Former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke – who led the country from 1983 to 1991 – has died in Sydney, according to a statement from this family. He was 89.
Hawke was a trade union leader, president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, who went on to become the longest-serving Labor Party leader. Reforms during his time in office transformed the country and many have survived to this day.
Some analysts say his biggest achievement was recognizing that the Australian economy needed major restructuring and having the courage to confront these challenges head-on.
Reforms and deregulation implemented by Hawke and his Treasurer Paul Keating are credited with modernizing the economy and unleashing a wave of growth.
He allowed Keating to float the Australian dollar, a move which helped the country avoid the financial crisis that rocked Asia in 1997. They also opened the door to foreign banks and removed controls on foreign exchange and Australian interest rates. Tariffs were reduced to 5% and protection for textile, clothing and the car industry were all phased out.
Another significant achievement was getting unions to limit their wage demands and industrial disputes in return for benefits such as superannuation. Under the Prices and Incomes Accord, the government also pledged to minimize inflation and implement social services. It also restructured workplace awards and introduced enterprise bargaining.
In 1984, the Hawke government launched Medicare, an affordable universal healthcare scheme that still exists.
Four years later, while on a visit to Thailand he agreed to help his Thai counterpart Chatchai Choonhavan’s efforts to turn “battlefields into marketplaces” by agreeing to fund the first Friendship Bridge across the Mekong, from Nong Khai to the outskirts of Vientiane.
And in 1989, Hawke founded APEC – the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum – to promote participation and growth in the region.
His political rival, John Howard, who took over as prime minister in 1996, said earlier this year that he regarded Hawke as the best Labor prime minister that the country ever had.
A love of beer and cricket
Hawke, who hailed originally from Perth in Western Australia, was a Rhodes scholar who studied at Oxford University. But he was a down-to-earth man known for his love of beer and cricket, and his “larrikin streak”.
He was infamous for downing a yard of beer (1.4 liters) in 11 seconds while at Oxford – a world record that stood for many years, and, after celebrating Australia’s historic triumph in the America’s Cup yachting event in September 1983, told viewers that “Any boss that sacks a worker for not turning up is a bum.”
Not afraid to show his emotions, he cried publicly several times, including in 1989 during a memorial service in Canberra after the brutal crackdown on students in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Tens of thousands of Chinese students or tourists in Australia at that time were allowed to stay.
Keating paid tribute to Hawke on hearing the news that his long-time colleague had died peacefully at his home.
“Bob possessed a moral framework for his important public life, both representing the workers of Australia and more broadly, the country at large,” he said in a statement. “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.”