SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG

LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY IN THE SENATE

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

SPEECH

3 July 2019

CONDOLENCE MOTION – ROBERT JAMES LEE HAWKE AC

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I rise on behalf of the Opposition to speak on this condolence motion and I thank the Leader of the Government in the Senate for his words that preceded me.

Today we acknowledge the passing of an exceptional Australian and an exceptional member of the Labor family, the Honourable Robert James Lee Hawke AC, who passed away in May at the age of 89.

Bob Hawke was loved. He was loved by our movement. He was loved by Australians. But today I start by expressing our deepest sympathy to those who loved him and those closest to him, to Blanche; to Bob’s children, Susan, Stephen and Rosslyn; his step-son Louis; all of his grandchildren and his many friends. So, too, today we remember Hazel.

I also acknowledge his former staff. I saw Craig Emerson MCing the service and today in the chamber is Lou Cullen—she’s going to be very embarrassed I mentioned her—who works with me and who was Bob Hawke’s media assistant.

I was honoured to be amongst the thousands who celebrated his life at the memorial service held at the Sydney Opera House. Today our Parliament, this central institution of the Australian democracy, comes together to pay tribute to a man who enriched our nation.

The Hawke chapter in Australia’s democratic story is remarkable. It is a quintessentially Australian story. A story of achievement and a story of reform. A vision of a country that could be a better Australia, a nation in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and a reminder of what democracy can be. Progress and reform driven by values that is led, that is advocated and that is adopted.

Bob Hawke’s ability to lead, his vision, his values, saw him dominate the Australian political stage for two decades. But Bob Hawke’s contribution to public life and his deep connection with the Australian people lasted a lifetime. His influence resonates today as the economic reforms over which he presided continue to deliver sustained economic growth over a time span unparalleled in the nation’s economic history. The years of uninterrupted economic growth that we have enjoyed are the true legacy of Bob Hawke’s vision and energy.

He came to office in 1983, inheriting a moribund, closed economy mired in deep recession. And together with Paul Keating – the greatest partnership in Australian politics – he led reform that created modern Australia, the modern Australian economy and laid the foundations for all of us who followed.

He did this through consultation and cooperation. Without the massive social upheaval that was a feature of similar economic transformations overseas. This was the defining feature of his style of leadership, because Bob Hawke worked to bring people together. He sought to unite, not to divide. His 1983 campaign slogan was ‘Bob Hawke: Bringing Australia Together’.

When Bob Hawke was confronted with the threat of race being used as a political weapon, he responded by demonstrating decency and the bipartisan commitment to an Australia that was culturally diverse, tolerant and open. As his long standing press secretary Barrie Cassidy said, ‘He wouldn’t cop racism. He just wouldn’t cop it at any level. At the very whiff of it, he’d be right onto it.’ His is an example modern politics could learn from.

Bob Hawke lived his life beyond full, and his legacy has affected and will go on affecting all of us. We are the beneficiaries of a truly great Australian. The contours of his life are remarkable. South Australians know he was a South Australian, born in our home state, my home state, in Bordertown in 1929. I was very pleased at Labor’s commitment in the lead up to the election to purchase the home in which he was born and to preserve it as a memorial, transforming it into a museum celebrating his life and achievements, Australian democracy and civic life. It was Bob’s wish, and I would invite the Government to consider doing this. I hope they will adopt this proposition.

Bob Hawke went on to live in Western Australia—so, to Western Australians he’s a Western Australian—and be a Rhodes Scholar for that state. He went on to represent an electorate in Victoria—so, he’s a Victorian as well—and, finally, he lived out his retirement years in New South Wales, a life lived across this great nation. A true Australian.

The breadth of Bob Hawke’s domestic successes sometimes overshadows his remarkable contribution to the great Labor foreign policy tradition. I do wish to make a few remarks about this, because with Curtin, Chifley and Whitlam, Hawke, too, had a profound sense of our national interests and a profound attachment to the values which underpin them.

His genius was in the way he built and maintained relationships, and the foundation of this was his authenticity, be it with individuals or groups; he was the same. See, Bob was the same with trade union members and bosses, his political allies and his opponents, his punters at the races, his mates at the footy, his co-drinkers at the pub—and there were a few of them—Bob Hawke connected with everyone and his ability to connect with world leaders was extraordinary.

But, despite his charm, he wasn’t a salesman and he didn’t trade in slogans. Rather, he had an eye for strategic opportunity and a powerful instinct for strategic significance. Whether it was dealing with China, the United States or India, Bob Hawke could seize the moment, especially with those who shared his optimism and his courage. That was one thing that he did demonstrate consistently. It takes determination and courage to deliver the outcomes that make the world a better place.

