A Hawke perspective on politics


Last Friday, the nation’s leaders past and present gave Australia’s longest serving Labor prime minister a monumental and deserving sendoff. At the invitation of the Hawke family, our current Prime Minister Scott Morrison set a tone worthy of Hawke’s contribution as a unifier of the nation.

Morrison said: “Today we will rightly honour his many achievements for our economy, for our security, for Indigenous Australians, for our society and Australia’s place in the world.” The PM continued, “as a Liberal, I am honoured to acknowledge these achievements, as I know others would be”.

Adorning the state funeral with their presence, were five former prime ministers. Australia’s second-longest serving PM, John Howard was among them. Howard pipped Hawke for the title because his Treasurer Peter Costello, unlike Hawke’ nemesis Paul Keating, refrained from challenging him for the top job in his third or even fourth term. And athough Howard lost his last election and his own seat, he is a much revered Liberal icon. His view of Hawke is that he is indeed the greatest Labor prime minister we have ever had.

Former Labor leader, Kim Beazley, gave the eulogy and spoke of Hawke as his mentor and friend, few doubt he was a father figure to the now West Australian governor. But Beazley says our wartime Labor Prime Minister John Curtin was considered by Hawke to have been our greatest national leader.

It is 36 years since Bob Hawke wrested government from the Malcom Fraser Liberals so it is not surprising that old enmities have faded. Marc Antony, in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, immortally said, “the evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones”. In the context of the play these words were spoken in irony. Last Friday, Scott Morrison came “to praise Hawke and not to bury him” to turn the famous Bard’s words on their head.

I think it is generally true that when we look back we tend to forget the near misses – the tight election wins, the stuff-ups and the messiness that is entailed in holding power in a democracy with a hotly contested parliament. And on that point two men, one Liberal and one Labor, who lost “unlosable elections” – John Hewson in 1993 and Bill Shorten this year – could regret not learning from the way Hawke won power after his party being in the wilderness for nearly nine years.

Hawke in 1983 promised Medicare, a summit to unite the nation and tax cuts. He certainly didn’t scare the horses with a “great big tax agenda”.

Bill Hayden, the Labor leader deposed at the eleventh hour by Hawke bitterly lamented, “a drover’s dog” could’ve won that election. Much the same sentiment was abroad in the run-up to the May 18 boilover. But even someone as charismatic and as popular as Hawke was not game enough to tempt fate in the way Shorten and Hewson did.

Vale Bob Hawke.

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