Jul 3, 2019

Condolence Motion – Hon. Robert James Lee (Bob) Hawke AC – Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Thank you very much Mr Speaker and I thank the Prime Minister for his generous comments, not just today but at the memorial service at Sydney Opera House which was a remarkable event for an extraordinary Australian.

I also welcome the announcement by the Prime Minister of the Government’s Bob Hawke Scholarship Foundation.

It is indeed appropriate to recognise a young person and to give them support in Bob Hawke’s name.

Because Bob Hawke was always supportive of young people coming through.

I first met him as the President of Young Labor, meeting with him about policy issues that at the time Young Labor didn’t always agree with Bob Hawke, it must be said.

But he was always encouraging, he was a mentor and indeed a very dear friend. And he is missed on a personal level.

Bob Hawke was the first Prime Minister in this new parliament.

Close your eyes for a moment and you can picture him by the despatch box – that famous cumulus of hair; that impish sparkle in his eyes; that voice.

He towered in this place with the confidence of a man who’d always felt destined for it.

Bob had long known that he wanted to be the Prime Minister of Australia. More importantly, he knew he would be. How could it be otherwise?

Family legend always had it that when Bob’s mother Ellie was pregnant with him, her Bible fell open at Isaiah, chapter 9, verse 6:

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder …”

Between this early touch of messiah, and the clarifying effects of a near-death experience on his motorbike years later, Bob had a sense of destiny.

Bob was a genuine folk figure long before he became the Prime Minister. He was indeed the first politician who built a reputation on TV before he became a parliamentarian.

Once asked how he could simultaneously be President of the ACTU and President of the Australian Labor Party, he replied with remarkable candor and typical Bob style, “If you can’t ride two horses, you shouldn’t be in the bloody circus.”

Now, doubt was not a regular visitor to Bob’s mind, and he wasn’t keen on it from others. But that doesn’t mean that no one felt it.

As a Hawke prime ministership grew ever more likely, some were worried. His talent and the sharpness of his economic mind were not questioned, but mightn’t his larrikin streak embarrass us domestically and on the world stage?

And never mind the future – what about the risk of damaging revelations about his past?

With the cheer of someone who’d once explained that he had credibility because he didn’t he exude morality, Bob pointed to his biography and said there would be no shocks. “It’s all in the book,” he explained.

But the strength of personality sometimes masked his dedication to his work and to detail, the pay-off of habits formed in his long, hard years as an industrial advocate.

All this energy was channeled into making life better for his fellow Australians. He was at once our leader and our cheerleader.

He was ahead of us, calling us on – and yet somehow he was also walking alongside us and, for good measure, giving us an encouraging push from behind.

Bob was hardly a stranger to ambition, but his ambition embraced the rest of us. He knew we were capable of better and he knew we could do it – together.

Think of some of his bywords that characterised his leadership: Reconciliation. Accord. Consensus.

They’re all about us heading one direction as a nation rather than about division or conflict.

And even though he was Labor to the core, you didn’t have to vote for Bob to feel the love.

He was no one-man band, of course. When Labor was swept to power in the first of his four election victories, Bob was blessed with a ministry of rare breadth, depth and talent, the political equivalent of a greatest hits collection.

The Whitlam dismissal was the energy that had driven some of them into politics, but it was never going to steer them.

This was no time for crash or crash through.

Bob, Paul Keating his Treasurer and their team had a clear and urgent agenda to rescue Australia from what they saw as a moribund state, but they knew how to implement it and how to sell it.

Their energy was coupled with pragmatism; their courage with intelligence; their impatience with clear heads.

They were united in the quest for an open, competitive, free society, and an intelligent, creative, benevolent nation.

They foresaw the Asian century and the rise of China, and they prepared Australia for it.

They saw our future prosperity depended on Australia becoming a confident, outward-looking nation.

They laid down the foundations of a robust, vibrant economy that has repeatedly withstood forces that have felled other economies in our region and throughout the industrialised world.

Ponder some of their achievements:

  • APEC.
  • The floating of the dollar.
  • Putting Australia in a position to benefit from global economic engagement.
  • The Sex Discrimination Act.
  • The Affirmative Action Act.
  • The return of Uluru – the physical heart of the nation – to its traditional owners.
  • Universal superannuation.
  • Landcare.
  • Medicare.
  • When they were elected to office three in every ten Australians finished high school. When that period of government ended the figure was eight out of ten. A revolution in opportunity for young Australians. So many more young people also having the opportunity to attend university.
  • The Antarctic, never to be militarised, never to be mined.
  • In Tasmania, the Franklin River still flows wild and free.
  • The Daintree, in Far North Queensland.

