News National Vale Bob Hawke, the chairman Australia needed
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Vale Bob Hawke, the chairman Australia needed

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Keating drove the reforms, but Hawke was the chairman who enabled policy to become reality. Photo: Getty
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As one bank CEO told me, you could go into a meeting with Bob Hawke wanting one thing, all fired up, and come out doing what he wanted you to, thinking it was your idea.

That was a key part of what made Hawke a great prime minister.

He was the consummate chairman, across the issues, able to build consensus and ultimately able to lead a team and the nation forward, delivering our most important and successful era of economic reform.

Yes, it was Paul Keating as Treasurer driving those reforms, but it was Hawke’s ability to chair proceedings that enabled good policy to become reality.

It was the Hawke-Keating combination, the Hawke cabinet team, that set Australia up for its golden age of productivity growth.

I was tasked with preparing a review of the Labor years for the Business Sunday program when it became obvious John Howard was going to win the 1996 election.

I began that process not as a Hawke fan. There was lingering sympathy for Bill Hayden, the belief that he deserved to lead Labor in the 1983 election but was knifed by Hawke’s massive personal ambition. 

Like most of my generation of economic and political observers, Paul Keating was the star, the self-described Placido Domingo of Australian politics. I had, and still have, reservations about Hawke the man and some of his associations, most obviously his too-close relationship with Sir Peter Abeles

Bob hawke death at 89
Bob Hawke with Alan Bond: “I had, and still have, reservations about Hawke the man and some of his associations.” Photo: Getty

But forced into a dispassionate review of the years 1983 to 1996, the only possible conclusion was that Australia owed Hawke a huge debt, that we were indeed fortunate that this flawed but massively talented, intelligent and rare individual had taken the tide in the affairs of his nation at the flood and led us on to fortune.

Hawke gave up the booze, curtailed his philandering and worked unceasingly as prime minister to be across the detail, to bring his intellect to bear and provide the links across factions and classes to make our economic revival possible.

In difficult times, he had the popularity to carry hard but necessary reform. His humanity was big enough, genuine enough, to be forgiven his human failings.

A fellow finance journalist veteran, tweeting under his Mr Demore nom de plume, provided this fine perspective: “For New Zealanders in the 80s, #Bob Hawke epitomised the Australia we looked up to – open-hearted, outward-looking larrikins with a sense of social justice and a determination not to take themselves too seriously.”

And now the most trusted politician in Australia reportedly is New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

It was another time, another century, 36 years ago that Bob Hawke became prime minister.

It’s impossible to imagine his like in our time, but he was a giant of his time, of post-war Australia. His legacy, a better and richer nation.

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