Childhood & Early Life
Robert James Lee ‘Bob’ Hawke was born on 9 December 1929 at Bordertown in Southern Australia, to congregational minister, Arthur Hawke, and his wife, Edith, who was a schoolteacher. He had an older brother, Neil, who died at the age of 17 due to meningitis.
Bob was known to be extremely self-confident as a child. He completed his school education at the Perth Modern School and subsequently enrolled into the University of Western Australia. Upon turning 18, he joined the Australian Labor Party, in 1947.
In 1952, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws. He then applied for the Rhodes scholarship that allowed him to pursue studies at the University College at Oxford. He began his Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, but later shifted studies to Bachelor of Letters.
In 1956, upon accepting a scholarship that allowed doctoral studies in arbitration law, he joined the Australian National University in Canberra. Soon, he was elected the student representative of the university council.
The following year, his mentor, H.P Brown, endorsed him to become President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. Bob Hawke accepted the offer and gave up his doctoral studies to move to Melbourne.
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The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) is the apex body that represents the workers in Australia and is an association of country’s highly structured labour movement. Soon after Bob Hawke joined the ACTU in 1958, he was in charge of presenting a case for higher wages at the national tribunal. His first appointment as an advocate for the ACTU was in 1959. The case resulted in a pay rise, which was a great achievement for him.
In 1969, he was elected the president of ACTU. While holding the position, he focused on the betterment of living conditions of workers. He was against with the Vietnam War; but encouraged alliances between USA and Australia.
He was a supporter of Jews, and for the same reason his assassination was planned by Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and its Australian counterpart.
Until 1980, while serving as the President of the ACTU, he successfully represented the association in front of arbitration councils for earning suitable settlements. Between 1973 and 1978, he also served as the Federal President of the Australian Labor Party.
In 1980, he contested the election to the House of Representatives and won the Melbourne seat of Wills. Soon after his election, he was appointed as the Shadow Minister of Industrial Relations, Employment and Youth, by Labor Leader Bill Hayden.
In 1982, he challenged the leadership of Bill Hayden and a ballot followed. Even though Bill Hayden won, the difference in the number of votes was minimal and this event gave Bob Hawke considerable recognition as a leader within the party.
In 1983, Bill Hayden announced his resignation as leader of party and Bob Hawke was named the acting leader of the Australian Labor Party. In the elections held the following month, he led the party to a landslide victory, thereby ending seven years of rule by the Liberal Party.
On 11 March 1983, he was sworn in as the 23rd Prime Minister of Australia. During his time as Prime Minister, he worked towards industrial accord by bringing about a uniform wage across labour unions of Australia. He was successful in effectively tackling inflation rate and maintained cordial relations with foreign nations like the USA. He was re-elected as Prime Minister in 1984.
Some of the most noteworthy decisions concerning the Australian economy that he took during his reign were the deregulation of the banking system and floating of the Australian Dollar. These decisions helped revamp the Australian economy.
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Other steps that were taken include the introduction of tax reforms, privatization of state owned enterprises and the trading of financial institutions owned by state like CSL Limited, Qantas and Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
In 1989, in a move to improve economic cooperation among the nations of Asia Pacific, he formed the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum that promoted free trade among nations of the region.
He took several initiatives in the environmental sector, such as, stopping of a dam construction in Tasmania and supporting Landcare groups of farmers in the country. His health care initiatives included a widespread public health campaign regarding AIDS. A universal health care system in Australia was established under the name Medicare.
The Labor party won the 1987 and 1990 elections. As a result of the late 1980s recession, Hawke won the 1990 elections by a very tight margin.
He appointed Paul Keating as Deputy Prime Minister and in December 1991 Hawke resigned as prime minister and Keating assumed the prime ministership of Australia.
After resignation, he became more prominent in the business world and showed minimal involvement with the Labor Party during Paul Keating’s time as Prime Minister. After 1996, when John Howard assumed the position of Prime Minister, he became more involved with the works and campaigns of the Labor Party. He is known to supported candidates like Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Kristina Keneally in their campaigns.
In 2009, he assisted in the setting up of a Centre for Muslim and Non-Muslim Understanding at the University of South Australia. According to him interfaith dialogue is essential and lack of understanding of religion was one of the greatest potential threats of the world.
Awards & Achievements
In 1979, he was honored with the ‘Companion of the Order of Australia’.
He was awarded the most prestigious order of Thailand, the ‘Knight Grand Cordon of the Order of the White Elephant’ in 1989.
In 2008, he was honoured with the ‘Grand Companion of the Order of Logohu’ by the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, for his support to the people of Papua New Guinea.
In 2009, he was received a Life Time membership of the Australian Labor Party. He was the third person to get the honour.
Family & Personal Life
He married Hazel Masterson in 1956. The couple had four children; daughter Susan (born in 1957), son Stephen (born in 1959), daughter Roslyn (born in 1960) and son Robert Jr. (born in 1963). Robert Jr. died in his infancy. The couple separated ways in 1994.
In 1995, he married Australian writer Blanche d'Alpuget and the couple currently live in Northbridge, Sydney.
In his honour, the University of South Australia has established the ‘Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Library’ in 1997.
Bob Hawke died on 16 May 2019, at Northbridge, Sydney, at the age of 89.