Tribute to Robert James Lee Hawke, AC, a Former Prime Minister of Australia
The Hon. SHAOQUETT MOSELMANE : Last Friday 14 June 2019 Australia farewelled one of the greatest leaders of our nation and the longest-serving Labor Prime Minister. I had the honour of attending Bob Hawke's State memorial service alongside my parliamentary colleagues and thousands of true believers, supporters and admirers on both side of politics. We all came together at the iconic Sydney Opera House to celebrate and honour the colourful life and enormous contribution of this extraordinary man to public life, which helped shape modern Australia as we know it—a thriving, multicultural society that offers a fair go for all Australians. The service reflected the dignity and reverence of the great man that "Hawkie" was. Hawke was truly a man of the people and arguably one of the most successful Australian Prime Ministers, winning four landslide election victories in 1983, 1984, 1987 and 1990.
His significant and symbolic achievements go beyond the historical and lasting economic and social reforms he led. He is equally remembered for his charisma, natural leadership, and tenacious fight against racism and inequality—not to mention his unapologetic display of emotions in public. He defied convention and related to the average Australia unlike anyone that came before or after him. He still holds the highest approval rating of any Australian Prime Minister. During his tenure as Australia's twenty-third Prime Minister, Hawke implemented sweeping economic reforms. His government deregulated Australia's financial sector and opened our economy to the world by floating the Australian dollar and dismantling tariffs. Not only did he make Australia more competitive in global markets but his policies also effectively helped Australia avoid recession. Australia is a profoundly more open economy as a result and we have been able to capitalise on economic opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region—in keeping with the work of Gough Whitlam and, later, Paul Keating.
Hawke led Australia to become a major player in the Asia-Pacific region and transformed Australia from a protected, insular country into an outwardly focused global nation. He opposed Australia's entry into the Vietnam War and campaigned for racial equality in South Africa. He established healthy and strong bilateral relations with major trading partners such as China and was instrumental in establishing the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in 1989. In his later years he was also a great supporter of the rights of the Palestinian people, arguing for Palestinian rights and seeking a fair peace deal.
As the former Palestinian ambassador Ali Kazak wrote:
Bob used to express immense frustration and disappointment … with the Israeli government's persistent human rights violations of Palestinians and building of Jewish colonies in the 1967-occupied Palestinian territories but also with the United States' blind eye and lack of genuine commitment to a just peace.
United States of America President Trump's proposed land theft "deal of the century" and Israel's annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights are two examples of the USA's disinterest in genuine peace.
Perhaps less recognised are the environmental reforms Hawke led, enabling the Commonwealth to protect Australia's World Heritage sites from threatening actions. His government stopped the damming of the Franklin River in Tasmania and uranium mining at Jabiluka in the Northern Territory. He delivered the protection and heritage listing of some iconic natural regions, including the Daintree Rainforest in northern Queensland, Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory and the expansion of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
Using his lawyer and negotiating skills as the former president of the ACTU, Hawke produced a landmark wages accord with the unions—a testament to his powers as an advocate. Hawke was well-known for his deep concern for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable individuals in Australian society. Arguably Hawke's most significant legacy was establishing Medicare, Australia's first free universal healthcare system. There are millions of working Australians who can thank Hawke for their health and higher living standards. Bob Hawke was like no other Prime Minister and he will continue to inspire generations of leaders into the future. A champion for social justice, he will always be remembered as someone who changed modern Australia for the better. Vale Bob Hawke.