Condolence - Hon Robert James Lee (Bob) Hawke, AC - Wednesday 3 July 2019

03 July 2019

Our nation has lost a true champion in Bob Hawke. Bob Hawke visibly loved Australia. It is a love that we celebrate today and it is a love returned to him. It is a privilege to be a member of this place today to pay my respects as this new parliament begins and to remember the values for which he stood and that he drew upon throughout his life, be that within the trade union movement or leading the Australian government. The great privilege to be a graduate of the University of Western Australia is one I share with our former Prime Minister. He is still very fondly revered and remembered there. When reflecting on his time there during the UWA centenary dinner in 2011 he gave praise for UWA, Australia's first free university:

… I had the opportunity of coming to this great institution—the only free university in the British Empire as a result of the marvellous request of Sir Winthrop Hackett. £450,000 back in 1911, calculated today to be worth $33 million, and that enabled students from poorer backgrounds like myself to come here.

He also said:

I believe all of you here tonight will share my indebtedness, my deep sense of indebtedness, to The University of Western Australia for its continuous, unqualified and rigorous commitment over the hundred years of its existence to pure unadulterated teaching and research.

That fondness for Bob Hawke is felt throughout Western Australia and indeed throughout the UWA community.

It is a good place for me to start these remarks because it is an indebtedness that I share, along with the Hawke and Keating government's strong commitment to accessible higher education in our nation—an indebtedness for so many things, be that equal opportunity, environmental protection, a strong economy and, importantly, Australia's sense of place in the world. I have enjoyed hearing today, and over recent weeks, so much about his critical legacies and those of the Hawke-Keating government.

I want to share with the chamber today one of those legacies, a legacy which ranks right at the top for me. It was Bob Hawke's infamous pledge that no Australian child would live in poverty. It is a pledge that was ridiculed over time but should be viewed today as one of the Hawke government's most critical achievements—not as an embarrassment, which it was often viewed as. He was supposed to say, 'No child should live in poverty by 1990,' not that no child would live in poverty. The fact of the matter is that the measures announced by the Hawke government back in 1987 would have had the effect of immediately cutting the number of children in poverty in our nation by between 33 per cent and 36 per cent.

The legacy that I remember in this place today is those falls in child poverty around our nation—a fall of some 50 per cent in non-working single parents and 80 per cent among non-working couples with children. They were simple, practical measures like the family allowance supplement linked to wage growth; uniform rent assistance for social security recipients with children; a new child disability allowance; and the Child Support Agency, which, for the first time, used the tax system to collect child support payments from non-custodial parents. In the time after Bob Hawke's infamous speech, government spending per child on low-income families in our nation jumped by some 61 per cent in real terms for children aged zero to 12 and 124 per cent for children aged 13 to 15.

I'm sad to say that in our nation in recent years these outcomes have slipped. In our nation, we have more than 700,000 children living in poverty. The number of children in poverty in our nation has not continued to decrease, but it has climbed some two per cent in the last 10 years. So to be true to be Hawke's legacy, as we look to debate the tax bills in this parliament, we can and should, as he would have done, reflect on where our nation's precious resources are directed.

For me and so many other Australians, Bob was a figure embodying our sense of Australia. As a Western Australian, I very much remember, as a child, seeing his character on display during the historic win of the America's Cup—the glee and debate and laughter in our household when Bob Hawke said, 'Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum.' It was a taste of the time in our state—a time of great excitement and development. The first time I ever saw Bob Hawke in the flesh—and I was very privileged to meet him a number of times in my political career, but this was the first time—was as a child, surrounding by dancing girls in the lead-up to the America's Cup down in Fremantle. It was my first experience of seeing figures in public life up close, apart from the time my mother took me to see the Queen arrive at Perth Airport in the 1970s.

Bob's actions and attitudes instilled in us a sense of pride in our Australian character but not a sense of arrogance. Among the things I most admire about him are reflections not in my later political life but back in my childhood where I could see how his leadership was important not just in Australia but globally. It was part of defining what it meant to me as a child in my connectedness to the world. It was about being a global citizen, and it's a sense of identity we still leverage from today. We also have a great deal to thank him for in our national identity: multiculturalism; internationalism, as I said before; environmentalism; equality; and a fair go for all. He was able to define for us who we were and what we stood for as a country. It was there in the government's actions. It was there in our words.

It reminds me that this comes down not just to our character as a nation but to our character as people—not as collective people only but also as individuals. In terms of the things that we value as people in our nation, when we say we value our sense of multiculturalism and internationalism, we value our environment and we value a fair go—when they are things we embody as individuals, that we celebrate inside ourselves as part of our own character—it was wonderful to see those things on display in our Prime Minister, in Bob Hawke, so visibly as part of his character. For someone of my generation, the way he has shaped my own character is abundantly clear to me—his policies, his leadership and, importantly, as I've said, the values his government promulgated. They've shaped me as a person. I know I share that sense with a great many other Australians. Bob Hawke's actions always spoke louder than words, and Bob's actions were a mighty roar. He has been such a great part of our national character and a humble inspiration for my own, and he will be greatly missed.