Subjects: Bob Hawke tribute.
LAURA JAYES: Let’s go live now to Anthony Albanese this morning. He is in Sydney. Albo, thanks so much for your time.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
JAYES: The nation is mourning Bob Hawke and that is no overstatement today. What do you remember of him?
ALBANESE: Oh look, he was much loved, and I’m one of the people who loved him. One of the great honours of my life was having him launch Karen Middleton’s biography that she did of me. She asked me who I wanted to launch it, and I said Bob Hawke. And she said ‘who’s the second choice?’ I said Bob Hawke. ‘Who’s the third choice?’ Bob Hawke. It’s got to be Hawkey, because he – he embodied, I think, what it is to be a great Australian and a great Labor man. He lived his life for the betterment of others.
He never got above his station even when he was Prime Minister meeting with world leaders. He could walk onto the factory floor, or walk into a pub, and talk to people and engage with them genuinely, and they got that sense. He changed the nation for the better. He linked us up with the world, whether it was through economic change that he did, such as floating the dollar, or whether it was engaging through mechanisms like APEC in our region – making sure that we were integrated into Asia rather than afraid of it. And Bob Hawke, of course, has legacies right around the country, whether it be Kakadu, Daintree, the Tasmanian wilderness, are all there because of Bob Hawke’s intervention. Medicare – our Medicare card is in every one of our wallets as a direct result of Bob Hawke. And the thing that he did as a Labor leader was he taught Labor how to govern. He was elected four times, and that’s remarkable. It was remarkable beforehand. Given recent political history, it’s completely extraordinary. Some Prime Ministers have struggled to last for four months before they were under siege. Bob Hawke had that relationship with the Australian people that I don’t think we’ve seen since.
KIERAN GILBERT: You know Anthony, I know from personal experience with friends and loved ones, that Bob Hawke was much loved with those of the Chinese community, because he acted alone.
GILBERT: He didn’t consult Cabinet when he granted asylum to the Chinese students in Australia in the wake of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
ALBANESE: He showed leadership, and that’s what leadership looks like: making a decision, and then arguing your case. Making a difficult decision, as it was then. It was criticised. Today, no one’s critical of course. But then, it was ‘you’re letting all these Chinese just stay, who are here. What will the impact be?’ And of course, as a result of that, many of them have had, of course, parents and relatives come here to join them in Australia – many of them in my electorate at Ashfield. And one of the events I went to with Bob Hawke was a big dinner in recognition of China, and Australia’s recognition of China, at West Ashfield at the big Chinese restaurant there. And they just loved him. But wherever you went with Bob – I was with Bob at Woodford just over – just after Christmas; Bob Hawke had a slot there every year, where he talked to over a thousand people, largely young people. A lot of them weren’t born when he was Prime Minister. But he would engage with them. They all wanted to talk to him. He was living history. And the fact that young or old, left or right, male or female, regardless of ethnicity or religion, he was prepared to treat you as an equal. And of course, his appearances at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), where he increasingly didn’t … actually he said to me that he wished people would stop encouraging him to skol a beer at the SCG. But he still did that, and he did it with style, and that just showed the punters just loved him, whether it was in the outer or in the boardrooms.
JAYES: Albo, it feels right to today talk about some of his larrikinism and some of the stories about him that are absolutely legendary. He loved a bit of nudity – what do you remember of the more mischievous Bob Hawke?
ALBANESE: Well, I wasn’t a witness to any of that, and that’s a good thing. But I certainly was a witness to, you know – even over Christmas, there he was up at Woodford, you know, a cigar in hand, nice drink at the ready, and just enjoying people’s – enjoying people’s company. He was good fun. The first time I met him, I think, or one of the first times: there’s a photo of me, I’ll have to dig up, when I was running Young Labor, and I’m in the Prime Minister’s office, and I’m being probably a bit disrespectful to be honest, because I’m there with my mullet, and my earring, and my denim jacket, which is probably the only jacket I owned at the time, meeting with the Prime Minister. He couldn’t care less. He brought us in. He engaged with us a lot. I was President of Young Labor during International Youth Year, so there quite a lot of activity for International Youth Year. And he was just very warm. And even when you disagreed with him, and from time to time, Young Labor would have strong disagreements with him over issues like the MX missile crisis and nuclear disarmament. We were very much on the anti-uranium side for example. He was not of the same position. He’d listen to us respectfully. He would tell us why, in his opinion, we were wrong and naïve, and we’d have good discourse, and he certainly wouldn’t hold it against you. And I regularly visited him in his offices there at William Street, and just sat down and listened before the great man. Listened to history, listened to him give advice. His advice was always, always good.
