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Thursday, 4 July 2019
Page: 322


Mr HILL (Bruce) (12:32): When I heard the news that Bob Hawke had died, I was in a meeting of the Noble Park Labor Party branch and it was a few days before the election. Someone came and whispered it in my ear. After processing it, I told the branch. At that point, whatever we were dealing with and had left to deal with in the preparations for the election suddenly seemed unimportant, and the rest of our evening was given over to reflections and impromptu tributes and so on about Bob's life and legacy. It was good, we all felt as we left, to be with our Labor family that night.

The legacy of Bob Hawke and his Labor government is unparalleled in modern Australian history. Bob was no timeserver. He was Labor's longest serving Prime Minister, but he didn't just play it safe to rack up the years as PM; he was a Labor Prime Minister who changed our nation for the better. Bob had a vision and courage, and he persuaded Australians and his party of the need for change. He did so, as has been remarked in previous speeches, with a deep and visible love for Australia and for Australians, and with the trust of the people.

Bob Hawke's legacy lives on in the daily life of our nation. I will touch on just a few areas—as we are the last couple of speakers, there is almost a sense of summing up, having listened to a lot of the tributes yesterday. To every Australian who carries and values their Medicare card, you can thank Bob Hawke and his Labor government. The very idea of Medicare was bitterly opposed by the Liberals. In 1975, they abolished Labor's first attempt to introduce universal health care. But it was Bob Hawke's conviction, his Labor values, that saw Medicare introduced. His four election victories ground the Liberals down to the point they begrudgingly had to accept Medicare, and universal health care became a part of our national fabric.

For all Australians, the environmental record of Bob Hawke's Labor government continues to enrich our country today. He was described as the first PM for the environment, and he saved so many of our national treasures. There was the Franklin River, the ancient Daintree, the banning of uranium mining in Kakadu, and the Uluru National Park being put on the World Heritage List.

Of course, when Bob Hawke became Prime Minister only three in 10 Australians finished high school. By the end of the Labor government that figure was eight out of 10, laying the foundations for a more educated, more productive and wealthier society.

The millions of Australians who retire now and in the decades to come with a better standard of living through universal superannuation can thank Bob Hawke and his Labor government. Bob laid the foundations for our system, which now sees more than $2.7 trillion of workers capital owned by 14.8 million Australians.

It's part of the current brand propaganda, if I can put it that way, that is spread about the major parties of government in Australia that Labor is bad for the economy. You hear this; it's nonsense. I don't believe it's borne out by the facts or the record, but many do believe it. When people raise it with me, the first truth I remind them of is that it was Bob Hawke's Labor government, with Paul Keating as Treasurer, that transformed Australia's economy, laying the foundations for the longest run of prosperity of any country in the world and for the wealth we still enjoy today, and he shared that wealth with ordinary Australians. No government is perfect nor every decision right, but undoubtedly Bob and Paul's vision to open Australia up to the world, to deepen our economic, social, political and strategic connections to Asia and our region was right.

Bob also represented Australia so brilliantly on the international stage, pursuing our national interest with values and conviction. He said that fighting apartheid in South Africa was one of his proudest life achievements. He took up this cause in 1969 as president of the Australian trade union movement, fuelled by his visceral distaste of racism and discrimination, and he never took a backward step. He used the office of Prime Minister skilfully and forcefully, supporting a ban on South African sporting tours, marrying two of his greatest passions—sport and politics. Those photos of Bob Hawke and Nelson Mandela when Nelson Mandela visited Australia in 1990 are truly spine tingling. And his decision to allow 40,000 Chinese students to stay in Australia—a captain's call of the very best sort—after the Chinese communist party massacred its own citizens in Tiananmen Square in 1990 reminds us what leadership looks like.

There are so many lessons from Bob's leadership in life, beautifully summarised, I thought, by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday: don't fear risk, persuade people, be among the people, listen, engage, bring people together. We in this place would all do well to remember his style of consensus leadership, bringing unions and business together—not bashing one or bashing the other but seeking consensus across the aisle. And, as the member for Maribyrnong reminded us yesterday, it was not a lowest common denominator but rather one born of negotiation to shift and bring together hearts and minds, fit for the times.

In closing, I was struck by David Marr's comment. He said that Bob Hawke showed us 'that change is possible, that policy matters and a better Australia is waiting'. So the great romance which has been talked about in the last month between Bob Hawke and his nation has ended, but it will remain a love story for the ages. Australia is a better country and we are a better people because of Bob's leadership and his reforming Labor government. Vale Bob Hawke, Australia's greatest peacetime prime minister.