Condolence speech - the Hon Robert James Lee Hawke AC

July 04, 2019

  I'm honoured to follow the member for Bruce and his wonderful contribution. There have been so many great speeches in this chamber in honour of Bob Hawke—from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition and from both sides of the chamber. Obviously, Bob Hawke is deservedly lauded by all in this House as an outstanding prime minister and a giant within the Labor Party.

  We all have our own experiences of meeting Bob. I'll come back to that a little bit later, but I'd just like to explain what it was like as a Queenslander when Bob Hawke became Prime Minister in 1983—an election that I, as a 17-year-old, didn't get to vote in—and the sort of Queensland I had grown up in.

Queensland was just about to re-elect a Bjelke-Petersen state government for the sixth time in an easy win for the Bjelke-Petersen led Country Party. The gerrymander gave them an unassailable electoral advantage, and this was the pre-Fitzgerald era, where the Queensland Country Party's currency was brown paper bags filled with cash. There was a pervasive criminal culture. We would eventually realise that it had actually infiltrated to the highest levels of the police service and even into the government itself. It was in that climate that Queenslanders welcomed a fresh Prime Minister, the 23rd, and voted in on a landslide a bloke they called Bob. He came in on a slogan of 'Bob Hawke. Bringing Australia Together'. He may have been a Victorian via Western Australia, but Queenslanders thought of Bob as being one of us.

Queenslanders know what bad government looks like. The Hawke government was the antithesis of the government we had in Queensland at that time. It would be another four years before the Fitzgerald inquiry would be established, but the air in Queensland was already thick with the stench of corruption that could not be ignored. It was known throughout.

Bob was a leader that Queenslanders could actually believe in. He was a leader that we could trust. He had vision, he had values and he was one of us. He was the Prime Minister Queensland needed through those dark days of the pre-Fitzgerald era and during the shocking revelations of the Fitzgerald inquiry 30 years ago. Ironically, Joh Bjelke-Petersen was embarking on a swap to federal politics at the time when the Fitzgerald inquiry was called. Shortly after the Fitzgerald inquiry was commissioned, Bob called a federal election and Joh, thankfully, abandoned his tilt at federal politics. I'll give credit to Bob Hawke; I'm not sure if he deliberately waited until Joh Bjelke-Petersen was out of the state and forgot to nominate for a federal seat. I think Joh was in LA at the time, and so it ended up that the push for Canberra faltered completely.

So while Queensland was a state in crisis, Bob got on with the job of reforming Australia and, as detailed by so many, creating the modern Australia—the modern economy: floating the dollar; Medicare; universal superannuation; Landcare, celebrated by many of the National Party people in this place; preserving the Antarctic and the Daintree in Far North Queensland; and preserving the Franklin River in Tasmania. I would note that I'm not encouraging that any government should do so by sending an F-111 to spy against a state government, but it got the job done—a little bit unusual, democratically, but it got the job done.

Bob Hawke not only encouraged opportunity, he made sure young Australians could access it. When Bob Hawke became Prime Minister, I was one of the only three in 10 Australian students who had graduated from high school. By the time he stepped down as Prime Minister he had turned that figure around to seven in 10, education being the truly transformational work of government.

It was Bob's values that made him the legend we remember today. As mentioned by so many people, the fact was that Bob Hawke abhorred racism; he found it repugnant. Bob Hawke always stood up for those who could not stand up for themselves, as a real Christian should. Bob's tearful response to that bloody massacre in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, offering Chinese students studying in Australia asylum, was a torrent of compassion through one of the saddest days. Yet, Bob still went on to be a good friend of China. We all loved Bob for that Tiananmen Square moment and for reminding us that good leaders—good friends—speak bluntly to other countries when they need to.

I know for a fact that Queenslanders still love Bob. When I was a candidate in 2004, '07, '10 and, I think '13, Bob Hawke often came to Moreton, as a marginal seat, trying to win it for Labor and then to retain it for Labor. I remember after that Kevin '07 launch in Brisbane, when Bob Hawke and Paul Keating came out and stood together—even though they weren't the best of friends at the time. There is a wonderful photo of that; in fact, my wife is standing right in front of them and I actually got Bob Hawke to sign the picture for my wife that next day. It took me quite a bit longer to get Paul Keating to sign it, but that's a different story!

In Moreton we would just work Bob incredibly hard. Even when he was in his eighties we would go from Sunnybank Plaza shopping centre across the bridge to Sunny Park, then across to Market Square and then to Sunnybank tavern. All the time Bob was talking to everyone; there were queues of people coming up to talk to him. I think he might have been trying to get a few phone numbers off some of my constituents, but people were so drawn to him. He loved people; it was evident in those walk-throughs, and the people loved Bob.

  Whether you were a US President, like Ronald Reagan, or just a normal shopper in Sunnybank, Bob was just Bob, and that's what everyone loved about him.

Today, we honour Labor's greatest peacetime Prime Minister and mourn the man. Bob Hawke will always be an inspiration to Labor and this grateful nation, because Bob showed us what we can achieve as a nation and individually. He showed us fairness, he showed us the benefits of hard work and building consensus, and he showed us hope. So I extend my sympathy and gratitude to his family for sharing him with us. Bob Hawke, may you rest in peace. I'll be raising a glass of Hawke's Lager to you sometime over the weekend, just like I did last night.