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Former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke dies aged 89

Australia’s 23rd Prime Minister Bob Hawke dies aged 89 – leaving behind an immense contribution to public life that included modernising the country and establishing Medicare

  • Former prime minister Bob Hawke died aged 89 at his Sydney home on Thursday
  • His wife Blanche D’Alpuget said in a statement that he died peacefully
  • Private funeral with children Sue, Stephen, Rosslyn and stepson Louis to be held
  • Labor Leader Bill Shorten also paid tribute to Mr Hawke, a legend of the party 
  • Mr Hawke was longest-serving Labor Prime Minister, spent eight years in office 

Former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke, who led Labor to four election wins in a row between 1983 and 1991, has died aged 89.

His wife Blanche d’Alpuget said in a statement that he died peacefully at home.   

‘Today we lost Bob Hawke, a great Australian – many would say the greatest Australian of the post-war era,’ she said in a statement.

‘He died peacefully at home at the age of 89 years.’

She will hold a private funeral with his children Sue, Stephen, Rosslyn and stepson, Louis, and his grandchildren and a memorial service will be held in Sydney in coming weeks. 

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His wife Blanche d’Alpuget said in a statement that he died peacefully at home.

Former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke has died aged 89

Opposition leader Bill Shorten paid tribute to Mr Hawke, saying the labour movement ‘salutes our greatest son’.

‘The Labor Party gives thanks for the life of our longest-serving prime minister and Australians everywhere remember and honour a man who gave so much to the country and people he cared for so deeply,’ he said in a statement.

‘The Australian people loved Bob Hawke because they knew Bob loved them, this was true to the very end.

‘He was a leader of conviction – and a builder of consensus. But for Bob, consensus and co-operation never meant pursuing the lowest common denominator.’ 

Mr Hawke’s death comes after he didn’t show up at the Labor conference alongside Mr Rudd, Julia Gillard and Paul Keating

REACTION TO BOB HAWKE’S DEATH

‘Today we lost Bob Hawke, a great Australian – many would say the greatest Australian of the post-war era … Bob was dearly loved by his family, and so many friends and colleagues. We will miss him.’ – Bob Hawke’s wife, Blanche D’Alpuget

‘The labour movement salutes our greatest son. Australians everywhere remember and honour a man who gave so much to the country and people he cared for so deeply. May he rest in peace.’ – Labor leader Bill Shorten

‘The country is much the poorer for Bob Hawke’s passing.’ – Former Labor prime minister Paul Keating

‘Bob Hawke is a giant of Australian politics … together with Therese and the entire nation, I mourn his passing.’ Former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd

‘A great man who made this country confident. A great man who never lost his humility.’ – Actor Russell Crowe

‘Vale Bob Hawke, one of our best prime ministers and Goldstein resident. Condolences to his family, who will mourn the loss of a great Australian.’ – Liberal Goldstein MP Tim Wilson

‘So very sad to hear my mate and former constituent, and my parents neighbour, Bob Hawke has passed away. He was a legend in so many ways. Our love to Blanche and the family. Australia has lost a bloody good guy today.’ – Australia’s ambassador to the U.S. Joe Hockey

While Kevin Rudd wrote on Twitter: ‘Bob Hawke is a giant of Australian politics. He and Paul Keating internationalised the Australian economy.

‘He established APEC and radically deepened Australia’s engagement with Asia. He established Medicare. 

‘Together with Therese and the entire nation, I mourn his passing.’

Mr Hawke’s death comes just days before the federal election, something he predicted in December he would not see because of ill health.

Mr Hawke was the longest-serving Labor Prime Minister and had a string of achievements during his eight years in office

Mr Keating said Mr Hawke had been hoping for a Labor victory this weekend.

‘In what was our last collaboration, Bob and I were delighted to support Bill Shorten last week in recounting the rationale we employed in opening Australia to the world,’ he said.

