It is rather melancholy that Bob Hawke died only two days before most likely seeing his beloved Labor Party returning to power after six years in opposition.
The consolation is a long and useful life well – some might say too well – lived.
Hawke was the Prime Minister in 1988 when I first came to Australia, even if I did not really become that interested and involved in politics well into the leadership of the man who first served under him and then knifed him, Paul Keating. Politics is a cruel game, where few people exit with dignity and on their terms. Still, Hawke had come to terms better with his political demise at the hand of his colleagues that Keating has to his at the hands of the Australian people a few years later.
Bob Hawke was the best Labor Prime Minister that Australia ever had and one of the best of any party. While I never voted Labor, I respect him immensely for the role he played in waking Australia up from the comfortable stupor of the first eight decades of her nationhood and setting the country on the road to future prosperity and growth we are still enjoying today. Labor’s far-reaching economic reforms were supported by the Liberal opposition, which no doubt helped, but credit goes to the Labor PM and his talented team for truly opening Australia to the globalised economy and giving the nation fresh energy and enthusiasm to face the rapidly changing world with optimism and panache. Not just generally good on economics, Hawke was also sound in foreign policy, remaining a strong believer in the American alliance and a good friend to Israel, not to mention supporter of “Solidarity” in Poland.
Labor to its own and to Australia’s detriment has since then failed to produce another leader of Hawke’s stature. Most of his successors have not only been pygmies but by and large they have also refused to stand on the shoulders of giants. If Australia does wake up with a Labor government on Sunday morning, it will be a government unworthy to tie the old man’s shoelaces. It’s a pity and a great waste; Bill Shorten, another former union big boss from the right of the party, could have been another great reformer Prime Minister, if only he was less Bill and more Bob. Alas.
Herein another big difference between Hawke and his successors. He was always a character. Love him or hate him, you always saw that he was a real, flesh and blood human being, warts and all (and there were plenty of warts, as there are with all of us), not an automaton or a creature of the machine. There was nothing fake about him.
Rest in peace with a heavenly pint, happy warrior.