Both popular and a politician, Labor warrior Bob Hawke lived a life marked by success and drama. Explore the life and times of Australia’s 23rd prime minister through quotes.
Bob Hawke on the America’s Cup, booze, love and infidelity
Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum.
The 1983 America’s Cup victory became one of the defining moments of Bob Hawke’s time in the Lodge.
He was in Perth when Alan Bond’s Australia II broke America’s 132-year stranglehold on the Cup, and promptly declared a national holiday.
Of his famous “bum” quip, Mr Hawke later joked: “I’m very proud of it in one way [and] very disappointed that all the other, many brilliant things I’ve said are never mentioned.
“What’s the most brilliant thing Hawkie ever said? It’s the ‘bum’ one.”
For Mr Hawke, the victory was more than a magnificent sporting achievement, but a symbol of a time when Australia came of age.
“America was the leading technological nation in the world and this was one of the things I loved — here was little Australia popping up with [winged keel designer] Ben Lexcen’s new technology and knocking the buggers off,” he said.
If this was 11 years ago, I’d be getting pretty thoroughly drunk but fortunately for me and even more fortunately for others that is 11 years ago, and the only beer that will be passing my lips will be the totally non-alcoholic variety.
Bob Hawke’s political success and consensus style largely kept his ambitious treasurer Paul Keating in check. The pair combined in their pursuit of economic reform — floating the Australian dollar, dismantling tariffs, and deregulating the banking system.
In 1988, the pair would agree on a pact — known as the Kirribilli agreement — for a leadership transition after the 1990 election.
But continued leadership tension inevitably unravelled their partnership.
In 1991, on his second attempt, Mr Keating successfully challenged Mr Hawke for the Labor leadership and brought an end to the Hawke reign.
The speech that came back to haunt him
By 1990, no Australian child will be living in poverty.
Mr Hawke went off script when he made this now-infamous campaign pledge.
Twenty years later, he told News Limited newspapers he regretted what was “a silly shorthand thing”.
“I should have just said what was in the distributed speech,” he said.
What Mr Hawke was meant to say was: “By 1990, no Australian child need live in poverty.”
On why he decided to float the Australian dollar
We had this crazy business of the secretary of the treasury, the secretary of the prime minister’s department and the governor of the Reserve Bank sitting down deciding what the exchange rate would be. Now, this is crazy.
On December 12, 1983, the Hawke government floated the Australian dollar.
Instead of the Reserve Bank, in consultation with the government, determining its value, the international money market would set the exchange rate.
The decision meant the government gained control of its monetary system, and opened up Australia’s economy and financial system to international forces.
As RBA governor Glenn Stevens said in a speech marking the 30th anniversary of the float, it was a profound decision — part of a recognition that Australia was part of a wider world, and that we had to reform our own policy and economic frameworks in order to have the sort of prosperity that we wanted as a society.
The previous Olympics, for instance, you have the Brits getting up, they win a medal — they do win one occasionally — and up goes God Save The Queen, and then Australia gets up and it’s the same anthem — now, that’s crazy.
Advance Australia Fair was composed in the late 19th century but it was not until 1984, on the recommendation of the Hawke government, that it was officially adopted as the Australian national anthem.
Gough Whitlam’s government started the push for a new national song and it regarded Advance Australia Fair primarily as the national anthem.
But Whitlam’s dismissal in 1975 saw the Fraser government reinstate God Save the Queen.
In April 1984, after further debate, including a 1977 referendum, a modified, two-verse version of Advance Australia Fair was proclaimed by the governor-general.
At the same time Mr Hawke declared Australia’s sporting colours — green and gold — should be officially recognised as our national colours.
You’re not improving are you? I’d thought you’d make a better start to the year than that. It’s a ridiculous question, and you know it’s ridiculous. I have no blood on my hands. I was not involved in the discussions that Bill Hayden’s fellow leaders had with him. I hope the standard of your questioning improves.
“Could I ask you whether you feel a little embarrassed tonight at the blood that is on your hands?”
That is the question interviewer Richard Carleton put to Mr Hawke in their famous encounter in the wake of Bill Hayden’s resignation as Labor leader.