‘The country is much the poorer for Bob Hawke’s passing.’

In their statements, both Mr Keating and Mr Shorten championed Mr Hawke’s policy-making and its lasting impact on modern Australia.

It was a sentiment echoed by Ms d’Alpuget.

‘Together with his highly talented cabinets, he foresaw the Asian Century and positioned Australia to take full advantage of it through a program of sweeping economic reforms,’ she said.

‘Among his proudest achievements were large increases in the proportion of children finishing high school, his role in ending apartheid in South Africa and his successful international campaign to protect Antarctica from mining.

 Labor leader Bill Shorten reacts to Bob Hawke’s death

 Labor leader Bill Shorten says Bob Hawke’s legacy will live forever in an Australia he brought together.

The former Labor prime minister died on Thursday, two days before Mr Shorten is favoured by polls to lead the party back to government.

‘Tonight the nation and Labor are in mourning. We have lost a favourite son,’ Mr Shorten said in Sydney.

‘Bob Hawke loved Australia and Australia loved Bob Hawke,’ Mr Shorten said..

‘But his legacy will endure forever. Bob Hawke changed Australia for the better. He brought people together, he brought Australia together, he modernised our economy, he transformed our society, he protected our environment.’

Mr Shorten said he last saw Mr Hawke at his Sydney home last week.

‘He had the sun on his face, a crossword in front of him, a cup of tea. He didn’t speak about himself to me. He did, as he always does, asked about the ALP and the election,’ Mr Shorten said.

‘We all loved Bob Hawke. We’ll miss him a great deal. May he rest in peace.

‘The condolences of my party and my movement to the great Bob Hawke.’

 

While Kevin Rudd wrote on Twitter: ‘Bob Hawke is a giant of Australian politics. He and Paul Keating internationalised the Australian economy’

‘He abhorred racism and bigotry. His father, the Reverend Clem Hawke, told Bob that if you believed in the Fatherhood of God then you must also believe in the Brotherhood of Man. Bob would add today the Sisterhood of Women.’ 

On Wednesday Mr Hawke said Mr Shorten’s front bench is the best Labor team since the one he led in the 1980s and they were the only party offering stability. 

Mr Hawke was the longest-serving Labor Prime Minister and had a string of achievements during his eight years in office.  

He introduced Medicare in 1984, which became the country’s first affordable and universal health insurance.   

Mr Hawke’s wife announced his death and praised the man she married for ‘abhorring racism and bigotry’

That same year he outlawed gender discrimination in the workplace by introducing the Sex Discrimination Act. 

Mr Hawke also took steps to reconcile with Indigenous Australians through a treat and by replacing the Department of Aboriginal Affairs was replaced with an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission.  

Hawke’s other great interest was foreign affairs.

With first Hayden – before, in Hawke’s final act of atonement, he became governor-general – and then Gareth Evans as foreign minister, Australia was an initiator beyond its shores.

Mr Hawke was the longest-serving Labor Prime Minister and had a string of achievements during his eight years in office

The most important was APEC, very much Hawke’s personal project. The most worthy was bringing peace to the killing fields of Cambodia.

Hawke made Australia an active player in world disarmament forums and, through the Cairns group, an influential advocate for free farm trade during the protracted Uruguay round of world trade negotiations.

The ending of mining and oil drilling in Antarctica was a personal initiative.

He was quick, despite misgivings in the party, to commit Australia to the first Gulf war.

Through it all, until the sad, dying days of his last government, Hawke was, to the public, good old Hawkie, the leader with the common touch, if often wreathed in cigar smoke or, occasionally, tears. 

Mr Hawke’s death comes after he didn’t show up at the Labor conference alongside Mr Rudd, Julia Gillard and Paul Keating two weeks ago

BOB HAWKE: LABOR’S GREATEST WINNER 

Robert James Lee Hawke, died on Thursday May 16, aged 89

Bob Hawke, one of Australia’s greatest prime ministers, combined a potent mixture of political and personal qualities.

