Bill's Speeches

BOB HAWKE TRIBUTE - SYDNEY - FRIDAY, 9 DECEMBER 2016

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I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, I pay my respects to elders past and present.

I acknowledge Bob, Blanche and the whole Hawke family.

I acknowledge my adviser in all things senior, Susan Ryan.

I acknowledge my Parliamentary colleagues: my outstanding Deputy Leader, Tanya Plibersek, Tony Burke, Terri Butler, Emma Husar.

Distinguished guests one and all. 

It’s a tremendous privilege to say a few words today in honour of a Labor legend.

And, Bob, I must begin with two very important words: Happy Birthday.

Whenever I go for a jog around Canberra, I run past the statues of three Prime Ministers.

The pace I’m moving at usually gives me time to study them in detail.

On the path between the old boarding-houses of Barton and old Parliament house, Ben Chifley and John Curtin walk side-by-side.

It’s a quiet moment in a busy day.

Two friends swapping a story, sharing a laugh.

Two giants, sharing the burden of winning a war, securing a peace, building a society worthy of the sacrifice of so many Australians.

Further down, on the shores of the Lake he inaugurated, Robert Menzies walks alone.

Prime Minister before Curtin, and then again after Chifley.

There’s a smile on his face, a glint in his eye.

It’s the expression of a man who has known success – and knows it will come again.

And so, friends, as we gather to celebrate an 87th birthday and an honorary doctorate, I ask myself - how would a sculptor capture Bob Hawke?

Microphone or megaphone in one hand, the other moving in time with his words – rallying, inspiring and delighting a crowd.

Perhaps with head cocked, one hand grasping his earlobe, listening respectfully to an Aboriginal elder, a captain of industry, an American President or a local parent out doing their shopping. 

Or maybe in the stands at Moonee Valley, creased and folded form guide in hand, ticking off another winner - or not. 

Or in that jacket, mouth open with laughter, dodging the champagne, giving his Prime Ministerial blessing to a good old-fashioned sickie.

Whatever pose they opted for, the statue could never be tucked away in a corner of the capital.

It would have to be out among the Australian people.

The people with whom he shared a connection never seen before in Australian politics.

The people whose wisdom he trusted – and whose support he secured more often than any other Labor leader.

The Australian people loved Bob Hawke because they could tell he loved them.

Australians know he still loves them – and they still love him. 

And friends, the more I thought about that sculpture, the more I realised no matter how lifelike the bronze

No matter how skilled the hands that shape it.

No artist can surpass the monuments Bob has already built.

If you want to see a tribute to Bob Hawke, look around you.

This world-class university, where places are earned on merit – not purchased by privilege.

An Australia where kids from working-class families finish school.

Less than 3 in 10 kids did that when Bob came to office – 8 in 10 when he left.

A modern, outward-looking, competitive economy, where working and middle class people are rewarded for their efforts.

A system built on the idea that growth is stronger when it is shared, when wages and living standards rise – and a strong safety net catches those who fall on hard times. 

A country where tourists and locals alike share the wonders of the Daintree, or ride the rapids of the Franklin.

An Australia at home in Asia, a voice heard and respected in the councils of the world.

A country that steps up and plays its part - keeping peace in the Middle East, keeping Antarctica safe for science. 

And if you want to see a monument to Bob Hawke, open your wallet, or your purse or your bag and look at your Medicare card.

A green-and-gold promise that the health of any Australian, matters to all Australians.

He built Medicare – and last election, he campaigned with us to save it.

So many of those achievements have earned the ultimate compliment from Bob’s political opponents - they now pretend to have supported them all along.

As Prime Minister, consensus was Bob’s watchword.

But that didn’t mean taking the soft option, the low road, the path of least resistance.

It didn’t mean floating thought bubbles in the morning and popping them in the afternoon.

Or blinking and backtracking at the first sign of resistance.

Bob - and the brilliant cabinet he chaired so assuredly – built consensus.

They understood that consensus meant leading and persuading – not surrender, retreat and division.

Friends

History can be the most brutal judge.

But it is also the most compelling. 

As President of the ACTU, Bob was the champion of unpopular causes.

-       The right of unions to organise and bargain

-       Opposing French nuclear testing in the Pacific

-       Opposing the war in Vietnam

-       Opposing Apartheid – and defending Nelson Mandela, when conservatives were branding him a terrorist

As Prime Minister, he was a force for consensus – but on Labor terms.

Bob was the great unifier – but he was also a great separator.

He opposed trickle-down economics – the Reaganite, Thatcherite fashion of the times – now back in vogue.

In Australian history, in Australian politics there was B.H. and A.H.

Before Hawke – and After Hawke.

After Hawke, we were a different country.

A kinder, better country

He worked with Keating and Kelty to negotiate a national Accord.

He swiftly and decisively implemented Medicare.

He worked sensitively and with humility to engage with Asia.

Not lecturing from the podium of Australia but constantly working in hundreds of meetings to build relationships with the region. 

Of course, Bob Hawke is special.

There will never be another Hawke Government – because there will only ever be one Bob Hawke.

Very rarely, in the world, are countries defined by a leader’s time in power.

Before FDR – and after FDR.

Before Lee Kuan Yew - and after Lee Kuan Yew.

It’s rare to say you changed a country – and left it different. 

It’s even more rare to say you changed it for the better.

Kinder, more open, more confident.

-       Deakin did it.

-       Curtin and Chifley did it.

-       Gough did it.

And so did Bob. 

That’s Doctor Robert James Lee Hawke.

That’s who we celebrate today.

Bob – that is your place in history.

ENDS         


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