Bob Hawke, former Australian prime minister, dies age 89 | Australia news


Australia’s 23rd prime minister and Labor elder statesman Bob Hawke has died.

Hawke died peacefully at home, aged 89 years, according to a statement by his widow Blanche D’Alpuget released on Thursday evening.

The former Labor prime minister had been unwell for months, too frail to attend Labor’s campaign launch, but was political to the last: his final public statement was an open letter urging a vote for a Shorten Labor government.

Hawke died two days short of the election he predicted he would not live to see, an election Bill Shorten promised to win for Bob.

Hawke is survived by his second wife, D’Alpuget, who was also his biographer, and three adult children, whom he had with his first wife, Hazel Hawke.

D’Apulget described Hawke as “a great Australian – many would say the greatest Australian of the post-war era”.

In a statement she paid tribute to Hawke and Paul Keating for “modernising the Australian economy, paving the way for an unprecedented period of recession-free economic growth and job creation”.
“Bob’s consensus-style approach of bringing together the trade union movement and the business community boosted job opportunities while increasing the social wage through Medicare and extra financial support for low-income families.”

Shorten thanked Hawke for his life’s service on behalf of the labour movement – who he said had lost its “greatest son” – the Labor Party and Australians who “remember and honour a man who gave so much to the country and people he cared for so deeply”.

”In coming days and weeks our nation will give its tribute to a leader and statesman who inspired such profound affection and admiration, such loyalty and love among so many.”

Renowned for his larrikin behaviour and heavy drinking during his younger years when he was leader of the trade union movement, Hawke brought a common touch to the job of prime minister and an ability to connect with the Australian public.

He served as prime minister between 1983 and 1991, making him the longest serving on the Labor side of politics.

Hawke’s cabinet colleague Neal Blewett noted in the compendium Australian Prime Ministers that it was family lore that Bob would one day become prime minister.

“From at least the age of seventeen, after a brush with death in a motor bicycle accident, Hawke came to share this sense of destiny,” Blewett wrote.

Hawke’s government, in which he and his treasurer, Paul Keating, forged a strong partnership, will be remembered for its reforming zeal and for modernising the Australian economy, including floating the Australian dollar, removing tariffs and modernising industrial awards.

The Accord, struck with the trade union movement in 1983, brought relative industrial harmony to Australia and allowed Hawke’s government to rein in inflation, while transforming work practices and the economy.

The accord also delivered Australia’s first compulsory superannuation scheme, after Hawke agreed with the unions that a 3% pay rise would instead be paid by employers as superannuation. The scheme was initially opposed by business but is now regarded as a landmark reform and delivers 9% in retirement savings to all workers.

Hawke’s government also introduced significant social reforms including reintroducing universal health care, rebadged as Medicare, lifting school retention rates and expanding youth skills programs and ending poverty traps inherent in the social security system.

Early in his term Hawke halted the Franklin dam in Tasmania, saving wilderness areas from destruction. He went on to deal with other difficult environmental challenges, such as preserving old-growth forests.

However, Hawke’s willingness to compromise and accommodate business interests as prime minister earned him criticism from his former union colleagues, particularly when he embarked on a program of privatising government assets and sided with the airlines during a pilot’s strike.



Bob Hawke pictured in January 2014. Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

Born in December 1929 in Bordertown, South Australia, Robert James Lee Hawke was the son of a Congregational minister and a schoolteacher. The family moved to Western Australia in 1939, and Hawke was educated at the Perth modern school and the University of Western Australia, before attending Oxford as a Rhodes scholar.

He returned to Australia and married Hazel Masterton in 1956 , his long time girlfriend.

In 1958, he took up an advocate’s position at the ACTU. Hawke prospered there, taking the presidency in 1970 and serving in that role for a decade.

As head of the trade union movement, Hawke was instrumental in opposing apartheid in South Africa and led several protests against all-white sporting teams that visited Australia.

Hawke became a household name as president of the ACTU but his relentless drinking and womanising was well known and was seen as a major handicap to his political ambitions.

Hazel Hawke said in one interview she realised Hawke was serious about becoming prime minister when he gave up drinking. He had made a couple of earlier attempts to enter parliament but in 1980 was preselected as the member for Wills, and elected that year.

Hawke stalked the then opposition leader Bill Hayden relentlessly, leading to leadership instability which was finally resolved in February 1983. The following month a federal election was held and Hawke defeated Malcolm Fraser. He had realised his ambition to become prime minister of Australia.

That only ended in 1991 when he was deposed by Keating, who accused Hawke of reneging on the Kirribilli agreement to hand over power.



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