CONDOLENCE MOTION – HON ROBERT JAMES HAWKE AC

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (15:59): I join so many in this place, across both sides of the chamber, in paying my respects to the memory of the Hon. Robert James Lee Hawke AC and acknowledge the tremendous outpouring of both grief and joy that we experienced at the Sydney Opera House at his memorial service. In many ways, Bob Hawke's political life, and particularly his prime ministership and his time leading this country, reflects so many of the significant moments in my own life. Indeed, the 1983 election, when he was elected, was my first federal election to vote in. I'd just missed the 1980 election by a month. I'm sure my vote would have made a huge difference to Labor's cause at the 1980 election! However, I was very pleased that my first election, being the '83 election, saw the Hawke government take federal power and, more importantly, bring in a really important agenda that was about taking our nation to its potential. I think that was reflected not only in the economic, the international and the social areas but also in a really important conversation we had as a nation about what our future was. To be able to do that requires the leadership that so many people in this place have expressed, and trust, because they know that the leader understands them and that he epitomises their hopes. I think that's very much what Bob Hawke did. It was the case that so many of those changes were not easy. Looking back, it is easy to say that it was obvious and that they were the sorts of reforms that needed to happen, but at the same time they were not easy reforms, both within our own party and movement and within the national debate. It was certainly the case for me, at that point still a university student and newly married. It was tremendous to see a Labor government take that federal election.

Of course, he was re-elected in '84 and, by then, I had my first son, and then he was re-elected in 1990, when I had my second son, so his prime ministership encompassed a very significant part of my adult life. I have to say that, when I was born, I'm pretty certain no bible fell open at any significant passage, so, when I voted in March 1983 as a uni student and young adult, I little imagined that I would have the great honour, through my own community, of standing in this parliament today acknowledging the enormous contribution that Bob Hawke made to this nation.

It is the case that Bob's government made significant and massive reforms that established this country for a long-term future of prosperity and fairness. Those two things, which my colleagues have talked about, have been profoundly important for all of us as we, as legislators, deal with the issues that face us. They have been well canvassed. Recognising that so many of my colleagues want to speak in this debate, I just want to use the opportunity to acknowledge the legacy of, in particular—as my colleague the member for Richmond talked about—education, which I am very passionate about. I want to use the opportunity to put on the record the great love and affection that my own region had for Bob and the great commitment that he gave us consistently. As a trade union leader, he was very conscious of a region like mine and was very supportive of us as we have, in particular, mining and steel industries, in which he was significantly involved. But also, as Prime Minister, his great engagement and love of the Illawarra was very much obvious.

Like for so many in this place, Bob Hawke came and campaigned with me.

It's hard to believe, when you listen to all the contributions, that there was only one man. It's hard to believe that there was a campaign by any of my colleagues in this place—probably only on this side of the House, to be fair—that Bob wasn't involved in. It's just an extraordinary thing. Our former leaders very often continue to support their party in that way but the extent of what Bob did is just an extraordinary reflection of the fact he was Labor to his bootstraps. His love of the labour movement was profound. Whenever there was a call, right up to his very latest years, he was out there campaigning.

Certainly for me in 2004 and the by-election in 2002, he came and he did the great—as everyone has put on the record—walk through the shopping centre, getting mobbed by people, taking the time to shake hands, to talk to everybody who wanted to talk to him, do photos and all of those sorts of things, because Bob loved being amongst the people and he loved being there promoting Labor values and Labor candidates. He certainly did that for me. He did laugh and he would often say—because I was always quite overwhelmed and appreciative that a former Prime Minister came to help me along—'Of course a Hawke would come and help a Bird.' He had that slightly dad joke with me on all those occasions.

We really appreciated the support that he gave, but the community just reflected what so many have described as that great love affair that Australia had with Bob. Even years after he left parliament people would flock to talk to him. I just really want to record my personal appreciation for that. But in his great love for the Labor movement he also did that with the rank-and-file members. Members across both sides of the House would know about those dedicated volunteers. People like to be cynical about politics but when you meet the rank-and-file members of the parties who are dedicated to the values, dreams and aspirations that you're trying to pursue and don't get anything out of it other than what they hope is something better for their community and their family, they're really amazing people.

Bob did the same for them in my area as well. I commented to my local media that I reckon there wouldn't be a Labor party member in my area who didn't have a photo with Bob Hawke, because whenever he was there he took the time to thank them for their support and efforts on behalf of the labour movement. I would like to use the last little bit of time to share some of their reflections, because I feel that this moment is as much theirs as it is mine as their representative. Chris Lacey is the president of the Thirroul branch. The Thirroul branch had its hundredth-anniversary dinner, and Bob Hawke came down and was the guest speaker. We had the obligatory singing of 'Solidarity Forever' but he didn't just pop in, do a speech, sing a song, thank everybody and head back to Sydney; he stayed, signed books, shook hands and took photos. Chris says:

Throughout his long life, Bob Hawke always had strong connections to Illawarra workers. His government saved the steel industry and played an important role in shaping modern multicultural Australia. In Thirroul we remember his involvement in our centenary celebration as a Labor branch and his memorably leading a rousing rendition of Solidarity forever.

Gino Mandarino, who is secretary of the Wollongong branch, said:

I first met him 32 years ago and numerous times over those decades. Bob inspired my interest in politics and public policy. He exemplified Bagehot's view of great prime ministers as men of commonplace opinions and uncommon administrative abilities. Bob Hawke was the best of the best, and like Whitlam and Wran, Labor leaders of the modern era, he now joins them of belonging to the ages.

Leighanne Hunt, who is secretary of the Port Kembla branch, said that Bob Hawke is the very definition of a conviction leader.

Jess Malcolm-Roberts, secretary of Balgownie branch, said:

Bob Hawke didn't beat around the bush or pretend he was something he wasn't. Even though people might not have agreed with his position, they respected him for being genuine and it is this that Australians value the most. His policies shaped Australia into what it is today, bringing in many of the essential reforms my generation takes for granted. The Labor movement and all Australians are fortunate for having had him as our PM.

Dr Rowena Ivers, of the Thirroul branch, said, 'Thanks to Bob for Medicare—the gift that keeps on giving.’

I extend, as have so many in this place, my deepest condolences to Blanche, to all Bob's family and to his very many millions of friends around the country, so many of whom live in the Illawarra, and also pay respect to the great partnership he had with Hazel Hawke in that enormous period of leadership for our nation. I recognise Hazel's role in that. My deepest condolences: we are all so much better off for the life of Bob Hawke.

Watch Sharon’s speech here.