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I want to take this opportunity to join with my colleagues in paying tribute to Australia’s 23rd Prime Minister, Bob Hawke. We’ve heard an array of amazing stories and anecdotes of the former Prime Minister today, and it is a fitting occasion for our parliament to set aside all other business to recognise the outstanding contribution that he made to our country and the enduring legacy that, I’m sure, he and his family are proud of and will continue to be proud of.
What an amazing life! He was born in Bordertown, went on to become a Rhodes scholar, was president of the ACTU, had a very short-lived period as Leader of the Opposition and then, ultimately, was Prime Minister of Australia. He had many academic achievements in his time at Oxford, some of which were augmented by his drinking abilities. He very famously drank 2½ pints of beer in 11 seconds, which I understand made it into the Guinness book of records. I suspect that probably had some contribution to his early political success and popularity.
He passed up several opportunities to enter parliament before finally becoming the member for Wills. Having had many family members who lived in his electorate at that time from a Lebanese background, I can say the way he represented that community and many other migrant communities is something that to this day endures within those communities and the fact that he had an Italian pensioners’ club named after him. What a great reflection of just how important he was to so many of those new Australians, and that has never been forgotten.
In many respects I think Bob Hawke reflects the best of what many call ‘old Labor’, and he really did seek in everything he did to represent the best interests of working Australians. He knew what made the average Aussie tick. I know that’s a generalisation, but I think he really did understand what Australian people found important, what they wanted to see in a leader and he was easily able to relate to people. He wasn’t aloof, he wasn’t out of touch, and I think what he exuded so powerfully throughout his life was the fact he never saw himself above the average Australian punter, to use a well-worn phrase.
His famous 1983 election slogan was: ‘Bob Hawke. Bringing Australia Together.’ And, boy, in many respects, that’s exactly what he did as Prime Minister. In fact, ‘Advance Australia Fair’, which was first adopted as our national anthem in 1984 by a proclamation of the Governor-General at the time, Sir Ninian Stephen, was on the recommendation of his Labor government. In many respects that was a reflection of the ethos: Bringing Australia Together.
Many have spoken about the fact that Bob Hawke really was the catalyst, along with his Treasurer, for opening up the Australian economy, especially to Asia; floating the dollar; reforming the tax system; and privatising several large government owned businesses—many of which had the support of the Liberal opposition at the time. However, these were great achievements that I know, from many of the interviews I saw throughout his life, were a legacy that he was very proud of.
Again, it’s been remarked on numerous occasions from this side of the House today—but I suspect many of us in the Liberal Party also believe—that Bob Hawke was Labor’s best Prime Minister by a long shot, and I think his record proves that. I think his connection to the Australian electorate and his ability to win four elections also prove that.
Bob Hawke was also a major player on the international stage. He served our nation with distinction, forging close defence and security ties with a political hero of many of those on this side of the House, including me, Ronald Reagan, and of cordial foreign relations with another global giant of that era, Margaret Thatcher and the UK.
Australians will never forget the legacy and significant achievements that Bob Hawke gave to our nation. This building that we’re in is a lasting testament to his foresight and vision for a modern Australia, amongst many other much more important things than the bricks and mortar of this building, but this is a visual representation of that.
Can I express my deepest condolences and sympathy to his wife, Blanche, his children and grandchildren. I also recognise the late Hazel Hawke, who, for many people, was absolutely a part of the Hawke duo of his time as Prime Minister. Hazel Hawke was almost as well loved, if not more so, than Bob during those years. I can certainly attest to that from my own family’s experience.
As the Prime Minister recalled earlier today, Bob’s mother repeatedly found herself drawn to the words of the prophet Isaiah when she was pregnant with him:
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
How prophetic that was to become in his life and to the betterment of our country. May he rest in peace.