Speech - House of Representatives - Condolence Motion - Hawke, Hon, Robert James Lee (Bob) AC

Unsurprisingly, my interest in politics started at a pretty early age.

Before serving both the Hawke and Keating governments, my father served in local government first as an alderman—as they were known in those days—and then as a mayor, so politics was a topic of conversation around my household from a young age. Of course, it nurtured an interest in me, but that interest was turbocharged with the election of the Hawke government in 1983. Like all Australians at a young age, I was fully aware of Bob Hawke and the things he'd achieved and the trade union movement at that time, and some of his larrikin behaviour as well. But it was something about his arrival in the Lodge that started me thinking more deeply about Australian politics and thinking about the opportunity to serve. He was a real inspiration to me. Bob was, of course, one of a kind—both larrikin and intellectual, champion sculler of beer and Rhodes Scholar. He was a person as comfortable in the parliament, or in a company boardroom or talking to world leaders as he was on the golf course or in the pub. He was quintessentially a man of the people. He was one of us.

I remember being so excited when he visited my hometown of Cessnock. I'm not sure of the year, but I suspect it was around 1985. Somehow, I don't know why, I got to be the person who delivered his speaking notes for a civic reception he was about to deliver at the Cessnock Town Hall. They'd obviously arrived behind him and someone, for some reason, had handed them to me to deliver to him. I was very excited by that prospect. I was just amazed at the way he, in a cursory way, seemed to just absorb everything the notes told him. I watched him then put them aside to see to the town hall and, without the notes, use everything that had been contained within them without having to refer to them. I also vividly recall one year when my father took a turn and spent a couple of days in the local hospital. Bob rang the hospital to check on my father's welfare. That phone call was the talk of the town. The then Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, had phoned my father in hospital. Bob's celebrity status was well established by then. It was a celebrity status that not only flowed from his charisma and what he'd achieved in public life, but, of course, was influenced by what he had already achieved as a Prime Minister in a pretty short time.

Maybe his greatest achievement was when The Australian newspaper front page in 1984 boasted, 'Hawke is the man who is bringing us together.' It's not often a Labor Prime Minister gets such praise from a News Limited newspaper, I would suggest to you. He strived for consensus and unity of purpose. It was a leadership and management style he brought to the 1984 economic summit. He brought it to the cabinet process and, of course, he brought it to interactions between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. But it would be a mistake to say consensus was the only part of his model. There's a bit of mythology running around Australian politics and I must say, without breaking the spirit of these contributions, that we have seen a little bit of it today. Some will have you believe that all the difficult reforms of that period that Bob Hawke led were achieved on a bipartisan basis in this place, whereas, we know nothing could be further from the case. In fact, Bob Hawke's political opponents of the day fought those reforms every step of the way.

So Bob always strived for consensus, but when consensus wasn't possible he had the courage and the conviction to forge ahead with those reforms—capital gains tax, asset test for pensioners, PBS reform. They were all difficult reforms, but a person like Bob Hawke was able to progress them, despite opposition from those who sat opposite at the time, because of that strength of leadership.

We have lost a great Australian. The Labor Party has lost one of its very, very best. I didn't know Bob all that well when he was Prime Minister, but I had the great privilege of getting to know him very well over the course of the last 10 years at Labor Party events, on the golf course and on a couple of occasions in his Sydney office, where I once went to have him speak to the camera for a video I was doing for Labor's country caucus. I gave him a one-minute brief on what I needed him to say, and that's all he needed. In one take, without hesitation, he gave me exactly what I needed. It was only two years ago; he was an elderly gentleman then. Post politics he maintained his dignity and he continued to serve his country but in different ways. It was a life well lived and long lived. We will miss him. My sympathies and condolences go to Blanche and the Hawke family.


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