Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Bob Hawke pays tribute to John Button -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

Bob Hawke pays tribute to John Button

The World Today - Tuesday, 8 April , 2008 12:20:00

Reporter: Ashley Hall

ASHLEY HALL: As we've heard, John Button was a long standing minister in the Hawke government.

I spoke to Bob Hawke a short time ago, and asked him for his lasting impressions of John Button.

BOB HAWKE: My last impression, my last impression was on Sunday when I went down. We knew he didn't
have long to go and I was going overseas on Wednesday, so Blanche and I went down and saw him.

And that last impression I have is one of the same sharp, acute intellect and courage, which he
showed in those last few hours. But that was the nature of the man. He was, as you say, he was very
small, but a giant in many ways, certainly a giant in the history of the Labor Party.

ASHLEY HALL: And a very funny man, by all accounts?

BOB HAWKE: Yes, he had a lovely almost whimsical turn of phrase and he could lighten up a very dark
debate too, out of the blue.

ASHLEY HALL: Now, you mentioned his stature as a politician. He played a key role in your
ascendancy to the party's leadership.

BOB HAWKE: He did. I was sitting at my home in Sandringham. It was January, I remember, in 1983. I
was sitting down in my swimming costume by a pool and he turned up with a colleague of his and said
he'd reached a point where ... which is a very hard one for him because Bill was one of his closest
friends. And anyway, he made that decision, and we know what went on from there.

ASHLEY HALL: Would you have made it to the leadership of the party if not for his support?

BOB HAWKE: Well, perhaps so, but it was critically important and it accelerated. And of course the
important thing was the timing of it. We caught Malcolm with his trousers down, politically
speaking, by the timing.

He went and saw ... John went and saw Bill. We had the meeting and as the executive made the
decision to switch to me, that was the very moment that Malcolm was going to Government House to
call the election. So, his timing was impeccable.

ASHLEY HALL: But it wasn't just politics that he was a master of. The policy itself, he is regarded
as a master of policy itself. As a minister, he pushed through a comprehensive range of reforms.

BOB HAWKE: He was an outstanding minister of industry. He was ... it was funny, when we won, as
leader of the opposition in the Senate, he had the right to nominate the portfolio. I mean, I
wasn't bound to give him what he wanted, but he had that entitlement to say what he wanted.

And for Johnny, he took an unusually long time to make up his mind and tell me what he wanted, but
when he said he wanted industry, I was a little bit surprised, but it turned out to me an
absolutely inspired decision because he did a quite outstanding job in that portfolio.

We would not have been able and successfully as we did to undertake that fundamental restructuring
of the Australian economy if it hadn't been for the job he did in that role.

ASHLEY HALL: It wasn't universally popular though. He copped a lot of flack from unions and you
included. How did he stand up against that?

BOB HAWKE: He is very strong. He knew that what we were about was right, and he went out and sold
it to both sides of industry. And no one could have done it with greater intelligence and integrity
than he did.

ASHLEY HALL: How will you remember him now?

BOB HAWKE: I'll remember him as one of the most talented of ministers in an extraordinarily
talented cabinet. So, I'll remember him for his ... the job he did for his country, and not just
for a Labor government, but for his country.

I'll remember for his strength of character in helping to reform the party and make it electable.
Back there in the 70s, late 60s to 70s, and then again later on.

And I'll also remember him for his marvellous sense of humour and one of the things that we'll
always remember about him is the fact he was talking about it on Sunday when I was with him, the
absolute unqualified passion he had for the Cats.

ASHLEY HALL: (laughs) For the football team?

BOB HAWKE: Yeah, the Geelong Football Club, I think was ... apart from his personal life, his
family, the two great loves of his life were Labor and the Cats.

ASHLEY HALL: The former prime minister, Bob Hawke.