July 03, 2019








Senator CHISHOLM (Queensland) (13:13): I join with my colleagues in paying tribute to the remarkable life of Bob Hawke. When you think about the combination of intellect, larrikinism, compassion and the understanding of people from all walks of life, and the fact that he was able to maintain this combination his whole life in the differing roles that he had—particularly in later life as well—it was an authenticity that was unique and combined all the great elements of Australian life. I think that the achievements that he had are all the more remarkable, given that they did happen so close to the devastation that the Labor Party suffered from the end of the Whitlam government. When you put it in that historical context, what Hawke was able to achieve with Keating, so close to the devastation of the Whitlam government, is made all the more remarkable.

So many of my colleagues have already dealt with Hawke's remarkable life and achievements. I particularly want to single out Senator Dodson, who I thought gave a really honest assessment of and some examples of some frustrations that the Indigenous community and Australians had about a lack of progress but also a remarkable record in that area as well. Senator Wong outlined his remarkable achievements in the foreign affairs area as well, which not only set up Australia so well but also set up an immensely proud Labor tradition at the same time.

I want to focus on some other aspects, particularly the role that Bob Hawke played in Queensland, which was both an achievement in terms of policy and a remarkable political success at the same time, and then, similar to Senator Urquhart, I will finish with some personal experiences that I had with him. The election win of Bob Hawke in 1983 combined with my first year of primary school. So basically my whole school life was through the time of the Hawke and Keating governments. When you think about Queensland during the seventies and eighties, it was a particularly dark place politically. We were wiped out following the demise of the Whitlam government, and we had the ascendancy of the corrupt, moribund Joh Bjelke-Petersen government through that whole period. So the Queensland Labor Party, through the seventies and eighties, was a pretty break place to be, with not much optimism on the horizon. They were tough times.

When it goes to how that had an impact on Queensland, there was continual underfunding when it came to education—we really were left in the dark and left behind when it came to education—and, when it came to the environment, degradation was the modus operandi of the Bjelke-Petersen government. It was a really bleak time that Queensland was suffering through. When Hawke came in in 1983 and achieved what he did and built that long-term government, for true believers in the state and for those people who relied on Labor governments, he was a real saviour for that state—combined, eventually, with the election of the Goss government in 1989.

When you look at the environmental achievements of Hawke, there were some significant ones that he put in place, and the fact that he was able to do this despite the hostility of the state conservative governments at the time makes it all the more remarkable. These achievements included listing of the Daintree Wet Tropics and Gondwana Rainforests in Queensland; protecting the Daintree Rainforest from logging; saving the Shelburne Bay region of Cape York from sand mining; expanding the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park; and working with both the NFF and the ACF to set up Landcare—a remarkable list of environmental achievements in Queensland.

Another achievement which I think is really important and says a lot about the Hawke government and the way they were able to achieve so much in Queensland was the increase in university enrolments. In 1980, Queensland had 22,000 people enrolled in three universities and, by the end of the Hawke and Keating governments, we had 101,000 people enrolled and six universities. Those additional universities were based in regional areas. When you think about the increased number of people who were able to go to university and the fact that those people were able to do that in regional communities, it was a remarkable, longstanding achievement that has been to the betterment of Queensland.

They're just some practical examples of the impact that Hawke's policies and his government had on Queensland. Those achievements are particularly relevant given the hostility of the relationship with the Bjelke-Petersen government at the time. The fact is that Hawke was able to provide inspiration for Labor people in that state and was able to show them that there was a brighter future, despite what they had been suffering for such a long time under the Bjelke-Petersen government.

The other thing that goes with that is the remarkable electoral results that Hawke achieved as Prime Minister. As people who witnessed the last federal election will realise, for Hawke to achieve winning 50 per cent of the seats in Queensland over such a long period of time is a remarkable effort, particularly coming so soon after the defeat of the Whitlam government. But I think probably the most remarkable single event was in 1990 when, after winning a number of elections in a row, they won the seat of Kennedy. I wouldn't want to go back and look at the primary vote in Kennedy at the recent federal election. The fact that, after winning a few elections, in 1990 they were able to win the seat of Kennedy with Rob Hulls—who went on to have a successful career in Victorian politics—shows you the magnetism of Hawke across Queensland. It wasn't just in the south-east; he was able to achieve unbelievable electoral results in regional Queensland as well.

Just a couple of personal reflections that I wanted to finish on in regards to Bob Hawke: a couple of senators in this chamber will remember the 2012 state election pretty well; the Labor Party was pretty friendless in the last week of the campaign—and Senator Watt might actually talk about this—but it was pretty bleak times in the last week of the election campaign. And I just know the boost in morale that we got—we didn't have visitors flying in from other parts of the country trying to help out—from the visit we got from Bob Hawke in that last week of the campaign. Sure, it didn't necessarily help our vote, but I certainly know that the troops got a real morale boost from that. And I think it shows you his commitment to the Labor cause and the fact that he would be there for us in good times and in bad. I still remember that—that he was still prepared to come, still prepared to do that, when the result of that election campaign was obvious. And the morale boost that our troops got from that was remarkable.

I'll finish on this. One of the best experiences I've ever had as a Labor Party member was in 2016 at the Labour Day weekend in Barcaldine, and that combined with being the 125th anniversary of the shearers' strike. The special guest for that Labour Day weekend in Barcaldine was Bob Hawke. It was just remarkable to see him—obviously reasonably frail at that stage—and just the way he was received by the true believers who were there. Also the Labour Day in Barcaldine is a true community event; people come from all political persuasions, from all walks of life, and it really is a community celebration. And to see the way that Bob Hawke was received throughout the weekend—because the way it works in Barcaldine is: you need to get there on the Friday and you stick around till afterwards on the Monday, so you end up spending a few days there and really get a sense of the community. But to spend that time with Bob, to see the way he was received, both by true believers and those from the community who came along and who travelled from greater distances, was a truly special occasion for me and one that I will always remember—having that time to spend with him and just seeing the warmth in which Australians hold him and the regard in which they hold him. Of course, Senator Urquhart, you won't be disappointed to know he belted out a very good rendition of 'Solidarity Forever' at the showgrounds in Barcaldine, with a great bunch of support for that as well.

So: Bob Hawke—remarkable achievements, particularly in Queensland. He will forever be an inspiration for those of us who follow in his footsteps, and we pay tribute to his life and we pass on our condolences to his friends and family.