Bill Kelty tells memorial service how Bob Hawke fixed the economy


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I said to myself, “It says something about Bob, it says something about Australia.”

Lenin was right, “There is no place for revolution, no place for revolutionaries.”

But when Bob became the president of the ACTU you had seen nothing like him ever before: a man of conciliation, the captain of consensus. But at the same time, he led the biggest industrial disputes in our history and the biggest political disputes in our history. At the same time, a friend of business, unashamedly the friend of many, many business people but he caused competitive mayhem by getting rid of a whole range of competitive vehicles, particularly retail and price maintenance and leading competition in a lot of industries.

He was, to some people’s chagrin, really, an opponent of the Russians’ invasion of Afghanistan as deeply as his opposition to the American participation of the war in Vietnam. He was loving and kind and charismatic … but, boy, could he be frightening. He could be really frightening on occasions. And it was the constancy with which you’d find him.

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His undiluted belief in the power of education. His undiluted belief in the power of democracy. His belief in unions and the ALP and this thing he called Australia, not a geography but a belief. Hazel and the family, they provided him ballast and buoyancy in times of happiness and joy, but equally in times of doubt and uncertainty.

What Bob did for the ACTU was to change it forever, for the industrial campaigns that he led, for the future funds that he built up in terms of the financial assets of the organisations and the amalgamation. He gave it a base from which you can negotiate with government effectively, for everybody in the union movement – not just some but for all unions.

But it was not always easy. It was not always kind; not a woman on the ACTU executive the entire time. The fight with Bill Hayden, tough and hard, was just simply painful. There were tough times. Many tough times. And the reality was we never did as much as we could have with the Whitlam government.

But when Bob became prime minister, Jan Marsh, the ACTU advocate, and Simon Crean, we went to his place in Sandringham and there he spelt out his vision of what he expected and what he would do for Australia.

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He would of course fix the economy; the most important thing was double-digit inflation and double-digit unemployment, invest in education and invest in social welfare, and make the country more confident and make the country more co-operative to achieve these objectives. He would put in Medicare, implemented, but, this time, it would be in concrete and can never be removed. He would open Australia to the rest of the world and he would do something for women and make her place better in this country.

Was he inspirational? He was. The greatest legacy to me is a simple one. Here is this person who raised the aspirations of this nation, get us to set bigger objectives and bigger tasks but provided us the inspiration to achieve them. On the eve of the Springbok tour, as we sat there contemplating the next step, waiting for Bob to appear in a crowded ACTU room, he did appear, shuffled his papers, and he told a story – two stories.

One story was the dignity of Nelson Mandela. The other story, the indignity of apartheid. He took us to Soweto and he took us to the prison of Robben Island. He was truly inspirational. And we went to the streets and we went to the factories and we went to the ports and we went to the airports to stand up, and stand up for this cause.

When confronted with the political pressure to make a step backwards following the result and implications of his decision to allow 40,000 Chinese to stay in this country following Tiananmen Square, Bob didn’t take a step back. He didn’t take two steps back, but he took two steps forward. And it wasn’t for a cheap political ploy, it wasn’t for a political gain. As he said, it was to put the knife into a policy that would stain this country – the white Australia policy.

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Bob was always – always – about those two things and when we went to see him, in his last weeks of life, he was still about the treaty with the first Australians. He was still about climate change. He was still about aspiring for this country to be better and do better, and to provide the inspiration for us all.

Bob was no saint. Bob had his faults. But he did a power of good for this country, a power of good for all of us. He made the country and helped make the country what it is. And he made a part for making this country play a better part in the rest of the world.

Bob loves trade union songs. He was one of the few people who actually could know the words of the songs. Most of us just mumble and shuffle along hoping we’ve got the right word at the right place but not Bob. He knew the words.

And he loves the poets. But above the poets, he loved Blanche d’Alpuget. And these words are for her. “How shall I love thee? Let me count the ways. I will love thee to the depths and breadths and heights my soul can reach.”

If I had one line for Bob, if people asked me just to explain one line for Bob, I would say Bob Hawke loved this country to the depths and breadths and height that his life could give, and he was loved in return. Thank you for everything you ever did, Bob. Thank you.

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