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Wednesday, 3 July 2019
Page: 184


Mr CONROY (Shortland) (17:15): I rise to support this condolence motion on the passing of Bob Hawke—larrikin, leader, legend, one of Australia's most loved sons, one of Labor's most revered figures and one of Australia's greatest prime ministers. In fact, he was Labor's and Australia's greatest peacetime Prime Minister.

Bob Hawke's life spanned almost a century. He was born in December 1929, at the start of the Great Depression, an economic catastrophe which inflicted immense hardship on the people of Australia. He died nine decades later, as Australia was enjoying the longest period of uninterrupted growth of any advanced economy, thanks to the reforms he introduced as Prime Minister. Over the span of Bob's life, the country experienced extraordinary events—wars and military conflicts, political crises, and economic booms and busts—and went through tremendous social, technological, cultural and political changes. From his early days as a trade union advocate to his time as Prime Minister and his later years as a Labor stalwart and elder statesman, Bob Hawke was at the centre of so many of these events and was responsible for so many of the changes.

The catalogue of his reforms, the list of his achievements, is long and it is far reaching: modernising and internationalising the Australian economy, unlocking its potential and underwriting three decades of prosperity; reorienting the nation from its past as a far-flung part of the British Empire to its future as a confident, outward-looking nation playing a leading role in the Asia-Pacific region; building the Australian social safety net, from Medicare to occupational superannuation and from fair wages and working conditions to accessible higher education; and creating a tolerant, open and diverse society through equal rights for women, support for a multicultural community, human rights and antidiscrimination legislation, and starting the process of reconciliation with Indigenous Australians. Other speakers in this House have reflected on these reforms in more detail. I want to reflect on the fact that many people have been claiming the legacy of Bob Hawke, but most of these reforms were not bipartisan, I'm sad to say. Many of them were hard fought and were only secured through great political skill and courage and cemented through winning four elections.

I'd now like to focus briefly on an aspect of the Hawke legacy which is sometimes overlooked, and that's his role in building an independent Australian defence and strategic posture. Under Bob Hawke's prime ministership, the then defence minister, Kim Beazley, conducted a far-reaching review of Australia's defence structure and capabilities. This led to the Hawke government's seminal 1987 white paper entitled The defence of Australia. The white paper laid out a fundamental strategic objective of defence self-reliance within the framework of the ANZUS alliance and Australia's regional associations. It also developed the strategic concept of defence in depth and, as Allan Gyngell has written, made the case for a more regionally engaged Australian focus on South-East Asia and the South Pacific. The Hawke government also commissioned the Cooksey review of defence industry, which resulted in reforms to improve Australian industry capabilities and alignment with strategic defence planning. This was seminal work that represented a break with the past in terms of Australia's defence planning and was another great legacy of the Hawke government.

Another one I'd like to mention briefly is his recognition of building political support for economic reforms. Bob understood that to make difficult reforms like dismantling protectionism, restructuring industries and opening up the economy he had to bring the workforce along. Intrinsic to this was his empathy with working people. This allowed him to articulate and explain the economic reforms and to work in partnership with the unions, the workforce and the wider community in implementing and delivering this reform. This was vital. To be fair, and without any disrespect, the stance of the opposition of the day on tariff reforms, on industry restructuring, didn't matter; what mattered was the attitude of the workforce, because ultimately they were the ones who bore the pain of this very necessary structural adjustment. The legacy and the signature approach of Bob Hawke in building consensus and taking the workforce and unions along were essential in carrying forward these reforms.

Bob Hawke's presence in modern Australia went beyond the many important achievements and historic reforms. With his gregarious personality, his irreverent wit, his sharp intelligence and his passionate and generous spirit, he embodied and personified the Australian character. Bob has been a huge inspiration in my own political development, as he has been for almost every member on this side of the parliament. I was lucky enough to first meet Bob in 1986 when he came to open the Mooney Mooney Bridge on the Pacific Highway on the New South Wales Central Coast. Anyone who drives the Pacific Motorway knows the Mooney Mooney Bridge, the 'big dipper'. My parents were staunch Labor supporters and took me to the event. I was seven years old. I was standing on the bridge and I was thrilled to get the Prime Minister's autograph.

Now that Bob has passed, I wish to extend my condolences to Blanche, Susan, Stephen, Rosslyn, Louis and the rest of Bob's family and friends, and acknowledge the role of the late Hazel Hawke. The nation has lost a leader, a reformer, a statesman and a great citizen. His family have lost a husband, a father, a grandfather and a loved one. We thank them for the support they gave to allow Bob to make such a contribution to the public life of this nation.