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Bob Hawke still believes he is the best person to lead the ALP and suggests Paul Keating will need to let his Ministers do their jobs and keep in touch with the community

MIKE WILLESEE: It's good to be back in these friendly surroundings and I will be filling in for Jana for the next two weeks. Tonight, we have the first interview with Bob Hawke since he lost his job as Prime Minister of Australia. The Australian Labor Party once had a long tradition of looking after its leaders. Men like Evatt and Calwell were kept on even when the party believed they could not win. In fact, there was an old saying that you had to lead the Labor Party to defeat twice, and face an inevitable third defeat, before the party would replace you as leader. Now, that tradition was broken when Bob Hawke wrested the leadership from Bill Hayden about nine years ago. It was to prove a very expensive break with tradition. Bob Hawke didn't lose any elections; he just kept winning them and his popularity was phenomenal, reaching an approval high of 75 percent.

Well, eighteen days ago the Federal Labor Parliamentary Party, by a narrow margin, said his time had come. With unemployment high, recession deep, and an election due next year, the party replaced Hawke with Paul Keating. Bob Hawke went graciously and gave an admirable press conference. If there was bitterness or anger, he didn't show it. What he felt about Paul Keating he kept to himself until tonight. Unfortunately, Mrs Hawke was unable to join us tonight but we will be back in a moment for the first interview with former Prime Minister, Bob Hawke.

Mr Hawke, thanks for your time, I appreciate it. Mrs Hawke okay?

BOB HAWKE: Yes, she is a bit worn out. I mean, she had a very serious operation and she was recuperating and then the strain of shifting has been a bit much so she is, to put it in straight Australian, she is feeling a bit buggered at the moment.

MIKE WILLESEE: Well, not just shifting. You have both been through a bit, the last few weeks.

BOB HAWKE: Oh yeah, yeah, but it's important that your viewers understand that she is basically well but it's a pretty slow recovery.

MIKE WILLESEE: You have been extraordinarily successful at winning. As a student, you won a Rhodes scholarship; in the ACTU, you won the presidency; in Parliament, you won the prime ministership after a very few years. You won more elections than any other Labor Prime Minister, and now you have been dumped.

BOB HAWKE: Yep, that's pretty accurate history.

MIKE WILLESEE: How do you react to that?

BOB HAWKE: Well, I was hurt, obviously.

MIKE WILLESEE: How much?

BOB HAWKE: Well, I don't know how you measure these things but if you are comparing victory and defeat, I as you say, did have a lot of experience of victory and I thought that victories basically are reasonably easy to handle. I tended to think that how you handled defeat was a measure of a bloke and I hope I handled it well.

MIKE WILLESEE: You are the most electorally successful Labor Prime Minister, but the first to be thrown out of office.

BOB HAWKE: Yeah, and well, that's a decision that my colleagues made and it's one that they will have to live with, not me.

MIKE WILLESEE: How much has that hurt you?

BOB HAWKE: Well, obviously it hurts you and the hurt though personally, will go, not entirely forever, but essentially the personal hurt will go. The hurt that won't go is that I knew and I still believe that I had the best chance of leading Labor to victory and I have said before, Mike, that I think that this '93 election is arguably the most important in the post-war history. And the hurt is that the bloke who I think had the best chance of winning that election for Labor, is not going to have the chance. That hurts.

MIKE WILLESEE: Was the action in dumping you, fair?

BOB HAWKE: Well, the Caucus has always got the right to make the decision about leadership. They have always got that right.

MIKE WILLESEE: I didn't ask you about right though - fair.

BOB HAWKE: Well, whether people exercise .... if people have a right, you can hardly say that they shouldn't exercise it. I have thoughts about how it was done and some day, I will probably have quite a deal to say about that, but unfortunately for you, I don't think right now is the time to open up on that.

MIKE WILLESEE: Well, was it a just decision?

BOB HAWKE: Well, in politics, in the end, it's numbers that count and by you know, a switch of three votes and it would have been the other way. You know, 56-51, and one of my blokes was away but it was very tight, but in the end, the numbers were there.

MIKE WILLESEE: Going back to the first challenge by Paul Keating, was John Dawkins the first person to tell you you should go?

BOB HAWKE: Yep.

MIKE WILLESEE: How did you react to that?

BOB HAWKE: Curtly.

MIKE WILLESEE: What did you say?

BOB HAWKE: I don't think, because you know I don't use bad language publicly, generally ....

MIKE WILLESEE: Just paraphrase.

BOB HAWKE: I made it pretty clear that he was wasting his time and he better get back to his job.

MIKE WILLESEE: But he wasn't wasting his time, ultimately, was he?

