TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
LAUNCH OF BOB HAWKE: DEMONS AND DESTINY
FRIDAY, 11 MARCH 2022
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I want to congratulate Troy on this enormous achievement.
This is a massive, compelling, meticulously researched biography.
And I promise you: I read all 587 pages of it – because I had to see just how often Troy called my beloved political mentors secret Communists and dual ticket holders.
But maybe that’s a conversation for another day.
Because in Demons and Destiny, Troy tells the story of a great Australian.
An Australian who left his indelible, unforgettable, irresistible mark on our country.
Who used his unique gifts to change this nation for the better, forever.
And who embodied his life and times more than any other Prime Minister.
There’s a reason why, when Frank Bongiorno wrote his history of Australia in the 1980s, he began it in 1983 and ended it in 1991.
Because in many ways, Bob was our eighties.
That explosive laugh. The tan and that iconic wave of silver hair.
That ridiculous Australia jacket – and its backstory, revealed by Troy.
Bob was the eighties in all its verve and optimism, all its great change, and all its contradictions.
It was a big decade – big hair, big shoulder pads, and Bob Hawke.
Troy’s affection for Bob, and respect for his legacy is evident.
But this book doesn’t always show Bob at his best.
As Troy makes clear, Bob Hawke was a complex man, and flawed.
‘Ever the egotist, Hawke enjoyed being naked. He would swim in the pool at home naked and then climb out to talk to union or party colleagues without rushing to reach for a towel.'
I know from talking to Bob’s colleagues that they found it comical at the time. They thought his naked pride somewhat misplaced and a little silly.
But imagine how it felt if you weren’t a cabinet minister, or powerful business or union leader.
Imagine if you were room service, or a secretary.
I’m sure for plenty of people it wasn’t cheeky.
It wasn’t charmingly informal: it would have been intimidating.
Bob smoked. He gambled. He drank to excess.
He had sex with a lot – a lot – of women.
There were times when Peter Ables paid his bills.
We wouldn’t tolerate much of this behaviour now – and rightly so.
But does the behaviour we now judge unacceptable destroy the broader legacy?
In Troy’s view, and mine, it doesn’t.
Because there’s more to Bob Hawke’s story than that.
The book reminds us of three things:
Firstly, the achievements of the Hawke and Keating years were monumental, and much of what’s great about Australia today was set in train by his Labor government.
Secondly, that politics and society have changed enormously since Bob’s heyday – in many ways for the better.
And thirdly, Bob himself evolved significantly throughout his long life.
It’s good when people grow and change for the better.
We have to give them that chance.
When you look back at that first Hawke ministry, there was only one woman in the picture: Susan Ryan.
Women in politics have made big advances since then.
I’ve seen it in my own time in politics.
I think the Labor Party I’m part of today is a better party than the one I joined.
And while it’s clear from the testimony of Brittany Higgins, and many others, that there is still a long way to go in improving the workplace culture in Parliament House – I’m pretty sure today, someone like Bob, ambitious and clever, would have known to keep his pants on in meetings.
And if he didn’t, it’s more likely there would be consequences.
But the other fascinating story that Troy unveils is Bob’s own journey of growth.
As the world changed, Bob grew beyond the old-fashioned assumptions that shaped his younger life.
To be honest, it’s hard to recognise the Bob I knew – who was always supportive of me, and never patronising – in some of the stories Troy tells.
There’s this one about Hazel:
“Hazel recalled that she felt inadequate because she had not gone to university. ‘But if you had,’ Bob replied, ‘I wouldn’t marry you.’”
Later Troy writes,
“Hawke would later acknowledge the narrow-minded and often appalling view of women he had held in his youth. ‘I was certainly less than an enlightened male,’ he reflected on his early years with Hazel. ‘I was a good male chauvinist pig, I think, in my earlier days.’”
But that wasn’t the Bob I knew.
And it certainly wasn’t the Bob Hawke who governed Australia as Prime Minister.
Prime Minister Hawke removed barriers to women’s participation in public life.
He passed the Sex Discrimination Act.
He gave older woman greater independence with his pension reforms.
He massively increased federal funding for childcare.
And for the first time in federal politics, he created specific policies for Indigenous women, for migrant women, for women with a disability.
As Susan Ryan remembered after his death:
‘I lost quite a few battles and budget bids and endured some tough treatment. But I never lost a debate in cabinet because of sexism or misogyny. Bob never dealt with me or my proposals through a derogatory gender lens, and he set the tone’.
Or as Anne Summers, then head of the Office for the Status of Women, said:
“He was intellectually disposed to understand and agree with the need for a civilised society to ensure that women were not discriminated against and could pursue any opportunities of their choosing.”
