Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 3 July 2019
Page: 192


Ms CHESTERS (Bendigo) (17:54): No-one could sing 'Solidarity Forever' like Bob Hawke. Many of us on this side of the chamber can remember this from going to an ACTU event or a Labor event. It didn't matter who spoke that night or that day. In the moment when Bob stood up and sang 'Solidarity Forever', he was the star of the show. There was an ACTU dinner one year where we recognised Bill Kelty for his fantastic contribution. He spoke, as Bill does, for quite some time about the great challenge for the labour movement and the great challenge for Labor. Paul Keating also spoke and, again, spoke for a very long time, as Paul is known to do, about the great challenge for the labour movement and the great challenge for Labor. Like always, it was Bob who stole the show with the way he sang 'Solidarity Forever', the way it lifts the room up and the way in which it reminded all of us of the hope, the aspiration and the solidarity that he had and lived each and every day of his life.

Bob, as we have heard today, influenced many, particularly on my side of politics. He had a way of connecting with people that really made them feel included and inspired. My electorate of Bendigo had the great privilege and pleasure to meet with Bob on many occasions. When Bob became Prime Minister, John Brumby was the federal member for Bendigo. He held the seat for a number of years. Back then and still today, Bendigo is considered a marginal seat. Bob visited Bendigo many times. On his passing during the election campaign, I was stopped many times at early voting centres with people telling me their story of Bob, such as Bob walking down Hargreaves Mall and just stopping to have a yarn and chat. People would be saying: 'My God, there goes Bob Hawke. He just spoke to me. Bob Hawke spoke to me.' It would be talked about for weeks on end when he visited.

Fabian Reid, the former chief of staff to John Brumby, refers to Bob Hawke's visits to Bendigo as being like a 'visit from a rock star'. He said they just had to mention it to one person and, before you knew it, thousands knew about it. He recalled ALP members falling over themselves to host events at their own houses and at their own workplaces. From the moment they heard that Bob was coming to town, it was hard to turn people away and it was hard to say no, because everybody wanted to meet Bob and to host Bob. Fundraisers that were sometimes supposed to be small gatherings—you might invite local businesses along or local health and community leaders along—turned into bigger events once you mentioned that Bob Hawke was coming. Fabian recalled one fundraiser where they were struggling to get numbers. It was close to the election. Bob agreed to come, and it sold out within minutes. It's that kind of influence that he had, particularly in regional communities.

He visited Bendigo on a number of occasions. He drew big crowds, but he also went to our smaller towns in the region. He didn't miss an opportunity to engage with everyone. He spent time in Maldon, and he spent time in Castlemaine. When the seat went north to what we would call 'Tiger country', he also ventured north. His ability to connect with people in the regions was just as strong. Even though our primary vote in some of these areas was as little as 20 per cent, it was like they forgot for a moment that they might not have been Labor inclined. That was because Bob was in town. They really connected with his values, with his ideas and with him because he was Prime Minister. It is has often been reflected in Bendigo that we haven't had a Prime Minister since Bob Hawke spending so much time in our electorate. He really understood the regions and spent the time there. John Brumby would probably say that it was because he was a great advocate. But it was more the fact that Bob really understood that if you really want to represent the people you need to know the people and you need to be on the ground.

During his prime ministership, as we know, a lot of his key reforms really did help the people of my electorate. Today we're going through our own Medicare crisis. The doctors, once again, have closed their books. We have a shortage of GPs. That's largely because of what is happening to Medicare and Medicare payments. They're losing their bulk-billing incentives because Bendigo has been removed from the regional districts of workforce shortage list, and having to charge gap fees means they lose bulk-billing payments that are incurred with that. People are paying more and more today than they ever have to access GP services—if they can get into a GP. With the passing of Bob, we're reminded that we need to continue the campaign at a local level to ensure that Medicare survives, that we see the investment that's required to ensure that, regardless of where they live, no kid, no grandparent, no pensioner, no worker is denied access to a GP when they need one.

