Launch of the book: "The Hawke Government: A critical retrospective"

Address by the Hon Mike Rann, Premier of South Australia

Tuesday 16 September 2003


  • The Hon Bob Hawke and Blanche d’Alpuget
  • Minister Jane Lomax-Smith
  • Chancellor David Klingberg, Vice Chancellor Denise Bradley
  • Chair of the Hawke Centre Dr Basil Hetzel
  • Director Liz Ho
  • Patrons Sir Eric Neal and Imelda Roche
  • Chair of the Economic Development Board, Robert Champion de Crespigny
  • President of the SA Branch of the Labor Party, Carolyn Pickles
  • Editors Susan Ryan and Troy Bramston
  • Distinguished guests

I would like to begin by congratulating you Bob on your recent Honorary Doctorate of Civil Law from Oxford University.

I saw Bob and Blanche the day before, coming out of Westminster Hall in London, in the company… appropriately… of Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Nelson Mandela.

When Bob Hawke became Prime Minister, he had to stare down the demons of history and instead embraced Labor’s historic challenge of attempting to become the majority party of Australian politics.

1983. It was Labor’s greatest election victory since Curtin won in 1943.

A 15-seat majority over the Coalition gave Federal Labor the political authority to do brave things after the mean years of Liberal Government.

He gave the Labor Party a new legitimacy, and gave its rank and file members hope after the demoralisation of the dismissal, Whitlam’s defeat and the Fraser years.

There was tremendous optimism and pride about Labor under Hawke and here are the reasons why.

The Franklin, the environment, rising retention rates in our schools, multiculturalism, engaging with Asia, the national economic summit and the Accord that flowed from it, floating the dollar, rebuilding industry, consensus, reconciliation, a massive expansion of our universities and child care, job creation and retraining.

And, of course, an enduring talisman of the Hawke years and its fundamental commitment to a partnership with Australian families can still be found in everyone’s pocket or purse …. their Medicare card.

Bob appointed the first woman to a Federal Labor Ministry, in Susan Ryan. We had the first woman parliamentary Speaker, in Joan Child.

It was a government of reform, with decent, social democratic credentials.

During his first term in office, Bob had the highest popularity ratings of any Prime Minister since the introduction of public opinion polls.

He is still Australia’s longest serving Labor Prime Minister.

In the prologue of this fine book, Craig McGregor quotes Bob as once telling him: “This stuff about the meek inheriting the earth is a lot of bullshit. The weak need the strong to look after them.”

And we had that strong leader in Bob Hawke.

Not a bully or a one man band. An activist Chairman of a strong team.

Labor under Bob won four consecutive general elections: 1983, 1984, 1987 and 1990.

After four election victories, Federal Labor governments were no longer seen as freakish, once-in-a-generation flukes… a political walk on the wild side.

Under Bob, Labor was no longer just the Party people turned to in a national crisis.

We were a true reformist government, with good economic management at its core.

As Bob says himself in the book’s foreword, his government was about growth with equity.

Economic reform was not the enemy of social progress, he writes, but the necessary condition for it.

Were we a better Australia, a fairer Australia, a more prosperous Australia because of Bob Hawke?

Unequivocally, yes.

Why was he… and is he… still so beloved by Australians?

We knew as a nation more about him than any other man in public life.

He understood better than almost anyone how much of your privacy must be sacrificed, and how much of your life must be confessed, to maintain in an age of relentless information that balance of intimacy and reserve that leadership lately demands.

A sportsman, a betting man, a no-longer-drinking man, a mate, a bar-room raconteur, a proud and sometimes saddened parent, a feisty combative advocate… as Frank Sinatra famously found out and yet the best consensus negotiator we’ve ever had and a supporter of Israel and civil rights in China.

He was the most media-savvy of all our Federal politicians.

He was a leader Australians were on first-name terms with… and still are.

It’s impossible to think of our current Prime Minister as “John”… the way we still think of Bob as… “Bob” or better still as “Hawkey”.

He was utterly respected as a formidable interpreter of the complex, intricate world we were in and the adjustments we had to make to survive in it.

He modernised the Labor Party. He made it what it still is, the natural party of government.

He headed a government of more talent -- Dawkins, Beazley, Keating, Button, Bowen, Willis, Evans, Hayden, Uren, Blewett, Brown, Ros Kelly, Walsh, Mick Young, Susan Ryan, Barry Jones -- than any before or since.

And despite the jostling egos, he maintained a balance, and a calm, and a team spirit, that made as turbulent a beast as the Labor Party look easy to handle.

He was without a doubt the best Cabinet manager and the shrewdest delegator of power in our history.

A leader must be simultaneously cheerleader, navigator and adding machine.

He must understand… before anyone else… where history is going and how far we can afford to follow what appears to be its ‘inevitable’ direction…and how much we must refuse, because of who we are and what our culture is, to go along with.

His adjustment to the global world, and his concept of the social wage, were miracles of communitarian good sense he made look easy.

He has spent the years since he retired from politics not retired at all.

As well as his work with the Sydney Central Mission, and his work overseas, he has forged new links with South Australia… he is in fact a third generation South Australian.

He has of course supported the University of South Australia through the Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre.

The research facility is serving people all over the world through helping research in strengthening our democracy, valuing our cultural diversity and building our future.

Bob has also been an absolutely crucial member of Robert Champion de Crespigny’s South Australian Economic Development Board… and has been extraordinarily generous with his time and his knowledge, just as he has been an invaluable mentor and support to me and other Labor leaders.

When we were forming the EDB, Robert de Crespigny and I could think of no one better than Bob Hawke to be a member.

He has advised the Board and the Government on such things as trade relations… as we know, he has strong links with and is revered in China.

And of course, I just had to think of changes Bob made to Government and the Australian economy when he was Prime Minister.

He led the creation of the strong export culture that underpins our strong economic performance today.

When we convened our Economic Growth Summit, it was partly in recognition of the great success of the Economic Summit that Bob had convened 20 years before.

So it was fitting that we asked Bob…and Ian Sinclair… to co-chair the Summit.

Although we had a huge diversity of delegates we still managed to achieve a unanimous endorsement.

People responded to his larrikin chairing style… it certainly helped to diffuse tensions.

And because Bob is willing to speak his mind about contributions from delegates that he found wanting, we got the best possible outcomes.

Bob is a man who would be welcome on any wharf, in any pub, in any factory, in any football changing room … just as he is as equally welcome and at home with any gathering of world leaders.

Bob Hawke is a man for all seasons, unexhausted and everywhere esteemed, especially here.

It’s been my pleasure to join you in celebrating this book and this very special anniversary of a Government all Australians could be proud of.

Thank you.