Robert James Lee (Bob) Hawke was born in Bordertown, South Australia on 9 December 1929, the son of a minister of religion and a former teacher. The family moved to Perth, Western Australia, where Hawke completed his schooling. He studied at the University of Western Australia, and then Oxford University as Western Australia’s Rhodes Scholar for 1953. On returning to Australia he started doctoral studies at the Australian National University, Canberra, but did not complete them. Hawke joined the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) as a research officer in 1958, and an advocate before his elevation to ACTU President from 1969 to 1980. He unsuccessfully contested the Victorian seat of Corio for the ALP at the 1963 federal election. He continued to build a presence in the Australian Labor Party (ALP), and was a member of the National Executive from 1971, and served as National President from 1973 to 1980.
As an ACTU leader Hawke had become a household name and his transfer from the industrial relations field to national politics was predicted (and expected) by many. He entered federal parliament by winning the Melbourne seat of Wills at the 1980 general election and was immediately promoted to the opposition front bench as spokesman for industrial relations, employment and youth affairs.
On the same day in February 1983 that Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser sought, and was granted, a double dissolution election, the ALP announced that parliamentary leader Bill Hayden would step aside. Hawke was confirmed as leader five days later, on 8 February. The ALP won a clear majority at the March election, and formed government for the first time since 1975. Under Hawke’s leadership the party also won elections in 1984, 1987 and 1990.
Robert James Lee Hawke Full Biography and Profile
Under Bob Hawke, the Australian Labor Party won four consecutive elections. During his first term in office, Hawke gained the highest popularity rating of any Prime Minister since the introduction of public opinion polls.
A former trade union leader, Hawke believed in government by consensus and managed with considerable success to establish agreement between business and the unions in the pursuit of economic growth.
Robert James Lee Hawke Beginnings
Robert James Lee Hawke was born in Bordertown, South Australia, on 9 December 1929. He was the second of two sons of Clement Hawke, a Congregational minister, and Ellie Lee, a schoolteacher, both of Cornish ancestry. After the death of Hawke’s older brother, the family moved to Leederville, Western Australia, where Hawke grew up. Clement’s brother, Albert (Bert) RG Hawke, was Labor Premier of Western Australia for six years, from 1953–1959.
Bob Hawke attended Perth Modern School before going on to the University of Western Australia. He graduated with arts and law degrees in 1952. He won a Rhodes Scholarship and studied economics at Oxford University from which he graduated B.Litt, having written his thesis on wage fixation.
He married Hazel Masterson in 1956, and they had three children.
Hawke returned to Australia in 1956 to undertake doctoral studies at the Australian National University. He did not complete his degree, but accepted instead a position as research officer and advocate with the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) in 1958. Hawke then unsuccessfully stood as the Australian Labor Party (ALP) candidate against Hubert Opperman, Liberal Minister for Immigration, in the seat of Corio, Victoria, at the 1963 general election.
After rising through the ranks of the ACTU, Hawke served as its president from 1970–1980. He took on a high public profile and acquired a reputation as an excellent conciliator, effectively resolving many national industrial disputes.
He was a member of many national bodies during the 1970s, including: the Immigration Planning Council and the Immigration Advisory Council 1970–1980; the Reserve Bank Board 1973–1980; the Australian Council for Union Training 1975–1980, the Australian Population and Immigration Council 1976–1980; the Australian Refugee Advisory Council 1979–1980, and the International Labour Organisation Governing Body 1972–1980. He was national president of the ALP 1973–1978. In 1979 he delivered the ABC Boyer lecture on the topic ‘Resolution of Conflict’.
Entry to federal politics
Bob Hawke was elected to federal parliament at the general election on 18 October 1980 as the ALP candidate for the seat of Wills, Victoria, which he held through the next four general elections: 1983, 1984, 1987 and 1990. On election he was immediately appointed to the shadow ministry of opposition leader WG Hayden, as spokesman on industrial relations, employment and youth affairs.
On 16 July 1982 Hawke challenged Hayden for leadership of the parliamentary ALP. Hayden resigned the leadership, contested the position against Hawke at a caucus ballot on 16 July, and retained the position in a vote of 42:37.
Hawke’s supporters continued lobbying for him to replace Hayden, who was persuaded to resign the leadership. He did so on 3 February 1983, 20 minutes after the Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, called a general election.
Prime Minister Bob Hawke
Hawke brought the ALP back into government at the general election on 5 March 1983, gaining a 15-seat majority over the Liberal-National coalition in the House of Representatives. The ALP also held 30 Senate seats, compared to the 28 coalition, five Democrats and one Independent.
Concerned with the divisiveness of recent events, Hawke’s first major step as Prime Minister was to conduct an ‘Economic Summit’ meeting in Canberra on 11-14 April 1983. Present were political parties and union and employer organisations. The idea was to attempt a national consensus on economic policy. The ‘Wages Accord’ with unions, a by-product of the Economic Summit, became a major part of government economic policy.