Among his exploits on the world stage, Bob was the driving force behind what South Africa’s then finance minister described as “the dagger that finally immobilised apartheid”.

He drove that agenda on the global stage and it was not a uniform agenda, far from it. It took courage.

So that when Nelson Mandela arrived in Canberra he said: “I want you to know, Bob, that I am here today, at this time, because of you.”

What a tribute.

Fighting apartheid was just one manifestation of Bob’s loathing for racism. He knew our strength lay in unity, and he was always ready to fight those who sought to divide.

When the dog whistle of racism was blown loudly, Bob responded in Parliament with thunder.

Last year – three decades later almost to the day – Parliament united right here around Bob’s words to condemn another politician who tried to divide us.

That day in this place matched the vision Bob had for us: the Prime Minister shaking hands with Opposition Leader, Muslim embracing Jew, all united in the knowledge that racism has no place among us. I spoke to Bob about that day, he was thrilled.

What can all of us here learn from Bob?

Don’t fear risk.

Don’t let the word “no” be your first instinct.

Persuade people, bring them with you.

Be among the people who chose you to represent them. Listen, engage.

Stay true to your philosophies and make them the bedrock upon which you build your policies.

You won’t get agreement all the time, but you will get respect.

Bob showed us the dividends of a political life lived that way. During the decades after he left office, Australia’s affection for him not only didn’t dim, I think it actually grew.

The year that he turned 80, Bob was walking out of the MCG with delegates to the annual American-Australian Leadership Dialogue, a passing car slowed down.

Its young driver yelled out, “Hawkie, you’re a bloody legend”.

Bob’s reply was both gracious and practical: “Well if I’m such a bloody legend, why don’t you give me a lift back to the pub?”

And with that, the former PM hopped into a car, no security, with perfect strangers and sped off.

One of the American delegates, with their security, was gobsmacked, “That could never happen in America.” And indeed it wouldn’t.

It is a perfect Australian story. I hope we never lose that character.

Later that year during his birthday celebrations, Bob stepped out onto the stage of the Sydney Opera House of course to conduct a number from Handel’s Messiah.

It was quite extraordinary when that was shown at the memorial service at the Sydney Opera House.

One of the songs in Messiah includes the biblical line that had leapt out at Ellie a lifetime earlier: “… and the government shall be upon His shoulder.”

But fittingly it was the Hallelujah chorus that Bob conducted, Handel’s joyous expression of a prophecy fulfilled.

There was a lot of love in the room that day – a perfect snapshot of the long romance between one Australian and his compatriots.

Today, in the national Parliament, we remember a genuinely national figure: Australia’s greatest peacetime Prime Minister, Bob Hawke.

And it’s right that we do so in this way.

On a personal level I also remember a generous mentor and friend.

When Karen Middleton asked me who should launch the biography that she had written of myself, I said my first option was Bob Hawke. She said what if we can’t get him, who’s your second options? I said Bob Hawke. Who’s third? Bob Hawke.

And it was a great honour of my life to have left this chamber on the day that that occurred and I went down to the office and there was Bob. And he had the copy of the book. And it had post-it notes all throughout it, it had little notes. He had read every word and did a remarkable job. And it was incredibly humbling the fact that he did that.

I must also say, on behalf of the Australian Labor Party: that our party and our movement, remembers our great fallen chief.

He transformed Labor so that Labor could transform the nation.

He took on internal fights and won them so that he could lead the nation.

He taught us also how real reform occurs, you require successive victories.

He was Australian Labor’s most successful leader with four election victories which consolidated those reforms like Medicare and superannuation so that they couldn’t just be wound back easily.

We know of course also he never stopped singing ‘Solidarity Forever’.

He particularly used to get to the line “is there anything left for us but to organise and fight?“.

The music is done now. In the quiet that has fallen, we farewell this giant. A beloved Labor Leader.

Our most popular prime minister.

A man who, in so many ways, was Australia amplified.

We farewell him not with sadness, but with gratitude and with love.

Our gratitude and love also go to his children Susan, Stephen and Roslyn, who had to share their dad with the nation, and to the memory of little Robert Jr, who tragically never got the chance.

To Blanche d’Alpuget, who was for Bob love’s second great blossoming and cared for him so compassionately during his later years.

To the memory of Hazel Hawke, who was Bob’s first great love.

To the memory of Clem and Ellie Hawke, who raised their son to turn his back on hatred and embrace the brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity.

And finally, we turn to that driver outside the MCG that night and we say: You were right.

Bob Hawke, legend.