Wednesday, 03 July 2019
I am very sad but also pleased that I am getting this opportunity to speak on this condolence motion. I’m sure, like most Australians, everyone has their own reasons to love Bob Hawke. There is no doubt that Bob Hawke looms large in Australia as an Australian Prime Minister that was very much loved but also deeply respected. There are many Australians, including myself, who are so grateful for Bob Hawke and his reformist agenda. Many people have benefited from everything he introduced. Whether it’s the introduction of Medicare, a gift of affordable universal healthcare that still every Australian benefits from; the introduction of superannuation and the dignity in retirement; the support for workers, their families; the support for education; for improving the environment; for an outward-looking foreign policy, it’s clear that Bob Hawke as Prime Minister achieved what we all want to achieve here—that is, leave Australia in a better position for future generations.
Bob really understood that a healthy economy must work for both employees and employers and that a strong safety net is critical to a healthy nation. He gave workers what they deserved, a voice, and demonstrated that with cooperation with government, workers and business, we can achieve not only a fairer society but also a more productive society. His economic reforms with Paul Keating at the time, while difficult, did not get universal support but they have set our nation on a course of uninterrupted economic growth. But Bob was not only respected for his principles and what he delivered but was loved for his nature, his down-to-earth charismatic nature which drew people in.
Bob had the ability to connect with everyday Australians. This connection did not finish when he ceased being Prime Minister but continued in the decades after. He continues to be revered by many who were too young to personally remember his time as Prime Minister but instinctively understand what a national treasure he was. His ability to connect with anyone was demonstrated in so many stories that we’ve heard in this place today and in the media in the days and weeks after his passing. This story has been told a few times already, but it was one that I witnessed firsthand, so I would like to recount it. It was at the end of a football match at the MCG as part of the American-Australian dialogue, when I was walking back with a group, including Bob and some of the American delegates, to catch a bus back to our hotel. The bus had not arrived, so we were standing there making small talk when we heard some yelling from a car stopped at the lights about 50 metres away. There were some young occupants, not much older than 20 years of age, who recognised Bob Hawke and began cheering and probably yelling out some other lewd comments. To the American delegation’s amazement, rather than ignoring this carload of young men, Bob, not wanting to wait for the bus any longer, made a beeline through the traffic to the car, with his personal assistant running behind him, and jumped into the car before the lights turned green. The American ambassador at the time turned to me and asked, ‘Isn’t that your former president that got in the car?’ I replied, ‘Yes, it was,’ to his amazement. He followed up, ‘Well, that just would not happen in the United States.’ This event not only highlighted the cultural differences between our nations but highlighted what was so special about Bob Hawke: his down-to-earth nature, his ability to connect with anyone, his popularity that had been passed down to the next generation, and probably his ability to get what he wanted as well. Needless to say, Bob did make it back to the hotel before the bus arrived to pick us up, so he certainly was able to deliver there.
Bob’s love for the Labor Party was also something that never diminished when he ceased being Prime Minister. Indeed, as we’ve heard from so many stories in this place, Bob campaigned with so many of us in many elections. For me, he campaigned in 2007, 2010 and 2013. Of course, I knew that Bob was immensely popular, but seeing it in person was a sight to behold. On one of my early campaigns, I took Bob to Colonnades shopping centre, a local centre in my electorate in southern Adelaide. We were mobbed. Everyone loved him. Everyone wanted to talk to him, and he wanted to talk to them. In that situation, it would be almost understandable for Bob to become distracted by the attention, but, as yet another reflection of his nature, he remained completely focused on why he was there: campaigning for me. He insisted that no elector could get a photo of him unless I was also in the photo, remarking to me, ‘Well, that’s why I’m here.’ So, needless to say, every elector who was in Colonnades shopping centre has a picture of Bob Hawke in their photo album, along with me standing in the background. But I did learn quickly in the 2007 campaign, Bob did not suffer fools. After sitting down with a young journalist from a local paper, Bob could not hide his exasperation when the journalist asked him, ‘So what brings you to Seaford shops?’ to which he replied. ‘Well, I think it’s pretty obvious: there’s an election on.’
I will always remember Bob Hawke for his humour, his generosity, the time that he gave to me, his intelligence, his courage and, above all, his deep, unwavering love for Australians. My condolences to Blanche, his family, his extended family and his friends. He will be sorely missed.