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A tribute to Bob Hawke

Wed 9th Dec 2020

Today marks what would have been the 90th birthday of the late Bob Hawke. Picture: Craig Greenhill
Today marks what would have been the 90th birthday of the late Bob Hawke. Picture: Craig Greenhill

Bob Hawke always believed that God had spared his life after a serious motorbike accident, and as a result, he had an obligation to make sure that he made the very most of it. He started his life in a tiny speck of a town on the South Australian map, but he pushed himself and his career to the limits. He contributed his passion and dedication to Australia and her people as the Labor Party's most successful federal leader. On what would have been his 90th birthday, we look back at the extraordinary life of 'the people's PM', Bob Hawke.

Early life and inspirations

Bob Hawke was born on the 9th of December, 1929 in Bordertown, South Australia. Hawke's father, Arthur (known as Clem) was a Congregationalist minister, and his mother, Edith (known as Ellie) was a school teacher who was passionate about education. Bob was raised in a loving and moralistic environment. However, the happiness of childhood was tainted by the death of his elder brother, Neil.

In 1939, Neil passed away suddenly at the age of 18 after suffering meningitis, an incurable disease at the time. In their grief, Clem and Ellie suffocated their surviving son with love. In a later interview, Hawke said, "The impact of this total love, you could feel them grabbing hold of me, and I was the only thing they had left." His mother subsequently developed an almost messianic belief in her son's fate which bestowed Hawke with great confidence throughout his career.

 

Bob Hawke as a boy at four years of age.
Bob Hawke as a boy at four years of age.

The Hawke family moved to Perth soon after Neil's death. In this family of religion and love, and in the shadow of Neil's death, Hawke was forced to start another life in a new city. He went to an academically selective public high school, Perth Modern School, and went on to study Arts and Law at the University of Western Australia. During his time in university, he became president of the representative student council, and his uncle, Albert Hawke, became the Labor Premier of Western Australia.

After his time at the University of Western Australia, he received a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford College, where he achieved a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE). He also set a record for skoling the equivalent of 1.4 litres of beer in 11 seconds during his time in Oxford in 1954. This record crowned Hawke in the public eyes as the man of the people. "This feat was to endear me to come of my fellow Australians more than anything else I ever achieved, he said." In 1956, Hawke obtained a scholarship to pursue his doctoral studies in arbitration law at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra. One year later, he was recommended by his mentor at ANU to become a research officer of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU).

Beginning of his political career

Hawke was full of political ambition, which could be seen in his first attempt to enter Parliament during the 1963 federal election. Although he failed to win the seat of Corio in 1963 and rejected other opportunities to enter Parliament throughout the 1970s, he knew the importance of changing his image and lifestyle, now or never. Eventually, in the 1980 election, he stood for election to the House of Representatives for the safe Melbourne seat of Wills, which he won easily. Soon after that, Hawke was appointed to become the Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations to the Shadow Cabinet by Labor leader Bill Hayden.

 

As opposition leader, Bob Hawke, with advisers and media, from left, journalist Colin Parks, Senator Kerry Sibraa, journalist Peter Logue, senior advisor Geoff Walsh and  staffers Kate Moore and Janet Willis, lights up a cigar on a VIP flight during the 1983 federal election campaign, when Labor was swept to a landslide victory.
As opposition leader, Bob Hawke, with advisers and media, from left, journalist Colin Parks, Senator Kerry Sibraa, journalist Peter Logue, senior advisor Geoff Walsh and staffers Kate Moore and Janet Willis, lights up a cigar on a VIP flight during the 1983 federal election campaign, when Labor was swept to a landslide victory.

Hawke's next goal was the leadership of the Labor party, which he attempted twice as Hayden's position in the Labor party weakened. Hawke gained the power of the Labor Party on his second go in 1983. Hayden then announced his resignation as Leader of the Labor Party on the 3rd of February 1983. Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser did not expect Labor's transition from Hayden to Hawke. Hawke lead the Labor party to election only 36 days after winning the Labor leadership. In the 1983 election, Hawke's Labor party won in a landslide victory, taking 75 of the 125 seats. It was the end of seven years of Liberal Party leadership, but the beginning of Hawke's legacy as Australia's 23rd prime minister.