The Hawke government also floated the Australian dollar on international money markets and allowed the operation of foreign-owned banks as first steps towards deregulating the national economy.
In 1983 the Hawke government used its powers under World Heritage legislation to prevent the Tasmanian government from building the Gordon-below-Franklin dam in Tasmania.
The ALP government led by Hawke was returned to office at an election on 1 December 1984, with a reduced majority.
Shake-ups to education
Under Hawke’s leadership, changes to Australia’s education and training system began in 1984 and continued over the following years. Changes included: amalgamations of smaller tertiary training institutions; creation of new universities from former Colleges of Advanced Education; the setting of national curriculum standards for schools; upgrading of the Technical and Further Education (TAFE) sector; and the establishment of national training and qualification standards.
Despite loss of popularity as measured by opinion polls, Hawke took the ALP to a record third term in office at the general election on 8 July 1987. Disunity in the Liberal-National Party Opposition was a key factor in the government’s success at this election. The ‘Joh for Canberra’ campaign to have Queensland Premier Johannes Bjelke-Petersen brought into federal parliament seriously weakened the campaign of Coalition Leader John Howard.
Hawke and Treasurer Paul John Keating were criticised for having ‘hijacked’ the ALP, moving it away from its traditional working class base and from its previous socialist philosophy. At the same time, the ALP’s continued electoral success was due largely to Hawke’s – and later Keating’s – achievement in moving the party to the ‘middle ground’, where it attracted voters who previously supported the Liberal-National Party coalition.
Robert James Lee Hawke Main achievements (1983-1991)
- Convened Economic Summit 1983 which produced a ‘Wages Accord’ with the trade unions. The Accord improved economic growth without inflation and cut real wages.
- Intervened to stop the Tasmanian government proceeding with construction of a dam in the Gordon-below-Franklin area. The World Heritage Properties Conservation Act 1983 gave the Commonwealth control over State heritage sites.
- Modernised the national economy, and integrated it into the global economy, through a program of deregulation. Moved for privatisation of the domestic airline and the Commonwealth Bank. Floated the Australian dollar and admitted foreign banks to compete with national ones. Phased out or reduced tariff protection for local industries.
- Diversified Australia’s export base and built closer ties with Asian countries. Established the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum 1989.
- Comprehensive tax reform. Reduced top marginal rate, introduced capital gains tax.
- Improved social security benefits to the children of low-income families. Established the Medicare health scheme 1984.
- Outlawed sex discrimination in the workforce via the Sex Discrimination Act 1984.
- Reformed Australia’s education and training system. Established national training and qualification standards, and curriculum standards for schools. Created new universities
from former Colleges of Advanced Education.
- Established the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) 1989 as the peak national policy and administrative agency for Indigenous Australians.
- Used personal diplomacy to develop closer ties between Australia and the United States, Russia, China, Japan and South-east Asia.
- Supported international pressure on South Africa to overturn its apartheid regime. Committed Australia to the multinational military force that defended Kuwait’s sovereignty against the Iraqi invasion 1990-91.
Robert James Lee Hawke Life after politics
- Resigned from Parliament in February 1992.
- Received honorary doctorates from four overseas universities and three Australian ones.
- Engaged in diverse business interests.
- Worked in television journalism for the Nine Network.
- Adjunct Professor in the Research Schools of Pacific Studies and Social Sciences at the Australian National University 1992-95 and Honorary Visiting Professor in Industrial Relations at the University of Sydney 1992-97. Member of Advisory Council of Institute for International Studies at Stanford University 1992-97.
- Granted Freedom of the City of London 1999.
- Honorary positions with groups such as the Boao Forum for Asia, Trade Union Education Foundation, Deliberative Issues Australia, and Indigenous Engineering Aid.
- The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre, at the University of South Australia, was established in 1997.
Celebrations and challenges
As Prime Minister, Hawke travelled widely in the Pacific, Asia, Europe and North America, and was host to many international delegations visiting Australia. He also arranged the celebration of the Bicentenary of the First Fleet and European settlement in Australia with a year-long series of events conducted in all states and territories in 1988.
Although Hawke took the ALP to a record fourth term in office at the general election in March 1990, uncertainty grew within the parliamentary party over his ability to win another election during a period of recession. In 1990-1991 the Australian economy slid into recession, and unemployment reached 11 per cent in 1992 – the highest level since the Great Depression of the early 1930s. Anxiety led to Hawke’s removal as ALP leader on 20 December 1991, when Keating made a second and successful challenge to his leadership. Hawke immediately resigned the prime ministership, which Keating then assumed.
- Robert James Lee Hawke Biography and Profile (NAA / NMA)