I can remember one person telling me a story, and he said: 'Look, it must've been after he was no longer Prime Minister, because Bob still made trips to Bendigo to support candidates. We were walking down the street and we were having a bit of a party, and we said: "Oi, Bob! You want a beer?" And he said, "Yes, I'd love one mate!"' This person was reflecting on it, saying, 'It must've been after he was Prime Minister, because I'm pretty sure he didn't drink while he was Prime Minister.' I think that was the strength of Bob: he continued to campaign in the same way after he was no longer Prime Minister as he did before he was Prime Minister and while he was Prime Minister.

He had some great advice for all of us new MPs in 2013. Many of my colleagues here will remember the dinner we had where we all got the opportunity to meet Bob. I was really keen to talk to Bob about apartheid, his meeting Nelson Mandela and the other great things he had done in his career. The first thing he said to me was: 'Bendigo; that's a tough seat for us. Are you doing your street stalls? Doorknocking's important.' He wanted to make sure that I was doing the work on the ground that I needed to do to continue to be the federal member for Bendigo. 'All politics is local,' he said. That's something that John Brumby also said to me, after I was preselected. And he said, 'They're not my words, they're Bob's words.' So Bob has continued to have an influence on the generations of candidates that have come through since.

Another person who wanted to share their story about Bob talked about the time when he tried to come to Bendigo—well, he did come to Bendigo, but he was delayed because of a broken-down tram. He was stuck for two hours. There was this big crowd waiting for Bob, but people didn't disappear; the crowd just kept growing. 'He's going to get here. He'll be here.' The story in the media ended up being about Bob Hawke and the broken-down tram, telling the story about why he was late. But the real story should've been that an event that was supposed to have 50 people ended up having 500 people because during the two-hour delay more people found out he was on his way.

One of the big things that many of us also reflected on, particularly people of my generation—I confess that I just fit into gen Y—is that Bob Hawke is the first Prime Minister we can remember as kids. We fondly remember the leadership he took around Tiananmen Square as part of those early political memories that kids have. To be at primary school, to be at secondary school and to see the leadership that he took on a lot of social reforms, those are things you value and learn from, as children and as young adults, and reflect upon later in life. He brought so much of value to the role of Prime Minister and to our country. He didn't compromise on racism, he didn't compromise on equality, and he consistently campaigned to ensure that was at the forefront of all he did—even when it was considered unpopular.

Finally, I'd like to make a few remarks on his role in the great trade union movement. It is a hard role to be the secretary, to be the president, to be an official of the ACTU at any time—just ask today's leaders—particularly when you have a dogged government that is going after your ability to organise and your ability to represent workers. But he stood up to that and always spoke to the value of representation, and to the value of workers having a say in their workplace, to justice and fairness.

Those skills that he had in the ACTU really saw the elevation of the union movement and of the ACTU. He is, and continues to be, a much-loved figure of the union movement because he managed to do what so many others before and after have not been able to do: be a true Labor leader and a Labor union leader, bring those values of unionism into this place and encourage all Australians to embrace them. Never did he waver from that conviction. Never did he say or believe or advocate that 'union' was a dirty word, that we needed to look at the role that unions played in modern Australia. And we all remember one of the first acts he did as Prime Minister was to bring unions and industry together.

Now, there are mixed views about the role of the accord and what that did for working people in Australia. There are some people in the union movement who said that unions became lazy once the accord came in. Maybe it wasn't the best strategic move. But what I recall, and what a lot of workers recall, is that it gave them a decent wage. It give working people—cleaners, security guards, people in award based industries—a decent pay and it gave them regular pay rises and the opportunity to start to organise and to build respect in their workplace.

He has so many lasting values and legacies that all of us will remember, but, for the people of Bendigo, it's his character that people reflect on the most: the fact that he made politics and parliament inclusive; the fact that he was willing to walk down the mall, have a chat, share a story; the fact that he could inspire people just by a conversation. He took the time to go to Maldon. He took the time to go to Castlemaine. Like no other Prime Minister before and after, he really did speak up and care for people in the regions, particularly the people in Bendigo.