Speeches

Speeches Chris has made in the Australian Federal Parliament.

CONDOLENCES; Hawke, Hon. Robert James Lee (Bob), AC

July 03, 2019

Mr HAYES (FowlerChief Opposition Whip) (13:30): It is a privilege to participate in this motion of condolence. In starting, I thank the government for allowing the extent of this debate to occur in this chamber—the chamber in which the first Prime Minister to speak was Robert James Lee Hawke. I also thank the Prime Minister for establishing the award in Mr Hawke's name to be given to students of excellence, and I think that is certainly fitting of the memory of Bob Hawke.

Much has been said of Bob Hawke so far and much more is yet to be said, but he certainly was a man who believed in Australia, and I think it's fair to say that Australia believed in him. He was a true son of the labour movement, but I believe, beyond that, he was probably Australia's greatest agent of change. There is no doubt that our nation will be forever in his debt, I think, for the magnitude of change that occurred under his leadership as such, not only the structural reform of our economy but also our outlook as a nation.

As a young union official at the time, I was in awe of Bob Hawke's passion and determination that championed the lives of working men and women. I remember how he inspired us in his capacity as President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. Even then, as President of the ACTU, he was a household name—he was as well known as any public official in the land at that stage.

I remember him being at the forefront of major industrial disputes. He was a skilled negotiator, a fantastic advocate in the Industrial Relations Commission. But, above all, what I remember about him in those days is the way he sought consensus. He was universally respected—whether it was employers, employee representatives, government or elsewhere, this man commanded their respect.

My earliest recollection of him was his ability to persuade strong and powerful unions to moderate their industrial positions to ensure that workers in some of the weaker sectors of our economy were not left behind. No doubt that had some bearing on his thinking after he came to government in 1983 about the prices and income accord—the idea of a social wage. That was certainly born out of that, but I saw that in evidence when he was leading the ACTU. He genuinely cared for all workers.

Most of us know him as Australia's longest-serving Labor Prime Minister. He will be forever remembered for his work in transforming the framework, particularly the economic framework, of this country. He and Paul Keating were such a formidable duo. It wasn't that they did this by strength; they did it by encouraging people with the argument that we can be better. He deregulated the financial sector. He floated the Australian dollar. He opened up our economy to the world. He caused us to be a more confident nation and certainly a more outward looking country.

However, it's not just these great achievements in the economy that he will be remembered for. He was also an avid believer in the environment and he knew wholeheartedly the importance of increasing the government's focus on environment protection. To this end, he pushed for the protection of Antarctica. He led a UN task force at a time when international interests were keen to have mining of some description in Antarctica, and sympathetic states such as the UK and the US, whilst they didn't actually have notions of banning mining, certainly thought there was scope to have regulated mining in Antarctica. Hawke sought international cooperation. It wasn't that he opposed mining there—he went one step beyond. He wanted to get a blanket prohibition on mining in the Antarctic, and, after securing, first, the support of the French, he then systematically found allies in other international arenas and he established exactly that. His effort in Antarctica not only prevented mining; it brought the focus of scientific research, which is now so critical to our understanding of climate change itself.

He also fought on many other fronts: protection of our natural environment here at home, the prevention of the damming of the Franklin River, the expansion of protection for the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests in Tasmania, and the Daintree Rainforest in Queensland; and—the one that Warren Snowdon spoke about a little earlier—the banning of uranium mining in Jabiluka and Kakadu's Coronation Hill. He pursued these on the basis that he saw their World Heritage value and these parts of our environment deserved to be protected. He didn't do it for political expediency. He didn't do this to get a vote. He did this in the genuine belief that, for future generations, the natural beauty of our country needed to be preserved. In his own words, he said this:

The essence of power is the knowledge that what you do is going to have an effect, not just an immediate but perhaps a lifelong effect, on the happiness and wellbeing of millions of people …

We just heard the Minister for Education speak, and I thank him for the words he said. Bob Hawke's investment in education and his investment in universal healthcare are a stark reminder that he worked not only for Australia; he worked for every Australian. By the way, at the start of Bob Hawke's prime ministership in 1983, only three out of every 10 kids completed high school—three out of 10. By the time he left the prime ministership, it was eight out of 10. He set us on the path of becoming a smarter nation. The benefits that flowed from that were improvements in tertiary education, the HECS scheme that followed et cetera. Really, getting more young Australians to finish high school did materially affect where we are now. He really set out to create a smarter nation.

Through his more persuasive efforts, he certainly convinced significant elements of the trade union movement in this country that looking after workers wasn't just about awards and rates of pay but also included looking after the dignity of people in their retirement. In 1983, when he became Prime Minister, very few blue-collar workers enjoyed retirement benefits. Through his efforts we saw the birth of universal superannuation, one of the greatest advances for workers in generations.

He had an unshakable belief in our nation's potential. He thought that we could be a better nation, and in his government he set about achieving that. He had a very down-to-earth manner about him. He was a genuine personality, and Australians followed him over the eight years of his prime ministership.

