
Internationally, Bob understood the role that passionate but disciplined diplomacy could play in promoting the values of a liberal democracy in a world undergoing significant upheaval. 
 
During his time with the ACTU he campaigned for the rights of Jewish families attempting to leave the Soviet Union and led boycotts against the apartheid-era South African Springboks rugby union team when they toured Australia in 1971. He loathed racism and was an unrelenting advocate for Nelson Mandela at a time when the great South African leader was decried by many loud voices as a terrorist. 
 
But it was his response to the Tiananmen Square massacre that perhaps best characterised Bob's inherent sense of justice – a Prime Minister on television struggling to hold back tears and promising refuge to persecuted Chinese students who watched as their world was turned upside down from thousands of kilometres away. It was a genuine reflection of the value Bob so readily placed on his fellow human beings.
 
Bob took bold stances at a time when our society was still struggling with accepting our diversity. It would have been easier to stand quietly by, but it was true to form for a man with such conviction to never take the low road or the easy path. 
 
Bob knew there were no small gestures, and he did nothing by half. His was a voice that was listened to by leaders around the world, and it allowed him to advocate on behalf of the fair go that is now shorthand for the very best of what it means to be an Australian. Bob didn't preach to us; he just showed us, through actions rather than words, that there is a better way. 
 
It meant he was able to help redefine who we were and what we stood for as a country. He proposed a modern Australia that puts a premium on fairness, and he recognised that we have an intrinsic responsibility to do better for each other and, more importantly, he delivered it.
 
In his later years, Bob continued to grow as a stalwart of the labour movement. He tirelessly and enthusiastically campaigned for Labor candidates at State and Federal levels across the country. 
 
Bob took seriously his role as an elder statesman of our party, as the supporter and nurturer of the next generation of MPs. If you needed Bob Hawke for an endorsement, an appearance or a fundraiser, he more often than not – and perhaps more often than anyone else – obliged.
 
Now I know this, as a Premier and later as a candidate for the Federal seat of Bennelong, I was a fortunate beneficiary of Bob's enthusiasm for a Labor campaign – although I have to say, at times his enthusiasm overflowed.
 
For example, in 2011, in that tough New South Wales election campaign, Bob joined me on the campaign bus for a swing through Western Sydney, culminating in a street walk through, and a media conference in, Parramatta. 
 
Bob had been so well received on Church Street in Parramatta that he was in a particularly good mood. 
 
At our media conference, he gave me such a glowing endorsement that he decided he needed to seal it with a kiss, literally. 
 
As the photographic evidence will show – just check Google Images – it was plainly evident from my expression that I only realised at the last moment that this kiss was not intended for my cheek. 
 
What a moment! What a Bob Hawke moment — no ill intent, just genuine affection, genuine praise and a genuine moment of enthusiasm. Anyone who saw the footage could see that's what it was. 
 
Nearly 18 years in politics has provided me with lots of significant moments, but getting kissed on the lips by Bob Hawke during a media conference is certainly amongst the most memorable.
 
Of course, Bob loved to sing, especially union anthems like 'Solidarity Forever', and he had a lovely deep voice that resonated around a room. 
 
He knew, during the Bennelong by-election, that my birthday was just three days later, and, though his health was not at its best, he still came to Labor headquarters, filmed an endorsement video, gave a rousing speech to the phone bank troops and then sang me a special Bennelong rendition of 'Happy Birthday'. His generosity, his friendship and his love for all of us in the labour movement shined through in such moments.
 
There was no more appropriate celebration of Bob's life than the memorial that was held at the Sydney Opera House last month. It was loud, colourful and jovial, a celebration of the life of an extraordinary gentleman who recognised the impact his work had on the country that he loved, and we accepted the loss of him with profound humility and joy that day. 
 
It was quintessentially Bob. He even managed to conduct the orchestra at his own memorial. Only Bob could do that.
 
It's difficult to articulate what we've lost with Bob Hawke's passing—a brilliant mind, an irrepressible wit, an enthusiastic singer, a compassionate and strong leader, our warm friend, our Bob Hawke.
 
A great Australian who steered us from the fog into the present day and, in turn, delivered so much for so many. 
 
Bob once said:
 
“The essence of power is the knowledge that what you do is going to have an effect, not just an immediate but perhaps a lifelong effect, on the happiness and wellbeing of millions of people and so I think the essence of power is to be conscious of what it can mean for others.”
 
We owe Bob Hawke a great deal of gratitude for how he used his power for others.
 
My condolences today to Blanche, Sue, Stephen, Rosslyn, his stepson, Louis, and his grandchildren. They were better for having Bob, and we were better for having Bob with us. 
 
I'll miss you, Bob. 
 
The Australian Labor Party will miss you. 
 
Australia misses you.
 
ENDS

MEDIA CONTACT: TIMOTHY DUNLOP 0428 043 110