When you remember Bob Hawke’s critical role in ending apartheid, you can see the influence of his beloved father Clem who taught a young Bob: “if he believed in the ‘fatherhood of God’, then he must also believe in the ‘brotherhood of man.’”
Bob’s hatred of racism and apartheid was instinctive. It was in his blood.
But his rejection of gender-based discrimination was learnt over time.
He could see all men, from the beginning, as brothers.
It took him longer to see women as sisters.
There’s a lesson in that I think.
Because it’s easy to judge someone. It’s easy to condemn them.
And sometimes that condemnation can feel righteous.
Sometimes it’s justified.
But if we want to change the world for the better; if progress is our central aim; then we have to allow people to grow and change.
We have to help them learn and evolve.
As Barack Obama put it a few years ago:
‘If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get far’.
Flawed humans can change.
Flawed humans can do great things.
And undeniably, Bob did great things.
Look at his government’s achievements:
Doubling high school completion rates.
The Sex Discrimination Act.
Floating the dollar.
Delivering the first budget surplus since the 1950s.
Saving Kakadu, the Daintree, the Franklin River and Antarctica.
Leading the fight against Apartheid, and contributing to the Cambodian peace process.
Mediating between East and West in the Cold War’s final, volatile decade.
When you put it like that, it’s a breath-taking legacy.
And it was built on a powerful, timeless foundation.
Responsible economic management.
Compassionate social policy.
And active engagement on the world stage.
The truth is: people will generally trust Labor to deliver on health and education.
But they’ll only hand us the keys to government if they trust us to look after their economic interests too.
And they trusted Bob to do that – on four consecutive occasions.
We’ve got to convince the Australian people that we will never take our eyes off the main game.
Job security, economic growth, access to housing and essential services.
We have to show it, and we have to prove it, again and again – just like Bob did.
As a party, we act as though people know our values and remember our record.
Of course they don’t.
We need to demonstrate our credentials again and again to win the trust of Australians; to be given the great privilege of government.
Just as Anthony Albanese is doing now.
I know Troy is fascinated with leadership.
This book is full of lessons on that subject, particularly for the modern Labor Party.
Bob was a living textbook on leadership.
And many of his strengths are still underappreciated; hidden beneath all the sparkle and charisma.
Like how hard he worked.
Like how conscientious and diligent he was as Prime Minister.
And it wasn’t just getting off the drink.
According to Peter Walsh, Bob was the only person in Cabinet, apart from himself, who read every word of every Cabinet submission.
He was across the detail.
He was profoundly in touch with the concerns of the electorate.
He wasn’t just projecting his own obsessions on to them.
He listened and then made a sincere attempt to fix their problems.
He used all of his substantial powers of intellect and persuasion to think through an issue, listen and take advice, work out a solution, then persuade people of its merits.
Some of these problems were so stubborn, so diabolical, that previous governments chose to ignore them.
But voters rewarded Hawke for tackling them head on, even when the solutions involved large and often unsettling changes.
Bob was able to do this because people trusted that he loved them and loved his country, and because of his genuine commitment to persuasion.
He really did want to bring the country together; he really did want to bring the country with him…
…even if Neville Wran thought all his talk of national reconciliation was better suited to a Hare Krishna meeting.
Bob was able to look beyond the immediate horizon, to the next set of challenges and opportunities.
He understood, for instance, the huge potential of selling iron ore to an industrialising China.
And in doing so, he helped set up decades of prosperity for Australia.
Which is a sad contrast to this Liberal Government, which is actively ignoring the next great set of opportunities: squandering the economic and jobs boom that decarbonisation and renewable energy could bring to our nation.
Bob was a details man. He was a problem solver. He was a persuader.
But he also had the magic.
That elusive, wondrous, magnetic power.
A few years ago, the Labor caucus invited Bob Hawke to Canberra to talk to us and our staff.
I was under strict instructions from Jill Saunders to remember that, as he aged, Bob would get tired when people jostled to get selfies with him.
It was my job to keep them away – and I did it with embarrassing officiousness.
But there was Bob – beckoning people over.
The night ended with Bob surrounded by admirers, singing happy birthday, at the top of his voice, to a staff member.
I wanted to go home – he wanted to keep singing.
Charisma is a Greek word: and people have been trying to define it since the days of Socrates, usually unsuccessfully.
But with Bob, I think we can pin it down.
Because Bob’s magic was a product of his great love and enthusiasm.
For life. For people. For his country.
Australians could see that overflowing love – and they were drawn to it.
They wanted to be around it.
They wanted to vote for it.
As Maya Angelou once said: ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel’.
Bob Hawke made us feel proud to be Australian.
We’ll always miss you Bob.
FRIDAY, 11 MARCH 2022