Fremantle federal Labor MP JOSH WILSON spoke about the passing of former prime minister BOB HAWKE in Parliament last week, recalling the “electric charge” he experienced first-hand during a campaign.
BOB HAWKE was without doubt one of the great Australian prime ministers and the greatest in my lifetime.
He was a distinctively Labor prime minister, which means he knew the foundational importance of the things we share: fair pay and working conditions, high-quality public health and education, a comprehensive social safety net, the beauty and biodiversity of our environment, and our egalitarian and multicultural way of life.
I was in year 7 at South Terrace Primary School in Freo when the Hawke government was elected, and at the end of that year Australia won the America’s Cup, which was particularly momentous for my home town of Fremantle.
That year, 1983, was in many ways the birth of my political consciousness. The Hawke government showed me and many others what could be achieved through politics and what a difference a good government could make.
If I had to single out the single most significant policy delivered by Bob Hawke as prime minister, it would be the family allowance reforms that provided better support for low-income and single-parent households, and made an enormous difference to millions of families—including mine.
In the period 1980 to 1994, financial assistance for low-income families in Australia increased from being 60 per cent of the OECD average in 1980 to being 140 per cent of the OECD average in 1994. That is a massive leap, and I have no doubt that other transformative achievements like those in the area of educational opportunity and attainment were to some degree built on the family allowance reforms.
Above all else, Bob Hawke and the government he led turned the wheel when it came to inequality and disadvantage in this country. He turned the wheel through the architecture of an inclusive economy and through massive improvements in our social compact, in public health, in education and in welfare support. It is well past time for us all to put our shoulder to that wheel again.
I only met Bob Hawke a few times, but he was one of those people who communicated his nature and his temperament in that first contact.
He was fundamentally affable and generous, good natured and good humoured.
He looked you in the eye, he called you by your name and he grinned.
I can remember that in the 2007 election campaign we organised a walk-through of the Phoenix Shopping Centre in the suburb of Spearwood for Bob and the then-candidate for Fremantle, Melissa Parke.
On the day the time was pushed back to mid-morning. It was a weekday. We were concerned there wouldn’t be a crowd and it might not do justice to his time and effort.
Someone suggested to Bob that perhaps we could just do a photo and have a coffee in a local coffee shop.
But, characteristically, he was having none of that.
He insisted that we go through the shopping centre.
Like the storm that he was, he left us all in his wake.
He reached out and shook hands with every person in the place.
There seemed to be a kind of electric charge that drew people into his aura and spun them off to one side as he passed through.
I remember a young bloke, slightly dazzled, took me by the arm and said, ‘Who was that?’ He didn’t know it, but he had just had the Bob Hawke experience.
On behalf of the Fremantle community, I offer sincere condolences to Blanche and Bob’s family and to his many, many friends.
The legacy of the Hawke government reaches deep and wide into Australian life today.
It’s a legacy that has shaped and should continue to shape contemporary Australia, but the ripples have already travelled over a lot of water by now.
The passing of Bob Hawke is an opportunity for us to remember that for us to be the custodians of his legacy we must not shirk the hard yakka of fighting for change, for building consensus and for making it last.