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Thread: RIP Bob Hawke - Former Australian PM

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    Senior Contributor Bigfella's Avatar
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    RIP Bob Hawke - Former Australian PM

    Saturday's election here in Australia has been overshadowed by the death of former Australian PM Bob Hawke at the age of 89. Hawke led the nation from 1983 to 1991 and is rightfully considered one of our greatest leaders. He was simultaneously a profound intellect and a man of the people. At his peak he was our most popular PM and his legacy has been profound.

    Hawke was a foundational figure in my political life. As a 13 year old I sat with my parents in my Dad's little flat watching the returns come in. My parents had been divorced for three years, but we watched as a family that night. He towered over my formative political years. The model of market based economics and social democratic social policies along with the idea that reform is best achieved by appealing to a broad base (later to become known as the 'third way') was implemented by Hawke & his treasurer (and successor) Paul Keating with a success few others ever achieved. The impact on my thinking remains.

    Robert James Lee Hawke came from humble, if not impoverished beginnings. The premature death of his brother & a brush with death in his teens instilled a sense of urgency that propelled him for decades. At 18 he joined the Australian Labor party (ALP). His academic brilliance was such that he won a Rhodes scholarship. While at Oxford he established one of the first pillars of his legend - he set a world record (complete with Guinness Book of Records entry) for drinking a yard glass of beer. The man was destined to be PM ;-)

    Back in Australia he took up a job arguing cases for better wages and conditions for workers. Hawke had experience as a manual labourer and a brilliant mind, making him a fierce advocate for workers. In 1969 he became a national figure when he became leader of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), the nation's peak union body. A decade later he was in Parliament and already one of the most popular figures in the nation. In 1983 he became Labor leader in a surprise vote on the day the Liberal (conservative) government called an election thinking they were facing his less popular predecessor. He won the election in a landslide - the man of destiny had arrived.

    Bob Hawke led the most talented ministry in Australian history. He and they learned the lessons of a failed reformist ALP government and set about the process of reform by taking the population with them. They managed to implement many of the market based reforms Thatcher & Reagan championed while expanding the social welfare safety net and combating discrimination of all types. All the reforms, few of the divisions. Hawke introduced the universal healthcare system we still use (medicare). It is so popular it remains the 'third rail' of Australian politics - do not touch! He also walked the world stage. As a union leader he was a fierce opponent of Apartheid. As a PM he became one of the strongest voices inside the Commonwealth against Apartheid, leading to some fierce clashes with Margaret Thatcher. When the tanks rolled over the students in Tiananmen square in 1989 he read a tearful account of events in Parliament and immediately granted all Chinese students in Australia refugee status. Hawke was a driving force behind the establishment of APEC.

    Hawke the man was every bit as interesting. Despite his achievements he was never arrogant. he never lost the human touch - regularly responding to letters even as PM. When a 9 year old girl wrote to him distressed about her grandmother dying he responded with a letter both comforting and encouraging. His great abilities were also balanced by great flaws, about which he was very open. His love of alcohol was such that it resulted in a physical breakdown in the late 1970s. He publicly admitted he was an alcoholic and swore to give up drink - something he more or less did for his entire time as PM. he admitted he was not always the father he should have been. When it was publicly revealed that his daughter was a heroin addict his tears showed a human side few politicians of his era dared to show. Hawke was a ladies man, which caused great hurt to his wife Hazel, a figure as beloved in Australia as he was. After leaving politics he left her to marry Blanche D'Alpuget, a woman with whom he had an affair years earlier when she wrote a biography of him. The bond with Hazel remained, however. When she got dementia & her health deteriorated he was a regular visitor, sometimes lying on the bed and singing to her. He was with her at the end, as Blanche was with him at his end.

    Above all Hawke remained a stanch Labor man. to the end. Too unwell to attend the campaign launch this week he still issued a public letter endorsing the current opposition leader. The wave of grief & emotion that swept the nation today was felt most keenly among the Labor faithful. In a TV interview the deputy opposition leader almost broke down as she spoke of his friendship. A lot of us shed tears today. He really was one of us. Sadly his expressed desire to see the ALP win the election tomorrow will not come to pass, but hopefully the Labor faithful will honour his legacy at the ballot box.

    He was a remarkable man. We were lucky to have him.


    Win nervously lose tragically - Reds C C

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    Former Staff Senior Contributor Ironduke's Avatar
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    I appreciate the biography you wrote up. I've unfortunately been barely aware of Australian political history. What you wrote, it covered all the bases in addition to being enlightening. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    RIP Bob Hawke. Perhaps there are infinite yard glasses of beer wherever he is now, with all the pleasurable, but not the ill effects.
    "Every man has his weakness. Mine was always just cigarettes."

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    Senior Contributor Bigfella's Avatar
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    Thanks Ironduke. A small detail I forgot to include is that despite his father being a Congregationalist minister Hawke was openly agnostic.

    One of the things I like about Australia is that we have had at least 4 PMs who were openly agnostic or atheist. Two of our greatest - Hawke and Curtin - were not only non-believers, they were reformed alcoholics. I fear that our political culture is less & less willing to accommodate such flaws.


    Win nervously lose tragically - Reds C C

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    Defense ProfessionalSenior Contributor tbm3fan's Avatar
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    Sounds like someone I'd like to vote for. Trying to remember back to those years when he was PM to see if I recall anything. I can't but then the years from getting out of grad school in 1981 and then starting a practice consumed me for awhile and it was everything just keeping up with our politics here.

    I like the agnostic side about him. None of this God is on our side or that God put our current blankety blank President into office.

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    Turbanator Senior Contributor Double Edge's Avatar
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    Not very familiar with him but a podcast i listened to said he introduced the world to Australia and made Australia a world citizen. Was surprised to hear this only happened in the 80s as i thought Australia was all that as far back as WW1 but whatever.

    Japan isn't in the far east, its just to the north.

    He changed Aussie's world view. Their grand narrative.

    That's all i need to know about this guy.

    People like this do not come along very often.
    Last edited by Double Edge; 30 May 19, at 02:35.

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    Turbanator Senior Contributor Double Edge's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bigfella View Post
    One of the things I like about Australia is that we have had at least 4 PMs who were openly agnostic or atheist. Two of our greatest - Hawke and Curtin - were not only non-believers, they were reformed alcoholics. I fear that our political culture is less & less willing to accommodate such flaws.
    Flawed characters you mean ?

    There is a growing intolerance over the years for such indiscretions.

    Compare Kennedy and what he got away with and Clinton

    There does seem to be an upsurge in religiosity worldwide. Young getting more serious about it than their parents ever were who were still faithful but didn't get into scripture to the same extent.

    Weakening left ?

    It's a swinging pendulum

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    Anybody got a wooden stake I can borrow?

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