BOB HAWKE: Well, '88, '91, I mean, three years. I suppose you can argue that.

MIKE WILLESEE: When that challenge was on, did you sit down and talk with Paul Keating?

BOB HAWKE: No, I did not.

MIKE WILLESEE: Have you done so since?

BOB HAWKE: I had a discussion with him on the Friday, brief discussion about change-over. We talked about one issue of policy. I don't want to go into that here. I gave him some advice on that.

MIKE WILLESEE: Did you talk about the challenge?

BOB HAWKE: No.

MIKE WILLESEE: You didn't talk about his action?

BOB HAWKE: No.

MIKE WILLESEE: You didn't give him the benefit of your feelings?

BOB HAWKE: I didn't think it was appropriate.

MIKE WILLESEE: Well, Prime Minister Keating and Treasurer Dawkins now have about twelve months to get employment up and the economy cracking. Can they do it?

BOB HAWKE: I hope so.

MIKE WILLESEE: The facts are that things are very bad, right now ....

BOB HAWKE: They are.

MIKE WILLESEE: .... and the Government will lose election unless things change pretty dramatically and pretty quickly. And there is some talk of moving to unorthodox economic measures, especially through John Dawkins who has espoused some of these in the past. Do you see a danger in unorthodox measures?

BOB HAWKE: Well, if I can use the language of Paul Keating, what previously was described as embroidery, looks as though it may become part of the main pattern, and that's interesting.

MIKE WILLESEE: Dangerous?

BOB HAWKE: Well, I am not making any comment upon that. It would be presumptuous to make judgments about what they do until we see what they do.

MIKE WILLESEE: Does Paul Keating have the characteristics and talent to be a great Prime Minister?

BOB HAWKE: I am not going to answer that question. I think it would be unfair to a new Prime Minister for me to pre-empt the position that may emerge. Let me say this, I mean, I am not going to avoid your question entirely, it's not fair to you, nor to your viewers but I have got to be fair to my successor government and I have got to walk a fine line. But let me say this: I believe that one of the essentials of good leadership is being able to give a free leash, as it were, to your Ministers, to have them knowing that you are there if they need you, or for them to know that if they look like making some mistake which can affect the whole government, that you move in. But I think the essence of leadership is to give people their head. Another part of it is to know your people, to know your electorate, to be close to them, to like them and in turn, to have their confidence in you. Now, I think that as a result of my background and the way I have done things over the years, I had those characteristics. Paul will have to learn to acquire them.

MIKE WILLESEE: Taking the first one, do you think Paul Keating will be too much an interventionist Prime Minister?

BOB HAWKE: I am not going to say too much.

MIKE WILLESEE: But by making that statement, you are raising ....

BOB HAWKE: No, I am simply saying that I think part of the strength of the Hawke leadership was that the Ministers knew that under Hawke, they were going to be given a free rein to exercise their talents. They didn't have Hawke looking over their shoulder the whole time, and I am simply saying in the friendliest possible way to Paul, that I think he needs to understand that that is an important part of leadership, and perhaps he will; I hope so.

MIKE WILLESEE: Is he the Placido Domingo of Australian politics?

BOB HAWKE: I just think it's a ridiculous simile, quite ridiculous simile.

MIKE WILLESEE; He said at the same time that Australia has never had a great leader. What do you say to that?

BOB HAWKE: I told him directly that that was a load of nonsense, palpable nonsense. The leadership that John Curtin provided was of the highest order, not only by the standards of this country, but by the standards of any democracy. There has been no leader in this country to match the great qualities of John Curtin, but in very few countries has there been a leader to match John Curtin. Now, it is known that Paul sat at the feet of Lang, and Lang tried to destroy Curtin, and perhaps Paul was looking at these things through the, in some sense, the prism of Jack Lang.

MIKE WILLESEE: In the timing of today, it seemed more a swipe at you than the leaders of the past.

BOB HAWKE: Well, I can live with it. I mean, I have been used after some thirty years in public life, to people having a swipe at me. I can live with that but I wasn't prepared to have go unobserved the grotesquely inaccurate reflection on John Curtin.

MIKE WILLESEE: What is your attitude to Paul Keating?

BOB HAWKE: It is one of wishing him well. I mean, I have been a member of the Australian Labor Party since 1947. Now that's forty-four years, getting up towards my forty-fifth year, and I am not going to allow whatever personal feelings of hurt and what other feelings I have, and they are there and they are deep, I am not going to allow those feelings to prejudice what I hope will be a Labor victory. I think it's going to be difficult, more difficult with my departure, to have that Labor victory, but to me, it's important that there be a defeat for what I regard as the most obsessively ideological, hard Right-wing conservative coalition that this country has seen in the post-war period.

