Vale Bob Hawke

17-May-2019

 

Robert James Lee Hawke AC, Labor Prime Minister between 1983-1991 and among the largest figures in the history of Australian industrial relations, has died, aged 89.

After studying the Australian arbitration system while a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, Hawke in 1958 became an ACTU research officer, quickly emerging as one of the union movement's most formidable advocates.

Elected ACTU president in 1969, he continued to burnish his reputation as a negotiator and consensus-builder before stepping down in 1980 to enter federal politics.

Just weeks after ousting Bill Hayden as Labor leader, Hawke led the ALP to a crushing victory in the 1983 federal election.

Among his first acts as Prime Minister was to host a summit between unions, business and government, at which a previously-agreed Prices and Incomes Accord agreed between Labor and the ACTU helped underpin his ambitious agenda of economic reform.

The Accord saw unions abandon their campaigns for wage increases – removing a primary driver of inflation – in return for a "social wage" made up of entitlements and benefits that would improve all Australians' quality of life and working conditions.

Over eight years and a total of four elections, Hawke sought to deliver on that promise, introducing compulsory superannuation, bolstering Medicare and modernising the Australian economy through such measures as the removal of tariffs and floating the dollar.

Hawke's tenure in The Lodge ended in 1991 when he was deposed by his former treasurer, Paul Keating.

Describing him as "a hero to working people", ACTU secretary Sally McManus and president Michele O'Neil said: "The Australian union movement has enormous pride that a great and respected representative of working people and ACTU President went on to become a loved and legendary Australian Prime Minister".

"Millions of working people owe their health, their prosperity and their dignity in retirement to Bob's work."

In a 2010 survey of historians and political scientists, Hawke came second, just behind his hero, John Curtin. As Professor Frank Bongiorno so eloquently said "Hawke’s historical reputation has risen as his record has been viewed in light of the more modest achievements of every one of his successors." (The Conversation)

Hawke is survived by his second wife, novelist and biographer Blanche d’Alpuget, and his three children, Susan, Stephen and Rosslyn.

The statement from ACTU Secretary Sally McManus and President Michele O’Neil on the passing of Bob Hawke can be read here