Condolence Motion – Hon. R.J.L Hawke

In Parliament, Motions

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:09): I rise to associate myself with the remarks made by previous speakers and support this motion of condolence for former Prime Minister Bob Hawke. As a member of generation X, Bob was my first prime minister, the first one I really remember. All I remembered of Malcolm Fraser was that his wife was called Tamie, and I was at quick pains to point out that it was spelt very differently, and a very different Tamie. 

Bob Hawke was my first prime minister. I was a generation X child growing up with the threat of a nuclear winter and global warming. It was little surprise then that one of the things I remember best of my first prime minister is his work on the environment, taking the lead and using the instrument of section 52 of our constitution, that external affairs power, regarding the decision of the High Court in the Franklin Dam case in 1983. 

Although those states had control over their land matters, when Australia became party to international agreements for environmental protection, commonwealth law could override state law. It is not often that I welcome that these days. Certainly the enactment of the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act 1983, giving the commonwealth responsibility for all the places listed as world heritage areas and the government moving for world heritage listing of both Tasmania’s forests and of course those rainforests in North Queensland, was something that I thought was a mark of great leadership. 

To me, Bob Hawke was the prime minister who championed the Sex Discrimination Act. As a teenager I watched those debates and realised that often truth is the first casualty in parliamentary debates. There were ridiculous stories of workers and what would happen should we have equality between the sexes in our workplaces that would unfold and were portrayed in our national parliament. I remember the minister for the status of woman, Susan Ryan, and her fortitude. I remember the development of things such as the national agenda for women, the affirmative action agency and, of course, the passage of that Sex Discrimination Act in 1984. 

I particularly remember that Bob Hawke talked about treaty. We did hear it on the radio, we did see it on the television, we thought it was actually going to happen but, of course, we are still waiting for treaty. Back then, in 1989, the department for Aboriginal affairs was replaced with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC). Heady days that I hope we see again. 

Thirty years ago to this very day I remember, as many people across the country who were alive then would, Bob Hawke shedding a tear at the human rights atrocities that were taking place in Tiananmen Square. For weeks we had witnessed massive rallies of people in both Beijing and Shanghai and we had heard their call for democratic reform. We were inspired by their idealism and courage and Bob Hawke, our prime minister, called on the Chinese government to withdraw their troops from that deployment against those unarmed civilians, to respect the will of its people, stating quite profoundly that ‘to crush the spirit and body of youth is to crush the very future of China itself’. 

He backed those words and those tears with real action, offering over 20,000 humanitarian visas to Chinese students who were then living in Australia. The families of those students were also invited here where we do indeed, for those who come across the seas, have boundless plains to share. Cabinet papers tell us that that decision was made without consultation to cabinet. He made that decision because it was the right thing to do and he made that decision with the backing of this nation. 

I do not have a personal experience of meeting Bob Hawke, but he certainly did once ruin my school excursion. Back in 1983, when Bob Hawke became leader just as Malcolm Fraser called an election, my school had already booked in to go to Canberra to visit Parliament House. Shortly after that, on the day that the Hawke government was in fact sitting for their first day in parliament, our class duly arrived—as we had been preparing for many weeks by that point; certainly it had been planned prior to the election being called—and we were told, ‘I’m sorry, there is not enough space for you all here; some of you will have to go to the National Art Gallery instead, but some of you we can fit in a small space up here and you have to be very quiet because all of the new ministers are being sworn in today and it’s a very exciting day and they have all brought their families.’ 

So we were split into half and, quite honestly, I wanted to go to the National Art Gallery but somehow I ended up seeing Bob Hawke’s first day as prime minister of the nation. I remember being very high up, very far away, and I know it was only the old Parliament House but I remember thinking he was a very short man, as I am sure many people did over time, but that shortness of stature belied his bigness of heart. 

We were proud as a school because our local member for Kingsford Smith, Lionel Bowen, had just become the deputy prime minister—a great day for us. Back then, the nuclear disarmament movement was just starting to kick off and the later member for Kingsford Smith, Peter Garrett, who at that time was a member of the Nuclear Disarmament Party, had also given us great pride in the months to come under that Hawke era. 

I also remember quite vividly the partnership of Bob and Hazel. Hazel Hawke was the first prime minister’s wife that I remember, other than denying that Tamie Fraser was any relation to me, as would often be the charge. I recall the sacrifices of Hazel, the family that suffered with a daughter with drug addiction, that suffered in the public eye, that stood against racism, that stood for working people, that stood for what was fair and right, that stood in support of Nelson Mandela when he was labelled a terrorist, when he was not supported by groups like Amnesty International, and that stood with courage. 

I remember Hazel’s fortitude and courage and her sacrifice. One particular sacrifice that Hazel has recorded in her memoirs, and that was a passionate concern for her, was that she become very much a pro-choice advocate. In 1952, Hazel had an abortion so that Bob could go on to be a Rhodes scholar. At that time, the criteria required that he be unwed to be a Rhodes scholar, so they chose not to have that child at that point and to marry later so that Bob could fulfil some of his dreams and ambitions. 

Bob’s ambitions, dreams and achievements were well recorded later in life by the great love of his life, Blanche d’Alpuget, as well. We remember so many things about Bob: the Guinness world record beer drinking; the loud jackets and the telling people, which again was of great excitement at my school, that any boss who sacks someone for not turning up to work today is a bum. My school took that quite literally to heart: we refused to study that day, much to our teachers’ chagrin, but the lessons he taught us were to have the courage of our convictions, to have that compassion and to not crush our youth. 

I have often talked in this place about the moment Bob Hawke talked about no child need live in poverty in this country. Yes, he went off record and he paid a price for that. He often said that he wished he had stuck to the script, which of course was that no child need live in poverty, but the greater hope is that no child should live in poverty, and that was the greatness of Bob Hawke. 

I am sure he gave Hazel many headaches and I am sure that is why she actually ended up advertising those particular tablets later in life, and we trusted that Hazel had had many headaches. He was the larrikin leader, but he also, along with those headaches, gave us a lot of hope, and I hope that sort of hope comes back to the leadership we have in this country some time soon.