Mr Hawke’s response was incredulous, but Carleton continued to press the Labor leader, asking: “How do you expect the electorate to believe you were not party to the plotting going on over the past fortnight?”
A leader no-one could ignore
In Bob Hawke — 23rd prime minister, true moderniser and Labor giant — Australia found a political leader the likes of which we’d never seen before.
Hawke fired back: ‘If it’s a question of the electorate having to believe between your stupidity in such a question like that and my integrity I have no doubt where their belief will fall. I had no knowledge of any meeting this morning. I had an indication yesterday that perhaps by the end of this week Mr Hayden may make a decision.
“When I went into that executive this morning I had no knowledge whatsoever that he was making his decision. You can sit there with your silly quizzical face — you’ve got a reputation right around this country — yeah, it’s looking better still — you’ve got a reputation for your impertinence, your refusal to accept people at their face value, to try and ridicule the integrity of people.
“Now I don’t mind my integrity being on the line against yours.”
The essence of power is the knowledge that what you do is going to have an effect, not just an immediate but perhaps a lifelong effect, on the happiness and wellbeing of millions of people and so I think the essence of power is to be conscious of what it can mean for others.
From an early age Mr Hawke’s family, particularly his mother, believed he was destined to lead the country.
And in 1983, Ellie Hawke’s belief that her son would one day become prime minister was proven to be true.
Mr Hawke swept to power on a wave of popular support — the only prime minister elected without having sat in parliament as the leader of the opposition.
His relationship with his father
I just loved him and he loved me.
Mr Hawke described his bond with his father as “remarkable”.
“He was a most humble man, the most decent man I’ve ever met in my life, and he always looked for the best in people to find positives,” he said of his father, a congressional minister.
“And he said something to me that always remained with me. He said if you believe in the fatherhood of God you must necessarily believe in the brotherhood of man, it follows necessarily. And even though I left the church and was not religious, that truth remained with me.”
In a happy coincidence, Mr Hawke was elected as prime minister on his father’s 85th birthday.
“I just said to myself, ‘If you’re going to become prime minister of this country you can’t afford ever to be in a position where you can make a fool of yourself or of your country’, and I never had a drop for the whole period I was in parliament.
Mr Hawke’s capacity for drinking was vast. After all, he entered the world record books upon sinking a yard glass of beer in under 12 seconds during his time at Oxford University.
But while his drinking may have endeared him to a nation with a strong beer culture, it threatened to derail his political ambitions.
As prime minister for almost nine years, Bob Hawke brought in major economic and environmental reforms that endure to this day.
In 1980, while still at the ACTU, Mr Hawke decided to give up the grog cold turkey.
“I stopped, and I did it at a time which when I knew it would really test me,” he recalled.
“I was at the ACTU still and I used to go each year to Geneva for the month of June which was the annual conference of the ILO [International Labour Organisation] and you know, really worked hard but I also played hard. And I got off a plane at Geneva and my friends were there to see me when I arrived,” he said.
“A couple of them said, ‘Let’s go and have a drink’. I said ‘I’m not drinking’ and the look of absolute unbelief on their face — but I knew if I could get through that month there I’d be right.”
Mr Hawke would take up drinking again in his post-parliament days, but never to the same excess.
The only significant other woman in my life while I was prime minister was Blanche, the only significant one. Once you fall in love, which I had with Blanche … that involves falling out of love with your wife. This is not something to be apologetic about.
In 1989, Mr Hawke admitted in a television interview to being unfaithful to his then wife of 33 years, Hazel.
Asked by interviewer Clive Robertson about accusations of being a womaniser and what that meant, Mr Hawke replied:
“They mean that I wasn’t faithful to my wife.”
Asked if that was true, he replied: “Yes”.
Mr Hawke would go on to describe Hazel as an incredible woman, who “understood it was part of a pretty exuberant, volatile character”.
He would divorce Hazel in 1995, and marry his biographer Blanche d’Alpuget later that same year.
Years later he would again openly discuss his infidelity in an interview with the ABC’s Kerry O’Brien.
He described how it “wasn’t easy” to conduct affairs while in public office, but he had “staff and security people and so on who were dedicated to me”.