Labor’s most successful federal leader, who presided over the modernisation of Australia’s economy, was a larrikin with a narcissistic streak and little overarching ideology.

He was a man of shifting factional allegiances who could still give and command great personal loyalty; a pragmatist with a sense of destiny; passionate yet calculating.

His success in four elections and through nearly nine years in The Lodge depended largely on two strengths rarely seen in combination – a peerless ability to win the affection of the people and great managerial and negotiating skills.

He had two careers with the first, in the ACTU, providing the platform for the second in parliamentary politics. He was unique in having led Labor’s industrial, organisational and political wings.

Yet despite his unmatched electoral record, he was dumped undefeated by a party that usually allowed its leaders a couple of losses.

Robert James Lee Hawke, who died on Thursday, aged 89, was born on December 9, 1929 in Bordertown, South Australia.

His father Clem, a Congregational minister, had been an ALP member and uncle Bert was to be a Labor premier of Western Australia. The family’s faith was in the puritan tradition. Mother Ellie hated the sin of not fully using one’s talents.

Blanche d’Alpuget, later his second wife, recounted in her mid-career biography of Hawke that when Ellie was pregnant with her second son, her Bible kept falling open at the verse in Isaiah: ‘For unto us a child is born, unto us a child is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder.’

Ellie said he was called Robert because it would sound good when he became Sir Robert.

An active member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Ellie pledged the future compulsive drinker to a life of abstinence.

In 1939 after elder brother Neil died of meningitis, all his parents’ love and aspirations were turned on their remaining child, and the family moved to Perth.

Hawke matriculated from Perth Modern School, the government school that was the springboard for so many bright kids, and started law at the University of Western Australia.

Cricket, the church and Labor politics were his main interests. Some contemporaries thought he was brash. He’d already started talking about himself as a prime minister.

Then he almost killed himself in a motorbike accident.

According to d’Alpuget, the family was convinced that God, by sparing him, had given a sign. And Hawke himself now believed that he was an instrument chosen by the Lord.

The self-belief remained, but not its theological underpinnings.

Legends were already building about his drinking – although he tried to hide it from his mother – his successes with girls, and his politicking.

According to one possibly apocryphal story, when he wasn’t selected for the first grade cricket team, he stacked a meeting, had the selectors sacked and installed new ones who picked him.

A visit to India, where he was appalled by the poverty, ended his belief in God.

By then he was engaged to Hazel Masterton. The engagement was to last five years and survive a major crisis.

As Hazel revealed in her memoir, she became pregnant. But he had applied for a Rhodes scholarship, which was then open only to single men. After guilt-filled agonising, she had an abortion.

Hawke won his scholarship and left for Oxford, with Hazel following. The next two years were the most carefree of their lives – though chiefly remembered for his making the Guinness Book of Records for downing two and a half pints of beer in 12 seconds.

At Oxford he did a research degree on Australia’s arbitration system, an unusual choice.

Neal Blewett, another Rhodes Scholar who became a minister in the Hawke governments, said this meant the dreaming spires left little imprint on him, intellectually or culturally. But it was typical of a man who believed learning was for practical purposes.

In 1958, having returned to Australia and finally married Hazel, Hawke joined the ACTU as a research officer.

Starting with the 1959 basic wage hearing, he built up a formidable reputation as an advocate, often leaving employer representatives and the bench behind with his grasp of economics.

He overcame union prejudices against his university education and developed a formidable labour movement network, partly through drinking sessions.

Tales of his heroic drinking helped his larrikin image. But Hazel’s memoirs make it clear that it was obsessive and destructive. While she was struggling at home to bring up three children and wrestling with the grief of losing a fourth baby, he was out drinking or womanising. She contemplated divorce.

In 1969 Hawke, after forging a temporary alliance with the left, won the ACTU presidency.

He used this position to become Australia’s best known politician outside parliament.

