Hawke was Bill Shorten’s mentor. Supplied ALP/AAP
The death of Bob Hawke at the age of 89 has united politicians across the spectrum, with tributes to his character and contribution to modern Australia.
Scott Morrison described him as “profoundly Australian” and “a conviction politician who became a political legend”.
“Bob Hawke was a great Australian who led and served our country with passion, courage, and an intellectual horsepower that made our country stronger,” Morrison said.
“He was true to his beliefs in the Labor tradition and defined the politics of his generation and beyond. He was the most electorally-successful federal Labor leader in history: the winner of four successive elections and the longest-serving Labor prime minister.”
Hawke lent his weight strongly to Labor’s election campaign. Earlier this week, an open letter from him to voters declared “Bill Shorten is ready to be Prime Minister of Australia. He will serve our nation well.”
Too frail to attend Labor’s launch, Hawke sent a message of good wishes. Shorten – who told the launch the ALP would win for Hawke and visited him the following day – said on Thursday night: “The Australian people loved Bob because they knew Bob loved them”.
“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.”
Shorten told of seeing Hawke for the last time at his home on Monday May 6. “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.”
Paul Keating said that with Hawke’s passing “the great partnership I enjoyed with him passes too. A partnership we forged with the Australian people.
“But what remains and what will endure from that partnership are the monumental foundations of modern Australia.”
Hawke and Keating – who for years were estranged – joined forces in a campaign intervention to argue the case for Labor’s ability to manage the economy.
In his Thursday night statement Keating said: “In what was our last collaboration, Bob and I were delighted to support Bill Shorten last week in recounting the rationale we employed in opening Australia to the world.
“Bob, of course, was hoping for a Labor victory this weekend. His friends too, were hoping he would see this.
“Bob possessed a moral framework for his important public life, both representing the workers of Australia and more broadly, the country at large.
“He understood that imagination was central to policy-making and never lacked the courage to do what had to be done to turn that imagination into reality.
“And that reality was the reformation of Australia’s economy and society and its place in the world”.
Hawke’s wife Blanche d’Alpuget described her husband as “a great Australian – many would say the greatest Australian of the post-war era”.
“Bob Hawke and Paul Keating and their governments modernised the Australian economy, paving the way for an unprecedented period of recession-free economic growth and job creation,” she said in a statement.
“Bob’s consensus-style approach of bringing together the trade union movement and the business community boosted job opportunities while increasing the social wage through Medicare and extra financial support for low-income families.
“Together with his highly talented cabinets, he foresaw the Asian Century and positioned Australia to take full advantage of it through a program of sweeping economic reforms.
“Among his proudest achievements were large increases in the proportion of children finishing high school, his role in ending apartheid in South Africa, and his successful international campaign to protect Antarctica from mining.
“He abhorred racism and bigotry. His father, the Reverend Clem Hawke, told Bob that if you believed in the Fatherhood of God then you must also believe in the Brotherhood of Man. Bob would add today the Sisterhood of Women.”
d’Alpuget ended her tribute with the poignant words: “The golden bowl is broken”.
Malcolm Turnbull tweeted: “Farewell Bob Hawke a great Australian, Labor leader and reforming Prime Minister. Australia is a better place because of him. Lucy and I send our love and condolences to Blanche and all of his family”.
The Nationals Darren Chester tweeted: “In his own words: Bob Hawke wanted to be remembered as ‘a bloke who loved his country […] and wasn’t essentially changed by high office’. He achieved both. Thoughts with my Labor friends who are hurting tonight. RIP Hawkie.”
Tony Abbott came in for sharp social media criticism for bringing politics into his comment. He described Hawke as “a great prime minister”.
But he said Hawke’s key achievements – financial deregulation, tariff cuts, and privatisation – “went against the Labor grain, as Labor’s more recent policy direction shows. You might almost say he had a Labor heart, but a Liberal head”.
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