And throughout his public life, he was deftly strategic in his approach—for example, in the advocacy for improved conditions and pay for workers, for the social wage; collaborating with major retailers to improve the purchasing power of working people; reforming the underpinnings of the economy; strengthening the alliance with the United States; strengthening the trade relationship with China; and cementing a better relationship with Papua New Guinea.

But of course the signature achievement of Bob Hawke’s was to set the foundations for APEC. As his prime ministership matured, Bob Hawke came to see that the absence of a regional forum to broker global and regional trade and investment issues left the region as a whole vulnerable to being picked off and divided in global trade negotiations.

He raised the idea with his South Korean counterpart in January 1989 and the warm response encouraged him to initiate a sustained diplomatic campaign which culminated in the first APEC meeting in November 1989, which is remarkably quick progress in a matter of such sensitivity and complexity.

Perhaps in many respects APEC was an organisation waiting happen, but its establishment required leadership which is what Hawke and this nation provided. So APEC remains a testament to Bob Hawke’s insight and foresight and testament to a Labor Government’s willingness to Australia as a substantial power in the region to promote, broker and drive regional solutions.

Bob Hawke’s capacity for sustained and long-term strategic investment is also illustrated by his decade long engagement with regional partners and the international community in resolving challenges in Cambodia, which persisted throughout the decade. Bob Hawke, Bill Hayden and Gareth Evans persevered, laying the ground work and making critical diplomatic progression that culminated in the Paris Peace Accords.

Bob Hawke brought great skill and insight to change the nature of some of our most important bilateral relationships. His authenticity cut through language and culture because it connects us as people. He built early relationships with China, carefully laying the beginnings of our remarkable economic relationship. As Bob Hawke said to Premier Zhao in 1996, ‘This generation has before it the real prospect of our region emerging for the first time in history as a place of prosperity for all our peoples.’ Well, he had prescience. That was in 1986. The region is now the engine room of the global economy.

Bob Hawke saw the economic development and increasing social and political reforms in China as the most strategically significant change to the global balance and he was right.

Bob Hawke was deeply affected by the violence of the military crackdown on student protesters in Tiananmen Square that began on 4 June, 1989 and it led to his decision to grant permanent residence status to 42,000 Chinese students then studying in Australia. Many of them are now Australian citizens, part of his enduring legacy.

Bob Hawke was also able to build an authentic relationship with key leaders in the United States. He approached our key alliance partner acutely conscious of the concerns in the wider Australian community then, about the joint facilities, concerns about the threat of nuclear weapons, global worries about the knock-on effects of the failure of detente and the deployment of new missile systems in Europe. Recognising there was a shared sense of vision that could shape a world that could be passed on to future generations, he worked effectively to set the direction of the relationship and strengthened our relationship with the United States, based on the alignment of national interests.

Bob Hawke knew how to connect with people emotionally and whether it was his public show of emotion at the brutal and tragic loss of life in the Tiananmen crackdown or a more personal interaction, or him on national television merrily demanding that everyone get the day off, everyone has our own great memories and anecdotes about Bob Hawke. Many have been recounted in the weeks since his passing. Every time I met Bob, he was optimistic, ebullient and telling me what to do. I recall seeing him at one point, post the 2013 loss going to see him in his office and he said “how are you, love?” and I said “oh, it’s pretty hard being in opposition” and he said “ah, well, I wouldn’t know.’ (LAUGHTER) Not much more to say, really.

Bob Hawke was a peerless Australian. He had a passion for the nation Australia could become, and he had the capacity to transform his vision into reality. His ability to forge consensus for change, forming broad coalitions, based on appeal to shared objectives stands before all of us as an example of what is possible in a progressive democracy.

His conduct of Australia’s international relations was founded on the idea that, if our nation were to sustain and build its economic power, our economic and foreign policies needed to operate hand in hand. It is precisely this insight which continues to inspire Labor to build on his remarkable foreign policy legacy of relationships in our region, strategic alliances and multilateral engagement. Just as Curtin, Chifley and Whitlam left an indelible mark on the character of Australia’s domestic and foreign policy, so too did Bob Hawke.

The nation remains indebted to this remarkable Labor Prime Minister. We mourn Bob’s passing, but we are strengthened by the knowledge that his legacy will endure.

Bob Hawke knew how to lead. He brought both intellect and passion to the task. He led with heart and head, and he knew how to bring Australians together. He knew how to fire our imaginations and how to inspire us.

Bob Hawke spoke to hope, not fear. He encouraged opportunity, not timidity. He rebuffed division and he confronted prejudice. He fostered unity and a belief in the collective, and he urged us to look beyond and to look ahead.

He inspired, he argued, he cajoled, he joked and he convinced us. He changed our nation for the better. That is what Labor governments do; they change the nation for the better, and none more so than his.

Farewell, Bob Hawke. The Labor Party thanks you, the nation honours you and the Opposition, again, today expresses our deepest sympathy to his family and his friends.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.