Hawke gradually shifted to the right, his natural place on the Labor spectrum.

His negotiating skills were formidable, though critics claimed he would wait until an agreement was close, then parachute in to finalise it and claim the credit.

He developed important contacts with the big end of town, partly through membership of the Reserve Bank board and a major economic inquiry.

The contacts extended overseas, particularly through the International Labour Organisation and in the United States and Israel, to which he had an emotional attachment.

His platform widened in 1973 when he also became ALP president.

From the twin peaks of the party and the union movement, he watched the Whitlam government unravel. Hawke learnt from its excesses and determined not to repeat them when his time came.

In 1980, having finally stopped drinking, he entered federal parliament and went straight to opposition leader Bill Hayden’s front bench.

Hawke, convinced that only he could beat Malcolm Fraser, targeted Hayden from the start. His great allies were the polls, which showed he was prefered to both Hayden and Fraser, and the unions.

Hayden called a leadership vote in July 1982 and won by five votes. It was not enough, especially after a disappointing by-election result.

In the new year Hayden was persuaded by old allies to abdicate. At the same time Fraser – believing he could beat Hayden but not Hawke – called an election. It was a pre-emptive strike that failed by hours.

The dour Fraser, troubled by high unemployment and inflation, was no match for a confident Hawke who behaved as if he was already prime minister.

On March 5, with a swing of almost four per cent, Hawke was swept to power with a 25 seat majority.

Electorally, that would be his high point. Next year, in beating Andrew Peacock, the majority was cut. This was Hawke at his lowest, largely because of daughter Ros’s drug problems.

In 1987, benefiting from Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s destructive Canberra campaign, he beat John Howard despite being outpolled by the Coalition on the primary vote. In his fourth victory, against the recycled Peacock in 1990, he didn’t even win a majority of the two-party prefered vote.

He owed that win partly to the Howard-Peacock rivalry and partly to a Green preference strategy in marginal seats.

From the start of his prime ministership, the essence of Hawke’s inclusive leadership style was clear.

There was no public service bloodbath. Nor was there the obsessive interference with ministers that marked the Fraser years. He claimed, with some justice, that he had the most talented team of ministers in Australia’s history and, generally, he let them get on with it.

Hawke reduced the size of cabinet, over which he presided with skill and courtesy – a chairman rather than a despot. However, cabinet often was effectively subordinate to its key committee, the Expenditure Review Committee.

He imposed cabinet solidarity, which reduced the opportunity for caucus revolts. So, too, did the the high degree of factional discipline which he developed with the help of trusted right, left and centre left leaders.

His style was corporatist and he was not a great parliamentarian. The unsurpassed deal-maker was not at home in parliament’s fiercely adversarial atmosphere.

He preferred to work through big interest groups – the ACTU, the major employer and industry organisations, the peak farm, ethnic, indigenous and conservation lobbies.

The transformation of Australia’s economic life dominated his governments.

Dealing with industries featherbedded by tariffs, the distortions of subsidies, inefficient public enterprises, the dead hand of financial regulation and rigid labour markets as the unforgiving new demands of globalisation emerged was particularly difficult for a Labor government.

Blewett believed Hawke was the ideal leader for the times. He was a supreme optimist, convinced of his ability to negotiate through the most intractable problem; and a complete pragmatist, unburdened by ideology.

It became fashionable, to Hawke’s irritation, to speak of the Hawke-Keating government.

Paul Keating, his Treasurer, rival and successor, was the second most important figure.

During their years of productive, if rarely personally close, partnership they were complementary. Hawke could deal with the interest groups, internal Labor sensitivities and appeal to the people; Keating appealed to the financial elites and, with the feline savagery of his rhetoric, could dominate parliament.

But at the start it was Hawke who better understood the economic needs and it was he, with old ACTU mate and Employment Minister Ralph Willis, who negotiated the original accord, the trade-off with the unions that ensured wage restraint.

