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Thursday, 4 July 2019
Page: 325


Mr STEPHEN JONES (Whitlam) (12:45): Bob Hawke's passing has cast a sad shadow over our nation. Whether you voted for or against him, nobody would deny the contribution that he has made to this country. I pay tribute to all the contributors to this condolence motion on all sides of the House over the last 24 hours. There has been an outpouring of genuine affection and a genuine respect for the contribution that Bob Hawke has made to this country and to this parliament.

I last spent quality time with Bob Hawke up your way, Deputy Speaker McVeigh, at the Woodford Folk Festival where he was a regular attender as a guest of his good mate, Bill Hauritz. On that evening, just after New Year's Eve, a small group of us gathered together for a dinner and some entertainment. Yes, there was plenty of beer flowing, lots of good jokes and plenty of songs. Bob, as he always did when more than two or three people gathered together, took no little urging to burst out in a verse of 'Solidarity Forever'.

I reminded him at the time that I'd had the opportunity of voting for him and his then Labor opposition in my first election, way back in 1983. That time was full of hope for what a Hawke Labor government could do for the country. Even in my wildest dreams, I could not have anticipated the achievements and the challenges that that government confronted over its years in office. They made great strides across all portfolio areas, and he had a great team. Many contributors to this debate have said, 'Yes, Hawke was a great leader and an inspirational Prime Minister, but he had the benefit of leading a great cabinet and a great caucus.'

Most of the speakers have pointed to some of the seminal contributions that the Hawke and Keating Labor governments made to this country, and I just want to single out a few of them. What comes to mind is what was thought of as a great challenge as he came into office: how was he was going to strike a relationship with the then powerful Australian trade union movement to ensure that we could do justice to the working people of this country, ensure that we kept inflation under control and ensure that we could modernise the country? It was the accords struck between the Labor government and the ACTU which were an essential element in that modernisation project.

It is little known to many people who sit in this place on this day that the Medicare that we celebrate was actually a feature of the social wage that was at the heart of the Prices and Incomes Accord. The trade-off for unions in moderating and restraining wage growth was the social wage element of which Medicare was one. In fact, there was a wage offset in one of those early national wage cases under the Hawke and Keating Labor governments, in recognition of the benefits that Medicare was going to flow through to working people and their families. Medicare is a part of our national fabric, but it was not always so. Medicare and its precursor, Medibank, were hotly contested. Today it's the common sense of the nation; back then, it was hotly contested.

Another part of the important social wage was occupational superannuation, and it has been mentioned by a number of Labor speakers previously. Occupational superannuation is now part of the common sense of our nation; it wasn't in the early 1980s. In fact, if you were a manager, a public servant or a male, you were more likely to have occupational superannuation. If you were none of those things, you were most unlikely to have any occupational superannuation and, therefore, very little savings for your retirement. The fact that we now have a pool of occupational superannuation totalling $2.4 trillion is a tribute to the courage, the commitment and the leadership of the Hawke Labor government, in partnership, through the accord process, with the Australian trade union movement. Australians today, whether they know it or not, were the beneficiaries of that great vision under those leaders back in the early eighties.

Under Hawke's leadership, Australia emerged from the economic doldrums of 1983 to be one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. More than 1.6 million jobs were created, inflation was constrained and the massive budget deficits they inherited from the Fraser governments were transformed into record surpluses. The legacy of the Hawke and Keating governments was a modernisation of our economy and a new way of thinking about work in this country.

I want to say a few words about the Hawke government's contribution to the Illawarra. I represent an Illawarra and Southern Highlands based seat—an area where I have spent most of my life. It's a wonderful region, but, during the early 1980s, it was going through some of its great challenges. The steel industry across the country was on its knees and the steelworks at Port Kembla was no different. It was hit by recession, a world oversupply and competition and it was crushed by outdated technology. In 1980, the Broken Hill Proprietary company, BHP, who were then owners of the Port Kembla and Newcastle steelworks, employed in Port Kembla some 20,500 employees. By 1984, the year after I left school—it was the reason I became a lawyer not a boilermaker!—it had shed over 35 per cent of its workforce.

Within a year of the Hawke government coming into office in 1983, the Hawke government secured support for a steel development plan, a comprehensive plan to ensure there was a future for the steel industry and a demand for steel products. But there was also a transformation plan put in place for the workers in the steel industry—a bounty system of over five years that allowed local steel producers to retain between 80 and 90 per cent of the domestic market. The steel industry plan helped create a favourable environment for re-investment in the steel industry. Important investments were made during those early years after the steel industry plan, which have seen the steel industry and the Port Kembla steelworks go on to prosper up to today.

When Bob was asked what he would like to be remembered for, he replied, 'As a bloke who loved his country and still does, and loves Australians and who wasn't changed by his high office.' It's clear to see that Bob loved Australia and Australians loved him. Bob was a legend of our movement but he is also a legend of this country: it is for people like me, who were so inspired by his leadership in those early years of my life in politics, to speak of him in the past tense. We mourn his passing; we celebrate his contribution to this great country. There is a special place in the hearts of every Wollongong boy and every person from the Illawarra for the great contribution he made to our region in listening to and coming to the aid of our region and its heart and soul, the manufacturing workers and the manufacturing industries of the Illawarra, in that difficult period through the 1980s. It's why he continues to be much loved throughout the region, and he will never be forgotten.

After 89 colourful years of life, Hawke's legacy will live on through his life-changing policies and his powerful words of wisdom, which continue to inspire Australians and Australian Labor to this day. I thank the House for the ability to make these contributions to this wonderful debate and to pay tribute to this wonderful man and his contribution to our nation.

Debate adjourned.