Vale Bob Hawke, 1929-2019
A message from Michele O'Neil, ACTU President, on behalf of the Australian Labour movement.
It is with immense sorrow and gratitude that the Australian union movement acknowledges the passing of Bob Hawke.
Bob was a hero to working people – the father of Medicare and a founder of universal superannuation.
Our union movement has enormous pride that a great and respected representative of working people and ACTU President went on to become a loved and legendary Australian Prime Minister.
In his time at the ACTU, Bob was a fierce advocate for working people, presenting arguments at wages tribunals and fighting tirelessly for the rights of working people to organise and bargain.
He was instrumental in the union effort to break the apartheid regime and free Nelson Mandela, led efforts to oppose the Vietnam War and stood against racism and prejudice in all its forms.
As Prime Minister Bob Hawke stopped the Franklin Dam, returned Uluru to traditional owners and protected Antarctica from drilling.
Bob’s work on Australian engagement with Asia, especially the way he helped to bring peace to Cambodia means his enduring legacy is felt far beyond our own shores.
A significant moment of his leadership was his decision to allow Chinese students to remain in Australia permanently after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
Millions of working people owe their health, their prosperity and their dignity in retirement to Bob Hawke’s work.
The entire union family is grieving as are all Australians.
Members of our union family are invited to express their grief and share their memories of Bob at one of these events.
ACT – Memorial this evening at 5pm – UnionsACT, 11 London Circuit, Canberra
NSW – Public floral tributes can be left at Sydney Opera House. Drinks will be held at Trades Hall from 5pm
We will never, ever forget him. Solidarity and vale Bob Hawke.
A statement from Labor party leader, Bill Shorten
The Australian people loved Bob because they knew Bob loved them, this was true to the very end.
With his passing, the labour movement salutes our greatest son, the Labor Party gives thanks for the life of our longest-serving Prime Minister and Australians everywhere remember and honour a man who gave so much to the country and people he cared for so deeply.
In coming days and weeks our nation will give its tribute to a leader and statesman who inspired such profound affection and admiration, such loyalty and love among so many.
We will remember and revisit the images we know so well.
Bob with microphone or megaphone in one hand, the other moving in time with his words, rallying, inspiring and delighting a crowd.
Bob with head cocked, one hand grasping his earlobe, listening respectfully to an Aboriginal elder, a captain of industry, laughing with an American President or charming a local parent out doing their shopping.
Maybe in the stands, eyes fixed on the track, creased and folded form guide in hand, ticking off another winner.
Or in that iconic jacket, mouth open with laughter, dodging the beer and champagne, giving his Prime Ministerial blessing to a national sickie.
Those images will always be with us, the words to accompany them will pour in from across the country and around the world.
But the most powerful and enduring tributes to Bob Hawke are not words or pictures, they are found all around us.
World-class universities, where places are earned on merit not purchased by privilege.
Children from working-class families who finish school. Less than 3 in 10 kids did that when Bob came to office, 8 in 10 when he left.
A modern, outward-looking, competitive economy, built around the principle that working and middle-class people must be fairly rewarded for their efforts.
A system dedicated to the idea that growth is stronger when it is shared, when wages and living standards rise and a generous safety net catches those who fall on hard times.
A country where tourists and locals alike share the wonders of the Daintree, or ride the rapids of the Franklin.
An Australia at home in Asia, a voice heard and respected in the councils of the world.
A country that steps up and plays its part, keeping peace in the Middle East, keeping Antarctica safe for science.
Every Australian carries a monument to Bob Hawke with them, their Medicare card. A green-and-gold promise that the health of any one of us, matters to all of us.
As President of the ACTU, Bob was the champion of unpopular causes:
- The right of unions to organise and bargain.
- Opposing French nuclear testing in the Pacific.
- Opposing the war in Vietnam.
- Opposing Apartheid and defending Nelson Mandela, when conservatives were branding him a terrorist.
He was a leader of conviction – and a builder of consensus. But for Bob, consensus and co-operation never meant pursuing the lowest common denominator.
Bringing the country together never meant presenting people with the soft option, or taking the nation down the low road or the lazy path of least resistance.
Bob and the brilliant cabinet he chaired so assuredly didn’t demand consensus or capitulate to it, they built it: through leadership, through persuasion, through Bob’s special connection with the Australian people that he nurtured and treasured.
After he left politics, Bob’s innate appreciation for Australians’ aspirations made him a wonderful source of advice and inspiration for his successors.
He was always generous with his time, and well into his ninth decade, remained a star performer at every Labor gathering he attended. No night was complete without his rendition of “Solidarity Forever”.
In Australian history, in Australian politics, there will always be B.H. and A.H: Before Hawke and After Hawke.
After Hawke, we were a different country.
A kinder, better, bigger and bolder country.
His brilliant, incomparable partnership with Paul Keating transformed our economy.
His deep friendship and co-operation with Bill Kelty gave us the national Accord and the social wage.
In our region, conscientiously, sensitively and with deep humility, he engaged the leaders and people of Asia.
He knew that Australia’s future depended on making peace with our past, through true and lasting Reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
And he understood the duty we all have to preserve our natural heritage, to protect the environmental treasures we hold on trust for future generations.
Of course, to honour Bob is to pay tribute to Blanche, his chronicler, companion, confidante and champion. Their love for each other shone through everything.
Blanche is in our hearts today, so too are Bob’s children, Sue, Stephen, Rosslyn, his stepson Louis and his grandchildren.
At our Labor launch I told Bob we loved him, I promised we would win for him. I said the same to him the next day at his home, when I visited.
It was Monday 6 May, the Sydney sun was out, that famous silver mane, now snow-white. Cigar in hand, strawberry milkshake on the table, the hefty bulk of his dictionary holding down the day’s cryptic crossword.
I gave the man who inspired me to go into politics a gentle hug, I tried to tell him what he meant to me, what he meant to all of us.
I couldn’t quite find the right words, few of us can, when we’re face-to-face with our heroes.
But Bob knew.
He knew what he meant to Australia, he knew what he had achieved for the country.
He knew he was loved, right to the end.
We honour him.
We will remember him.
In solidarity, forever.
May he rest in peace.