The floating of the dollar – and for many years afterwards Hawke and Keating sniped over who should get most credit – ushered in a host of financial deregulations.

The tax system was overhauled, with the base broadened and the rates cut. Privatisation started, despite deep misgivings within the party. Tariffs were slashed, with special industry plans for the most vulnerable industries. Free tertiary education was ended. The first steps in enterprise bargaining were taken.

This destruction of Labor sacred cows was achieved without fracturing the party. It’s doubtful if Keating could have done that.

Hawke’s other great interest was foreign affairs.

With first Hayden – before, in Hawke’s final act of atonement, he became governor-general – and then Gareth Evans as foreign minister, Australia was an initiator beyond its shores.

The most important was APEC, very much Hawke’s personal project. The most worthy was bringing peace to the killing fields of Cambodia.

Hawke made Australia an active player in world disarmament forums and, through the Cairns group, an influential advocate for free farm trade during the protracted Uruguay round of world trade negotiations.

The ending of mining and oil drilling in Antarctica was a personal initiative.

He was quick, despite misgivings in the party, to commit Australia to the first Gulf war.

He initially delighted environmentalists by blocking the Franklin dam in Tasmania and was usually ahead of the coalition on matters green, especially during the years Graham Richardson was environment minister. And he established Medicare, a new version of Whitlam’s Medibank that Fraser had undone.

Sometimes he over-reached. His promises to end child poverty and to negotiate an Aboriginal treaty came back to mock him.

Through it all, until the sad, dying days of his last government, Hawke was, to the public, good old Hawkie, the leader with the common touch, if often wreathed in cigar smoke or, occasionally, tears.

No-one else could turn a shopping mall walk into a triumphal progress, as he greeted shoppers in his distinctive voice; even when he snarled at a ‘silly old bugger’ in a Whyalla supermarket.

He could toss off a tip for the races, which sometimes won; or barge into a game of carpet bowls and roll down a good one.

His love of sport and delight in Australian victories were impossible to counterfeit.

In the euphoria of Australia’s America’s Cup triumph, Hawke, champagne-soaked and flag-jacketed, declared ‘any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum.’

That was 1983, with it all in front of him. By the end of the decade it was going wrong.

In late 1988 he and Keating, each with a trusted witness, signed the secret Kirribilli House pact in which Hawke promised to hand over to his increasingly impatient treasurer after the 1990 election.

He reneged, ostensibly because of Keating’s December 1990 ‘Placido Domingo’ speech in which he implied that only he was a true leader. Hawke also believed he was the more likely to win in 1993.

Keating brought matters to a head in June 1991, revealing the Kirribilli pact – in truth, a deal which displayed the arrogance of both – and launching a challenge.

It failed by 22 votes and Keating retired to the backbench while his supporters nibbled away at Hawke’s declining support and confidence.

Neither John Kerin, the new treasurer, nor Brian Howe, the new deputy PM, performed well.

Worse, Hawke seemed unable to combat a reunited opposition under John Hewson and his economic plan Fightback! Worst of all, the polls said the people were deserting him.

In December, Keating challenged again and this time won by 56 votes to 52. Labor, for the first time, had voted out a serving prime minister.

After leaving parliament, he and Hazel – who’d been a major political asset – divorced.

He married d’Alpuget and, soon after, Hazel began her long battle with Alzheimer’s disease which ended with her death in 2013.

Hawke remained active as a business consultant, company director, visiting professor – and lead singer at party functions. His ‘Solidarity Forever’ was much admired.

He wrote his memoirs and co-authored a major report on the ALP.

His political instincts were still acute – he lobbied unsuccessfully against Mark Latham during the 2003 Labor leadership battle and campaigned vigorously in the 2007 election that finally brought Labor back to power.

And his place in the Labor pantheon was formally acknowledged in 2009 when he became only the third person to be awarded national life membership of the party.

 Source: Australian Associated Press

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