Bob Hawke dead at 89: His legacy and key achievements

Rhodes scholar, legendary drinker, union boss who rose to the highest job in the land and became one of Australia’s most popular prime ministers, Bob Hawke was a larger than life figure.

A natural with ordinary Australians, Hawke’s tremendous intellect was hidden behind a larrikin sense of humour.

He is remembered for moments such as 1983 when Australia took the America’s Cup off the US, and dressed in a patriotic jacket Hawke quipped that “Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum”.

He was remembered in recent years for sculling a schooner of beer at the Sydney Cricket Ground during a Test.

This was a nod to his university years in Britain in 1954 when he sculled a yard glass (2.5 pints of beer) in 11 seconds, which made the Guinness Book of Records.

Born Robert James Lee Hawke, he was born in Bordertown, South Australia, to a church minister and a mother who had a strong belief in her son’s future greatness.”/>
media_cameraFormer Australian prime minister Bob Hawke has died aged 89. Picture: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

When Hawke returned from studying at Oxford in England, he returned and went on to become the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU)

Kim Beazley said of Mr Hawke tonight, “He always had a genuine belief in the goodness of the Australian people.”

Hawke the drinker gave up alcohol completely to achieve his dream of becoming Labor Party leader and then prime minister.

While he was in power in Canberra, he has since stated he did drank “not a drop” of alcohol.

After Hawke thumped Liberal Malcolm Fraser in a landslide victory in 1983, he and his first wife Hazel entered the Lodge.

He was famously rolled by his ambitious Treasurer Paul Keating in 1991, and only resolved any lingering bitterness in the last few weeks when Keating visited a visibly frail Hawke at home.

Until his death at the age of 89, Hawke was the oldest living Australia PM and until relatively recently — in the past year or 18 months — he appeared to be in good health until he began suffering a few falls.”/>
media_cameraBob Hawke with his beloved wife Blanche d’Alpuget. Picture: Mick Tsikas-Pool/Getty Images

He is remembered for some towering reforms that set Australia up for years of consecutive growth.

Here are some of his greatest achievements as PM.


Together with his treasurer Paul Keating, Hawke launched critical reforms that opened up Australia’s economy, especially to Asia.

He made the crucial decision to float the Australian dollar and deregulate the financial system, which exposed the economy to global market forces and stimulated growth.

The Hawke Government also cut tariffs, forged a historic wage accord between big businesses and unions, and reformed the tax system, introducing fringe benefits and capital gains taxes.

He also privatised many government-owned institutions, such as the Commonwealth Bank and Qantas.


The Hawke Government’s towering achievement is the establishment in 1984 of Medicare, Australia’s taxpayer-funded universal health care system.


Hawke went to the High Court to save Tasmania’s Franklin Dam, and he was influential in protecting the Daintree and Kakadu.

He also led an international campaign to protect Antarctica from mining.


Mr Hawke’s wife Blanche d’Alpuget listed among his “proudest achievements” the large increase in the proportion of children finishing high school.

The Hawke Government also doubled of the number of childcare places, doubled public housing funds and increased the old-age pension.


As Labor successor Kevin Rudd pointed out, Hawke “radically deepened Australia’s engagement with Asia”, via his foreign policy and economic reforms.

He made Australia a major player on the global stage, and had a key role in ending apartheid in South Africa.

The Hawke Government also established the AsiaPacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).”/>
media_cameraFormer Australian prime minister Bob Hawke with British prime minister Margaret Thatcher at 10 Downing Street, London, in 1986. Picture: Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Originally published as Why Hawke will go down as a legend

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