Lasting Achievements

Prime Minister Hawke lived up to his image as a man of the people. He became a political leader the likes of which Australia had never seen. The Hawke Government promoted a comprehensive program of economic reform, "National Economic Summit" in 1983. This program brought business, industrial leaders, politicians and trade union leaders together to adopt a national economic strategy, creating sufficient political capital for widespread reform to follow. Among other reforms, the Hawke government made the Australian dollar free-floating, they also abolished rules which prohibited foreign-owned banks from operating in Australia. Meanwhile, they demolished the protectionist tariff system, and privatised several state-owned enterprises, ended the subsidies of loss-making companies, and sold off some assets of the state-owned Commonwealth Bank.

Hawke's government also established Medicare, first introduced as Medibank by the Whitlam government. There was also an impressive increase in school funding, as well as providing students with financial assistance to make sure that they stay at school longer. The school retention rates rose from 3 in 10 at the beginning of Hawke's government to 7 in 10 in 1991. Under his leadership in 1984, the landmark Sex Discrimination Act was enacted to eliminate the discrimination on the grounds of sex within the workplace.

Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke giving his ALP policy speech at the Sydney Opera House. Picture: Barry McKinnon
Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke giving his ALP policy speech at the Sydney Opera House. Picture: Barry McKinnon

In 1989, Hawke oversaw the gradual reintroduction of university tuition fees and created the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS). According to the system, all university students were required to pay $1800 but the Commonwealth could pay the balance. When the student's income exceeds a threshold level, this student can defer payment of this HECS amount and repay the debt through the tax system. As part of the reforms, Colleges of Advanced Education also entered the University field due to the reforms. Thus, university places were able to be expanded. 

Personal life and Passing

 

Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke skoles a beer during the second day of the Sydney Test in 2018.
Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke skoles a beer during the second day of the Sydney Test in 2018.

In 1956, Hawke married Hazel Masterson at Perth Trinity Church, and they had three children, including Susan (born in 1957), Stephen (born in 1959) and Roslyn (born in 1960). The fourth child, Robert, passed away in 1963. In 1995, he remarried the writer Blanche d'Alpuget, and they lived together in Northbridge, a suburb of the North Shore of Sydney. According to a statement by his widow, Hawke passed away peacefully at home on the 9th of December, 2019, aged 89 years. D'Alpuget described Hawke as "a great Australian - many would say the greatest Australian of the post-war era". Bob Hawke, the Labor's longest-serving and Australia's third-longest serving Prime Minister, who led and served this country with passion, courage and intellectual horsepower to make Australia stronger.

"This is a fight which you cannot lose, and you must not lose-we must win it if Australia is to remain the country we think it is." - Bob Hawke

Rest in Peace, Bob Hawke, Australia's 23rd Prime Minister.

By Caitlin Duan

Sources:

  • ABC News In-depth. (2019). Bob Hawke: An extraordinary life as 'the people's PM' | Australian Story. Documentary. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2e3vuB7Mg0I
  • News.com.au. (2019). Blanche d'Alpuget opens up about the death of her husband, former prime minister Bob Hawke. Retrieved from: https://www.news.com.au/national/federal-election/blanche-dalpuget-opens-up-about-the-death-of-her-husband-former-prime-minister-bob-hawke/news-story/462948a624d849d596cace90dd394bc2
  • Doherty, B. (2019). Bob Hawke's beer-drinking record may be marked by Oxford blue plaque. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/jun/14/bob-hawke-could-be-set-for-an-oxford-blue-plaque-for-beer-drinking-record
  • Commonwealth Consolidated Acts. (2020). Sex Discrimination Act 1984-Sect 3 objects. Retrieved from: http://www8.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/legis/cth/consol_act/sda1984209/s3.html
  • Commonwealth Consolidated Acts. (2020). Higher Education Funding Act 1988. Retrieved from: http://www6.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdb/au/legis/cth/consol_act/hefa1988221/
  • McFadden, R. (2019). Bob Hawke, Who Led Australia Into a New Era as Prime Minister, Dies at 89. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/16/obituaries/bob-hawke-dead.html
  • Parliament of Australia. (2020). Biography for Hayden. Retrieved from: https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22handbook%2Fallmps%2FRK4%22
  • Taylor, C. (2020). A leader no-one could ignore. Retrieved from: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-05-16/bob-hawke-obituary-labor-party-23rd-prime-minister/ 1109... ?nw=0