MIKE WILLESEE: Mr Hawke, perhaps the greatest memory of the period during which you were Prime Minister, will be the astonishing rise and fall of the entrepreneurs who made and lost billions. Do you find that a bit sad?

BOB HAWKE: I think it's sad in this sense; I have no sadness for any of them as individuals, no sadness for them as individuals; I doubt if anyone has. But the basic sadness is this, that under my Government, we opened up the financial markets, both deregulating them internally and bringing in competition from overseas. The great sadness was that the financial system didn't have the maturity to handle that freedom.

MIKE WILLESEE: For quite some time, both you and the banks didn't know what was happening.

BOB HAWKE: Well, I don't think it's right to say that we didn't know what was happening.

MIKE WILLESEE: Well, you wouldn't have been friends with those people if you'd realised what was happening.

BOB HAWKE: Well, the question of friendship is another matter. I mean, if you want to talk about the question of friendships, I will talk about that. I mean, but you are introducing another issue into a broader question.

MIKE WILLESEE: I am talking about a lack of knowledge from the Prime Minister's chair.

BOB HAWKE: No, but you have introduced the question of friendships. If you want to talk about that, that's another issue and I am prepared to talk about it.

MIKE WILLESEE: Okay, we will come back to that, but that's an example.

BOB HAWKE: But let's go to the broad issue.

MIKE WILLESEE: No, your friendship with those people was an example of you being unaware of what was happening.

BOB HAWKE; No, I mean that is an illogicality. It is not an example of not knowing what was happening. Now, you can have the benefit of hindsight and say, yeah, the big paper boys went down and they hurt a lot of people in the process. But it doesn't follow from that, Mike, that you say it was wrong to deregulate and what we should go back is to ....

MIKE WILLESEE: I didn't imply that, I didn't imply that.

BOB HAWKE: Well, I am saying it was not a mistake, it was not a question of not knowing what was happening.

MIKE WILLESEE: But that's what I am getting at.

BOB HAWKE: But the fact is that if you are a government which is going to be at arms length from the financial institutions: in other words, we don't want to see their books; we don't want to be there intervening in the operation of the balancing of their books. You can't have it both ways. You can't say that you are going to have, Mike, an arms length situation which you must have in that deregulated situation, and then say: oh, but you should have known what was happening.

MIKE WILLESEE: But if you knew what was happening, surely you wouldn't have been a party to soliciting campaign funds, large campaign funds, from some of those people.

BOB HAWKE: I mean, that's a total illogicality that's got ....

MIKE WILLESEE: Why?

BOB HAWKE: Well, because it's got nothing to do with the issue you are talking about.

MIKE WILLESEE: If you know what's happening, if you know the business practices, the borrowing against ....

BOB HAWKE: You're talking about 1987.

MIKE WILLESEE: There was no net asset backing.

BOB HAWKE: In 1987, the year that you're talking about, the only year in which you are talking about funds coming from people like Bond; in 1987, remember how strong they were, very very strong. And remember this, that it wasn't, and this has come out in the Parliament, it wasn't just the Labor Party that was getting campaign support from these. I mean, you had the Liberals, Fred Chaney, trotting around St George's Terrace with his bag hanging out. I mean, this has been going on in politics for a very very long time, and in 1987, they were strong, these companies were strong. They gave financial support to both sides of politics. As far as I was concerned, and the Labor Party's concern, I can speak for myself, I can't speak for the Liberals, you can ask them the questions, but as far as I was concerned, totally without strings, not a string attached. In the whole of my political career, I have never accepted or been involved with any donation with some string attached to it, and I never would be. I don't know that the other side could say the same thing.

MIKE WILLESEE: Going to friendships - what's your reaction now to the criticism you have received about having rich mates?

BOB HAWKE: I think it's an absurdity. I take the view that people whose friendship I cherish are entitled to that friendship if their circumstances change that way, or that way. Let me talk about Sir Peter Abeles, just to take an example.

MIKE WILLESEE: Well, the best example.

BOB HAWKE: Yeah, the best example. I first met Peter Abeles in 1970. I liked the guy; he liked me; he got big. He didn't have to pay the penalty of losing my friendship because he was successful, any more Mike, and I won't name people, but I can tell you about people who were bigger up the pecking order then, and have gone down, and they didn't have to pay the penalty of losing my friendship because they went down the pecking order. If I make a friend on the basis of my assessment of their qualities and our relationship, then that's something that's sacred to me and if they go up or if they go down, if they retain the same qualities, they retain my friendship.

MIKE WILLESEE: If somebody wished to argue that Bob Hawke has changed as a person, over say twenty years, I guess they would use the guest list at your 60th birthday as an example, because there weren't many of the old Labor mates there.