GILBERT: You know the – I guess a lot of people have personal experiences with the former Prime Minister. One that I had with him when he was campaigning with John Murphy in the seat of Lowe in Sydney, was – it was just amazing to watch him walk through people in high vis vests in the TAB and the pub, and he’d sit down with them for 10 minutes going through the form guide and picking, you know, the winner at Warwick Farm. It was actually quite a, you know, a mutual like that he had, or patience – I don’t know how you’d describe it – or love of, you know, the average punter.
ALBANESE: Yes he liked people. And sometimes – it does amaze me. I have met a few people in politics who – I scratch my head and think ‘I’m not sure why you chose a profession where you’ve got to engage with people when you don’t really like them’. That’s not a partisan comment, by the way. But Hawkey was, perhaps beyond any other, someone who could engage with people better than anyone I’ve seen. And I had him at the Hurlestone Park RSL for my 20th anniversary of being elected to Parliament. Now Hurlestone Park RSL is a great club in my electorate. But it’s a – it’s a real mix of people. And he not only engaged with people at the function itself, which was, you know, I think it was about 600 or 700 people in the auditorium. Of course, there were people outside the auditorium who were just there – a lot of people of Greek background and Vietnamese background, and members of that club – they all wanted to meet him. They wanted to engage with him, and he was happy to do that, even though he wasn’t in the best health even at that time. That was 2016. And I remember we had to work out a way to – we had to get him onto the stage. He was having difficulty with stairs. And we got him onto the stage, and he began really slowly, in terms of the dynamic with the audience. And about a minute in it took, and he just switched on. He decreased in age by 40 years.
ALBANESE: He gave a cracker of a speech about the Labor Party, about its history, about what it meant. And people just loved him and gave him – he got a number of standing ovations. It was an amazing night and then, of course, he absolutely got mobbed by people wanting selfies and just wanting to shake his hand.
JAYES: Well, he was modern day. He did take a few selfies in the latter years indeed. Now, he was not afraid of wearing his heart on his sleeve. I saw you once cry, Anthony Albanese, and that was through a difficult time for the Labor Party, with the leadership changes between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. Did you seek his counsel during that time? What’s the best advice he’s ever given you
ALBANESE: Look, the best advice he’s given me is to be yourself. I did talk to him about that, because crying on national TV is not something that you plan to do. And certainly, people recall that event. And I talked to him – because he cried a few times on national TV as well. And he just said ‘mate’ – he saw it, obviously. He congratulated me, because I was basically saying ‘can we just stop fighting each other?’ and turn our focus on the other side of politics, which is something that Bob always did. He was focused on the Labor Party. He led a government as Prime Minister, you know, right up to December 1991 from 1983. And of course, then Paul Keating led for another five years, so it was a long-term Labor Government. And what that did, was that it entrenched the reforms, like Medicare, like superannuation. If you compare that with the problem that we had with the Rudd and Gillard Governments, which I regard as being both good governments – I regard both those Prime Ministers as being friends and great Prime Ministers- I think that their legacy will be there; but the problem is many of the changes that we made, like real action on climate change and others got reversed.
You need long-term government to entrench reforms. And Bob Hawke, I think, certainly delivered that, and those permanent changes like Medicare. We know actually – the other side – John Howard was elected, said the he wanted to rip up Medicare, get rid of it. But essentially, it’s so entrenched, it’s very difficult for the Coalition to just get rid of it.
GILBERT: Okay. Anthony Albanese – a beautiful day on the harbour to farewell a giant of the Labor Party and the nation. Thank you for your reflections this morning.