Australia's second-longest serving prime
minister. He enjoyed great popularity as President of the ACTU for ten
years before entering federal politics in 1980. Within three years he
was prime minister and won a Labor record of four terms. His legacy
includes the Accord, resulting in better industrial relations, the
beginning of industry restructuring, and financial deregulation. The
1980s saw a change of direction in the government, resulting in a much
more competitive, outward looking, independent Australia.
Robert James Lee Hawke was born in
Bordertown, South Australia on December 9, 1929. His father was a
clergyman, and the family moved around the country, finally settling in
Subiaco, Western Australia, where Hawke met his wife-to-be, Hazel
Masterson. At university in Perth, he began to take an interest in
politics, not altogether surprisingly as his uncle had been Western
Australian premier from 1953-59. Graduating with a Law degree, Hawke
worked for Vacuum Oil Company before winning a prestigious Rhodes
Scholarship to Oxford University. One of the terms of the scholarship
was that he remain a bachelor, so he and Hazel did not marry until 1956,
having been engaged for six years. They have three children.
At Oxford, Hawke wrote a thesis on
Australia's Conciliation and Arbitration system. In early 1956 he
returned to Australia and took up a research scholarship at the
Australian National University in Canberra, but after two years he
abandoned academic life and became research officer for the Australian
Council of Trade Unions in Melbourne.
In 1963 Hawke unsuccessfully contested
the federal seat of Corio against the popular former Olympic cycling
champion Hubert Opperman. He became president of the Australian Council
of Trade Unions (ACTU) in 1969, and encouraged closer co-operation
between white- and blue-collar unions. Hawke's high profile in the 1972
"It's Time" campaign and his five years as national president
of the Australian Labor Party made him an obvious choice for federal
politics. In 1980 Hawke was elected to federal parliament as member for
the seat of Wills.
The leader of the Labor opposition, Bill
Hayden, appointed him shadow Minister of Industrial Relations, a natural
choice with his ACTU background. In February 1983, just hours before
Malcolm Fraser called for a double dissolution, Hawke replaced Hayden as
leader of the Labor party. In the March 1983 elections, Labor was
returned to power with one of the best majorities ever. This in large
measure can be attributed to Hawke's personal popularity as a successful
trade union leader and a family man. Labor faced a Senate where the
balance of power was held by the Democrats.
One of Hawke's first moves was to halt
the construction of the Franklin River Dam in Tasmania. He also devalued
the Australian dollar to stop the outflow of capital and reduce the
budget deficit. Within five weeks of his election, Hawke presided over
the Summit Conference of business, unions and government
representatives. This non-confrontationist approach in formulating a
national economic strategy held great promise. Hawke's popularity rating
The Accord, the Government agreement with
the unions on prices and incomes, resulted in better industrial
relations and wage restraint. Strike action was halved between 1983-86,
in comparison with the previous twenty-five years, comparing favourably
with the international norm. Medicare was introduced as part of the
Accord agreement. Since it was first formulated, the Accord has evolved
to meet changing pressures on the economy.
In December 1983, treasurer Paul Keating
announced the float of the Australian dollar and the abolition of
exchange controls, which was followed by deregulation of interest rates
and the entry of foreign banks. Hawke and treasurer Keating recognised
that the 1980s internationalisation of the world economy demanded a new
outlook. Industry began a process of restructuring to eliminate
inefficient work practices, and wage rises were linked to greater
productivity. Job losses added to a worsening unemployment situation,
which by 1990 had grown to ten per cent.
The stock market crash in October 1987,
massive depreciation of the floating Australian dollar, and heavy
borrowing all led to a dramatic rise in Australian foreign debt. The
Hawke government sought ways of reducing the budget deficit by
privatising sections of Australian industry. Qantas, Australian Airlines
, Telecom and Australia Post were put on a more commercial footing.
In foreign affairs, Hawke supported the
ANZUS Alliance. He tried to heal the breach between the United States
and New Zealand when the latter refused American nuclear warships entry
into port. Australia's overseas aid fell to its lowest level in twenty
five years. In 1991, Hawke handled Australia's involvement in the Gulf
War with great diplomacy.
Hawke won a record number of terms as
prime minister. In December 1984 he defeated Peacock, but with a reduced
majority. He subsequently won the 1987 election against severe divisions
within the Liberal/National Coalition as well as the 1990 election, even
though Australia was in recession.
After Bob Hawke's triumphant fourth-term
victory there were rumours that he was about to retire and hand over to
Keating, who had been deputy prime minister since April 1990. When he
failed to do so, a leadership challenge became inevitable. On the second
challenge, in December 1991, Hawke was defeated by Keating. He resigned
from parliament in 1992 and has since undertaken current-affairs media
work and published his memoirs.
Bob Hawke was a popular prime minister
who said that he wanted to be remembered as "the larrikin trade
union leader who perhaps had sufficient common sense and intelligence to
tone down his larrikinism and behave in a way that a prime minister
should . . . a bloke, not essentially changed by high office . . . but
who in the end was principally a dinky-di Aussie."