It was my great honour to serve as a cabinet minister and Deputy Prime Minister under R J Hawke. He was a courageous, compassionate and disciplined leader who had the great political gift of wanting to be engaged with people, and for Bob, it was always a two-way conversation.
RJH was a leader of the nation, he was an inspiring leader for his Cabinet. No doubt long experience in the executive of the ACTU taught him the importance of listening. In chairing Cabinet meetings every cabinet member felt that they could have their say and be heard. He was not only listening, he was guiding the conversation so that creative points might be picked up and eventually included in his summing up of a debate. You could recognize your voice, even, if your argument was being rejected. He recognized the importance of bringing people with him. In the early summits he was also the consummate chair who gave the participants a sense that they could be part of history of their making. In a small scale by bringing together a such diverse group of people and working with them towards a conclusion, Bob was speaking to the nation about the importance of building a national consensus. I recall being on the national the economic platform committee with Bob prior to coming into government, Ralph Willis and I argued over details, Bob was only really fired about having a reference to the word ‘consensus’ in the preamble.
The Liberals presided over government, but Bob Hawke wanted to create a profoundly democratic process that would enable Ministers working with public servants and community groups to bring about changes that in the long run would build a much stronger nation. Australia needed to move towards a very different economy than the one that had existed in the post war period while not departing from the egalitarian values that defined the Labour movement. Bob, like Curtin presided over a nation in crisis. He inspired in people the confidence that his government was capable of finding solutions to problems no matter so complex and threatening to Australia’s egalitarian values.
RJH was a great Prime Minister because he had foresight, understanding the urgent need to move Australia from a heavily protected industrial economy to the ‘clever country’, one That needed to be more reliant on knowledge and services. His political genius was that he able to preside over such momentous change without increasing inequality.
How was this feat realized? I think it was achieved because in a real sense there was a growing recognition in the government that rather than social policy ,social expenditure being a drag on the economy in the modern economy that were creating the principal element so social policy worked to the long term benefit of the Australian economy Medicare is an important element in social protection , as our sophisticated health system is one of the strength of the Australian economy. By having the vast majority of students complete secondary education and go on to tertiary education cost in terms supporting families but is a great investment in our economy. Similarly doing all that is necessary to enable women to choose paid work gives the nation a gender neutral work force one of this nation’ s strengths.
Bob Hawke as Prime Minister helped to build a modern economy and much more progressive attitudes to social social policy. Bob Hawke showed that in a modern government social policy is an important partner in the overall plan to build a stronger Australia and more equal Australia. He provided a great base from which Bill Shorten as PM can build an even more successful economic and a fairer society
Brian Howe was formerly Deputy Prime Minister to Bob Hawke