“Over the past six years, the Liberals have had three leaders while Labor has had one, and three treasurers while Labor has had one shadow treasurer,” Mr Hawke writes.
“As I said repeatedly when I was prime minister, if you can’t govern yourselves, you can’t govern the country.”
The letter repeats the rallying cry Mr Hawke used during the 1990 election when he campaigned on the message “if you can’t govern yourselves, you can’t govern the country” and defeated a divided Liberal Party. Then opposition leader Andrew Peacock had become Liberal leader 10 months before the March 1990 election by deposing John Howard in a party room spill.
The new letter follows a meeting between Mr Shorten and Mr Hawke last week in the wake of the Labor campaign launch, which Mr Hawke could not attend but watched on television.
A Labor adviser photographed Mr Shorten and Mr Hawke at their meeting on Monday last week.
In the letter, Mr Hawke emphasises Mr Shorten’s past as a union leader to assure Australians this is a positive.
“If elected, Bill Shorten and his team would hit the ground running, implementing Labor’s plans and setting the nation up for a stronger economic future,” he writes.
“Not only has Bill led a united Labor team, as a former trade union leader he has the track record of bringing workers and business together.
“While Bill’s political opponents argue his trade union background is a liability for a future prime minister, I consider it an asset, as it was for me.
“It gives him the experience to achieve consensus with business, unions and community-based organisations for the challengers that lie ahead.”
Mr Hawke was president of the ACTU for a decade before entering Parliament, while Mr Shorten was Victorian secretary of the Australian Workers’ Union from 1998 to 2001 and then national secretary of the union until entering Parliament in 2007.
Mr Morrison has attacked Mr Shorten over his union background and warned that a Labor government would be beholden to “thuggish” unions like the Construction, Forestry, Mining, Maritime and Energy Union.
The letter from Mr Hawke seeks to ease these concerns by likening Mr Shorten’s policies to the reform agenda pushed when Labor took power in 1983.
“Labor’s political opponents are seeking to divide and frighten Australians ahead of this election – just as they did back in 1983 when I was seeking the prime ministership.
While Bill’s political opponents argue his trade union background is a liability for a future prime minister, I consider it an asset, as it was for me.
“It didn’t work then and it won’t work now.
“My experience is that the Australian people rarely get it wrong – they will vote for a united party that is able to look after their interests and the national interest.
“And in my view, Australia needs a Labor government led by Bill Shorten and his team.
“Bill Shorten is ready to be prime minister of Australia. He will serve our nation well.”
In the same way that Mr Hawke draws a parallel between the coming election and Labor’s victory in 1983, Mr Keating described Mr Shorten’s team as the best Labor frontbench since the election that led to the Hawke/Keating government.
“What Shorten is doing is presenting himself as chairman of a very competent board, a very competent cabinet,” Mr Keating told ABC Radio on Tuesday.
“The last time we saw the Labor Party this good was, really, in 1983 with Bob Hawke’s first ministry. This is what you’re seeing again with Shorten. Shorten will be the competent leader of a really important and solid team.”
The Coalition, Mr Keating said, had a depleted team and was led by a man who presented himself as “the man next door who can jump the fence and wear a baseball cap”, but he said Australia needed “more than the man next door” as prime minister.
David Crowe is Chief Political Correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.