MUNGO MacCALLUM. The bodgie.

Bob Hawke did not suffer from false modesty.

He always knew he was the smartest person in the room – and, unlike many egoists, he was usually right, which is saying something, given the stellar ministry over which he presided for most of is time as prime minister.  

His colleagues called him Little Caesar – the cartoonist Patrick Cook invariably portrayed him as lugging a statue of himself wherever he went. But such was his insouciance he simply accepted it as his due, as did so many of the public.

Hawke frequently spoke of his love affair with the Australian people, and the boast was a true one – he loved, and he yearned to be loved back. And by and large he was, and now still is.

And he will be remembered not just with affection, but with deep gratitude for his achievements, which were, like Cook’s statue, monumental. However he was not the founder of modern Australia – the credit for that goes to Gough Whitlam, who dragged the country out of the long twilight of the coalition years.

Whitlam’s huge program of reform covered almost all the bases – health, education, welfare, foreign policy environment, the legal system, consumer protection, urban renewal, Aboriginal rights, women’s rights and human rights in general, communications, the arts .– the list goes on. And perhaps most importantly of all, he laid the framework for the multicultural society that is Australia’s greatest and noblest post-war legacy.

Hawke developed and renewed that agenda after the eight years of Malcolm Fraser, and cemented them into our culture. And he added the crucial piece that Whitlam missed: the economy.

Whitlam had belatedly embarked on a program of tariff cuts, but that was about it: as an issue the economy both mystified and bored him. Hawke and Paul Keating grabbed it with something like delight and moulded it into a completely new image. And for that, they can justly be called the founders of the modern Australian economy, surely a sufficient feat in itself.

But unlike Scott Morrison, Hawke was not a one dimensional obsessive: he was, in his own a way, both a polymorph and a political genius. Which is where I get personal.

Like nearly everyone who knew him, I got on well with Hawke, at least most of the time – he became a bit bristly when criticised. But we drank and yarned together in the old days, shared a love of sport and literature and held similar views about politics. Our major confrontations became later as respective captains of the journalists and politicians teams at the annual cricket match.

But I did not support him in his relentless quest to become prime minister; I thought he was too ego-driven, too erratic too impulsive, and would not work with a team of ministers, some of whom were almost as ambitious as himself.

But I was completely wrong: Hawke became a superb leader in cabinet, and the finest political tactician I have ever met. His big strategies were bold and visionary, but he never sought to emulate Whitlam’s crash through or crash approach: in fact he was the one who had to restrain the over-eager Keating.

Many of his signature policies were bitterly resisted by political insiders, especially the diehards within his own Labor Party, but he persuaded them that they would work, and the public agreed, re-electing him three more times as Prime Minister. This in itself was an abiding legacy – the idea that Labor could be, at least for a time, the natural party of government.

When I left Canberra in 1988, he took me into is inner sanctum for a cup of tea (!!!) and a farewell chat. I think he was genuinely sorry to see me go. And now, I am certainly sorry to say goodbye to him. It is a cliché, but a true one: we will not look upon his like again.


Mungo MacCallum is a veteran political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy.

This entry was posted in Politics, Tributes. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to MUNGO MacCALLUM. The bodgie.

  1. Mungo MacCallum says:

    Jo, I agree with you about both uranium and the Gulf war, which I vigorously opposed at the time. For that matter I argued against floating the currency, which I now think was necessary. I never said he was perfect, but he was a hell of a lot better than the alternatives — Peacock and Howard, not to mention the dreaded Joh. And his status on making Labor not just electable but able to transform the economy can hardly be denied– or, probably, ever bettered. He is worth celebrating. And Rosemary, I do not believe he was sexist. A womaniser, certainly, but I never saw the women object, and I met a lot of them. He loved women — he did not exploit them, and his policies speak for themselves.Not nil nisis, but praise when it i due. Mungo

    • Marcello Milani says:

      Mr MacCallum, I agree with both you and Jo Vallentine re uranium and the Gulf war. I also agree that the floating of the dollar was absolutely necessary. I also think that Hawke is the greatest PM I have seen, or am likely to see, in my lifetime. He truly did revolutionise this country for the good.

      Unfortunately the floating of the dollar was entwined with the neoliberal/Chicago School doctrine which was being pushed by the US (Reagan) and by proxy the UK (Thatcher). The social consequences were, and continue to be, horrific. And counter to Hawke’s intentions, I suspect. Unintended consequences.

      The unfortunate embrace of Friedmanite economics has led to the sorry state in which our society now finds itself. While I would point the finger more at Keating in this regard, Hawke opened the door.

      Having swallowed the neoliberal lie, governments of either stripe continually look for “common wealth” (ie, OUR) assets and services to sell to the already well off in the mistaken belief that “The Market” will do it all better. I think we can all see how well that’s worked.

      It is a perhaps naive but serious question that struck me when Howard decided to sell off Telstra: What kind of idiotic government puts mission critical infrastructure into the hands of private, profit driven hands?!?!?

      And the situation continues to worsen.

      • Rosemary O'Grady says:

        To M. Milani: Your penultimate paragraph is, and shall continue to be – the crucial question conerning national – common – wealth in this lonely continent at the edge of the world.

  2. Richard Ure says:

    If only Kevin 07 had taken some leaves from RJH’s book (I doubt one would have been enough) when it came to working with colleagues

  3. jo Vallentine says:

    Thanks Mungo for your views on Hawke – and I’m so glad that someone has finally brought Whitlam into the picture – you’re absolutely right – he was the one who introduced so many reforms across the board.

    Clever and loved as Hawke was, I feel compelled to point out a couple of issues I had with him ….. I was voted into the Senate in the second of his election victories, because he opened up uranium mining. That was, and still is a major problem which is connected to so many others. He hated me being there, taking up one of the precious red leather seats. I was definitely not one of the many women who idolised him.

    Even worse was his blind following of George Bush snr. into the first Gulf War, swallowing all the lies which led to that utter disaster. In all the adulations flowing following his demise, doesn’t anyone else remember that? Subservience to the U.S Govt. is a huge shadow on our national landscape…… at least Whitlam had a go at challenging that, which I believe was connected to his dismissal.

    He took us into the first Gulf war, following George Bush Snr. and swallowing all the lies which led to that disaster.

    • tasi timor says:

      Hawke recognised Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor in 1985. He didn’t have to. Neither the UN nor the US had done so. In doing so he undermined international law and certainly was not blindly following the US. Nor was he a humanitarian exemplar. This can’t be dismissed as ‘flawed.’ It was a comprehensive failure, one of the worst things done by any post-war Australian Government. He was very badly advised. No wonder those who advised him and now wish to bask in his reflected glow are not keen on confronting this in the media.

    • Rosemary O'Grady says:

      Atta Girl, Jo. Still above-ground I see!!
      You’ve been a Great Contributor.

  4. Rosemary O'Grady says:

    Nil nisi bonum, Mungo, and all that, but…
    Caveat to readers : Lovable as RJH could be, he was, also, very flawed (aka sexist) and all the sentimental above should be read within reach of a handy hyperbowl.

  5. Barry Reynolds says:

    I had the honour of meeting Mr Hawke a couple of times during the 80’s and he always struck me as having three driving forces. Labor, Union and Humanity, not necessarily in that order. Vale RJL Hawke, I dips me lid.

Comments are closed.