BOB HAWKE: Weren't there? Well, that would be beaut if they did. Let me just tell you about it. I wonder if they would remember that one of the dearest friends I had there was a bloke called Bruce McKissock and his wife. Bruce was a battler from the Latrobe Valley who I met the first year I went to the ACTU, in 1958, and Hazel and I and the kids used to go up and stay in his little fibro house up in the Latrobe Valley and go fishing out in the hills and the streams of Gippsland. And he was one of the first blokes there, as were a lot of my old mates from the trade union days. But you see, the Mike Willesees and the people in the media are not interested in the Bruce McKissocks. They are not fascinating, Mike. It's much more fascinating to put, say, there's Peter Abeles or there's Frank Lowey. But if you were doing your job, I wouldn't have to be telling you about Bruce McKissock. You would know and you would have written about it, but they are not interesting to you. Pity, it ought to be. What's the next question?

MIKE WILLESEE: Well, that's one.

BOB HAWKE: Good. Well, I told you - Ray Gietzelt, Charlie Fitzgibbon, all my mates, all my mates from back there in the '60s and the '70s. But they are not interesting, see, ordinary people.

MIKE WILLESEE: Well, let's look at the personal characteristics that make up Bob Hawke. What would you nominate as the strongest or best?

BOB HAWKE: Well, I hope .... I mean, I don't know, it's a bit hard engaging, Mike, in sort of self-analysis, but I hope ....

MIKE WILLESEE: I mean, everyone else does it for you, so I felt you might like to have a go, yourself.

BOB HAWKE: Sure they do, yes. I hope that your viewers would say, at the end of his prime ministership, it's clear that all the pomp and ceremony didn't appeal to me, didn't .... I mean, I hated all that business of the 19-gun salutes and all the dressing up. I mean, Hawke liked best being with ordinary Australians because that is the strength of this country, and I have never felt removed from them. And I must say, in the events since the 19 December, what has moved me more than anything else, is now the thousands and thousands and thousands of letters that I have got from ordinary Australians, ranging right through the age scale - very old people, hundreds of letters from kids, and they are saying that they understand that. And I hope that that was my greatest strength, that I was with them.

MIKE WILLESEE: What happened to Hawke the larrikin? Is he gone or is ....

BOB HAWKE: Not on your Nellie.

MIKE WILLESEE: You were just suppressed for a while.

BOB HAWKE: Yeah, as I said in my press conference there on the 19th, I knew that once I became Prime Minister, I had the responsibility of representing the people of Australia in a way which did them justice and with the dignity that they would expect of a Prime Minister. So yeah, I had to suppress my innate tendency ....

MIKE WILLESEE: And now you don't?

BOB HAWKE: Well, the brakes are off a bit, mate.

MIKE WILLESEE: That's what I am suggesting.

BOB HAWKE: The brakes are off a bit, yeah, okay.

MIKE WILLESEE: Will you stay in Parliament long?

BOB HAWKE: I don't know about that, Mike.

MIKE WILLESEE: Don't know or not ready to say.

BOB HAWKE: Don't know.

MIKE WILLESEE: Would you listen to Paul Keating on that matter?

BOB HAWKE: I will listen to Bob Hawke on that matter.

MIKE WILLESEE: So if he wanted you to stay or wanted you to go, that would be irrelevant to you.

BOB HAWKE: If he wanted to talk to me, but of course I would listen to him, but in the end, I will make the decision which I think is right.

MIKE WILLESEE: Would you serve in his ministry?

BOB HAWKE: Oh no, no, no, no. No, that's way out in right field.

MIKE WILLESEE: Politics finished?

BOB HAWKE: Politics will never be finished for me until the day I die.

MIKE WILLESEE: What do you want to do now?

BOB HAWKE: I think, as I said on the .... at that farewell press conference, that my overwhelming responsibility, Mike, now is to my wife, to my three children, and to my six grand-children. You don't make a lot of money in politics. I am not crying poor, I am not poor, obviously, but you don't make anywhere like the sort of income that I could have made out of politics, and I am not complaining about that. But now, I am going to do what I can, Mike, to honourably and properly earn money so that I can look after Hazel - there's always the bust syndrome there. She is an unbelievable woman. She deserves the best financial security I can give her and her children, and our grand-children. I am going to do that.

MIKE WILLESEE: And as a betting man, what price Paul Keating at the next election?

BOB HAWKE: I will pass that one. I mean, not because you know, I want to avoid it for the sake of avoiding it, I just don't think it's fair to answer, don't think it's fair to my party. And my party is not going to find me letting it down.

MIKE WILLESEE: Mr Hawke, thanks very much for your time.