One of the other things that I do remember vividly is how moved he was and how affected he was following the massacre at Tiananmen Square. He felt that so personally, and it was right that, following Tiananmen Square, he let thousands of Chinese students who were studying remain in this country. It also showed his great depth of humanitarian spirit. But for me—and the member for McMahon at the table, the member for Werriwa and those of us who have the honour of representing some of the most multicultural communities in this country—the efforts of Bob Hawke also led to our nation becoming a more inclusive and open country. We are now certainly the net beneficiaries of the extent of immigration that has occurred in our land. But we have also seen the great depth of humanitarian spirit that did flow from those efforts, particularly as a result of the massacre in Tiananmen Square.

Before I leave his humanitarian aspects, what I think has also got to be seen as an enduring legacy of Bob Hawke is his work to end apartheid in South Africa and his efforts to free Nelson Mandela. It was his selfless and forward thinking that really reinvigorated the Australian spirit—namely, we can make a difference for the better in our world.

Following our defeat in 2013 and as we moved into 2014, as the Chief Opposition Whip, I thought that it would be beneficial if we had a function where we got caucus members—and also, importantly, their staff—together. It wasn't to put bandaids on things, but I think we did need to reinvigorate our party at that stage. And we thought: who would we get who would inspire the notion of Labor and get us back fighting for reform, fighting for change—those things that Labor's best known for? We actually got Bob Hawke to come, and it wasn't difficult. He asked me, 'What do you want me to do?' and I said: 'If you could, just speak to the dinner for maybe 10 to 15 minutes. Just give people a bit of a rev-up. I know we've had an election loss, so you could actually put a bit of spirit back into our side.' He said, 'Ten to 15 minutes?' 'Yes, Bob, that'd be marvellous if you could do that for us.'

Fifty-five minutes later—meanwhile, the entrees and everything else were getting cold—everyone was still spellbound by this bloke who had just captivated us. He had taken us through every major Labor initiative—social reforms whose making you could be thrilled that we had had our fingerprints on. He said, 'This is where we need to go for the future.' And then he actually broke into the song 'Solidarity Forever'. Most of us could at least hum along with the chorus line, but Bob knew every verse of it. As a matter of fact, he sang every verse with the microphone—I don't think he had it at the time, but someone gave it to him, so he walked around the room doing this. He had such a great night. Jill Saunders, who was Bob's PA and who worked with him in Parliament House and who was working with him as a former Prime Minister—this was getting late in the night—said to me: 'Look, I've got to go. I'm going back to my motel. He's now your responsibility.' I didn't quite realise the extent of that.

We were sitting the next day, so everyone was peeling off and going. It got down to where there were only about three or four of us left. One of them was me, of course, because I had the responsibility to get him back to where we had to go. There was Bob and my wife, Bernadette, who was trying to encourage him out because they were turning the lights off in the Press Club at that stage, until one of the young waitresses who was serving the tables actually came out. One of her friends—I forget what her name was—actually said, 'Mr Hawke, it's her birthday today; she's turning 23.' That changed everything. He had this young woman come over. He put his arm around her. Then he sang to her, and this went on and on. By the way, we had to have another drink while all of this was occurring, of course. When we left, the lights were going out. There were only about three of us left walking out of the Press Club. Fortunately, I had a car waiting that only had to go 100 metres up the road to Hotel Realm. I got him up there and got him to his room. I thought Jill Saunders did well by actually handing him over that night, but he had such a great night. He said, 'This is what it is to be Labor: to go out and be able to enthuse the Labor spirit—having enthused people who are committed to go on to make change.'

A couple of weeks before his death, I got a call from Craig Emerson. He said that Bob's been having a few discussions with Blanche of what might happen after. I said, 'Oh, okay.' As long as I've known Bob, despite the fact that his father was a religious minister, I don't think Bob really thought there was another Godhead other than Bob—that's probably putting it inappropriately. Anyway, I thought he was a lifelong committed atheist. Craig suggested to me that he'd just like to have a talk to someone and asked if I knew anyone who could go and sit with him and have a talk. I said, 'I'm sure we can find somebody.' But he said: 'There are a few things. It's got to be someone who has some Labor leaning.' I said, 'Okay, we can do that.' And then he said, 'But someone who is sympathetic to trade unions.' So that narrowed the field a little. Anyway, I had a talk to Bishop Terry Brady in Sydney. I had known that Bishop Brady's father was an official in the Building Workers' Industrial Union. I was told by Craig that Blanche had agreed that it sounds like I had the right bloke, so Terry went over to see Bob on a very warm Autumn afternoon. Terry sat in the sun while Bob spoke to him. I think Bob probably did most of the speaking in between his large cigar. Bishop Terry told me, 'I sort of sat downwind of this cigar, soaking in the aroma.' He said, 'I'm not sure who got the most out of all of that.' Bishop Terry told me, 'This is a person who I've met today who has so fundamentally changed this nation for the better.' I'm not sure where their spiritual discussion went, but I certainly know that Bishop Terry got a heck of a lot out of his meeting that afternoon with Bob.

It is a privilege to have been a part of the labour movement. I worked with Bob Hawke through his time at the ACTU and I've seen what he achieved in this place when he was able to continue to care for Australian working families in such a material way by making the changes that have enabled what we currently have. He has put us on the path for advancement. He has changed the way we think about ourselves. This man has made a difference for the better in our country. To Blanche and to his children I offer my sincere condolences. To Bob Hawke: may you rest in peace.

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