Remembering Bob Hawke

Described as a modernising leader, former-Prime minister Bob Hawke, born Robert James Lee Hawke, passed away at home on Thursday night aged 89.

Although infamous in Australian now for his 1983 America’s Cup interview, Bob Hawke was instrumental in shepherding Australia into a new age with significant economic and social reforms. Bob Hawke was born in South Australia in 1929, the son of a Congregationalist minister and a school teacher. At age 15, Hawke reportedly told friends that one day, he would become the Prime Minister of Australia and after a near-death experience, Hawke joined the Labor Party aged 18 in 1947. He would fill the 33 year gap, until he was elected to parliament in 1980, working as the ACTU president and Labor Party President. Important to note is an achievement Hawke made in 1954 whilst at University in the U.K, where he made the Guinness Book of Records for sculling 2.5 pints of beer in 11 seconds .

After the election, he was swiftly appointed as Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations under then- Labor Opposition Leader Bill Hayden. After serving in the shadow cabinet for three years, Hawke became leader of the Opposition until the election that year, where in a landslide victory against then-PM Malcom Fraser, Hawke was sworn in as Prime Minister by the Governor-General on the 11th of March. He also received the highest approval rating that any Prime Minister has ever received in 1984; with an AC Neilson poll giving Hawke a 75% rating.

Newly elected Bob Hawke and Paul Keating at a press conference in 1983 (Source: Unknown).

Working with his treasurer Paul Keating, some of the most popular and prominent policies Hawke passed before he departed as PM in 1991 included:

• Increasing the old age pension, childcare places and public housing funding.

• Reintroducing Medicare after it had been scrapped by the previous Liberal government.

• Improving social security.

• Introducing occupational super, new youth support programs and strong policies to fight the then-HIV/AIDS crisis.

• Closing poverty traps that lurked in the welfare system.

• Floating the Australian dollar on the stock market.

• Throwing his support for a treaty with Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and First Nations Peoples and leading the handback of Uluru to traditional owners.

• Banning the mining of Uranium from Jabiluka, Kakadu.

• Offering asylum to Chinese students after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, which allowed 42, 000 people to be granted permanent visas.

• Once elected in 1983, Hawke vowed to stop the Franklin Dam from being built and saw this through, passing the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act in 1983.

  • Changing the national anthem to Advance Australia Fair.

Notably, Bob Hawke worked to pass the Sex Discrimination Act in 1984 which sought to outlaw gender-based discrimination in every Australian workplace. Hawke also appointed the first female cabinet minister, Susan Ryan, in 1983 – who worked as the minister assisting the PM on the status of Women. Together, Ryan and Hawke passed the Equal Opportunity for Women Act in 1986 which, although superseded by similar parliamentary acts in 1999 and 2012, was revolutionary when it was passed. Up until these acts were passed, women could be fired if they got married, fell pregnant or had the “potential to fall pregnant”. Hawke worked swiftly to give a fair go to all Australians, and paved the way for greater gender equality.

Hon. Susan Ryan during a speech in 2015.

Australia officially went into mourning once news broke of Hawke’s passing on Thursday night. Flags flew at half-mast across the country, and the media reflected on Hawke’s incredible legacy. Tributes from those in all areas of Australian society came rolling in, with media statements and tweets championing the most popular Prime Minister Australia has ever had. Considered his right- hand man for many years, Paul Keating soon issued a statement saying that their partnership and legacy as “the monumental foundations of modern Australia”.

ABC’s Insiders host Barrie Cassidy, who worked as press secretary to Hawke in the 80s, has since described his former-boss as an “intellectual larrikin” who had a “strong moral compass”. Tweets from other political figures including Senator Penny Wong and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern also reflected upon the achievements of Mr. Hawke.

It is expected that Mr. Hawke will receive a state funeral.

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