Condolence Motion for Bob Hawke

Published on Wednesday, 03 July 2019 16:06

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.

 

Mr Wilson (4:06pm) — I'm very glad to have the opportunity to reflect with gratitude and celebration on the life of Bob Hawke. He 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. 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.

Today in this debate we've been reminded of the staggering list of reforms delivered by Bob Hawke as Prime Minister. If I had to choose a policy to single out, it would be the family allowance reforms that provided better support for low-income and single-parent households, and in so doing 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 be mid-morning. It was a weekday. We were concerned that there wouldn't be much of 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.

In 2017, before the WA state election, Bob came across to campaign with Mark McGowan, as the member for Perth mentioned earlier. A dinner was organised in Rockingham. I was very fortunate to attend with the member for Brand, among others. That night Bob told one of the jokes that he is famous for. Three people from different nations—a Frenchman, a Pom and an Australian, of course—are captured by a local tribe, which intends to punish their trespass with death. The head of the tribe offers the captives a choice between taking matters into their own hands or being put to a ritual death that will culminate in their skin being made into a canoe. In telling the joke Bob did the accents, which, you will all be glad to know, I'm not going to do. The French bloke and the Englishman, one after the other, asked for a knife and proceeded to do the deed after expressing some noble sentiments—God save the Queen; vive la France and so on. When it gets to the Australian's turn, he asks for a fork. He proceeds to prod himself up and down methodically, all over his body. Then he says, 'So much for your bloody canoe!'

Everyone laughed. A lot of the people there had heard that joke a few times from Bob. They still laughed. Bob himself laughed, before he had finished telling the joke and once he had finished telling the joke. One thing we know about Bob Hawke is that he loved to share his voice in joy and good humour and camaraderie. But he also had the courage to raise his voice and make an argument to make some noise in the cause of change, in the cause of difficult but necessary reform, in the cause of social and economic justice. Those twin capacities to bond and lift the spirits of his fellow Australians on the one hand and to lead and change for the better the way we live together in this country on the other make him remarkable.

On behalf of the Fremantle community, I offer sincere condolences to Blanche and Bob's family and to his many, many friends. As others have described so well in this debate, 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.

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AUTHORISED BY JOSH WILSON
AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY CANBERRA
© COPYRIGHT 2018 JOSH WILSON MP