From Vital Speeches International … An Aussie Tribute

“Like a Mysterious Force of Nature”


Address by KEVIN RUDD, Prime Minister of Australia
Presentation of Life Membership in the Australian Labor Party to former PM Bob Hawke at the ALP National Conference in Sidney, Aug. 1, 2009

What a great day for the Australian labour movement, when we gather together to honour one of our heroes. It is a great day indeed.

To Bob and to Blanche you are welcome, welcome friends among us here today.
Bob is 79 years old. How is it that he does not change?

I said to him yesterday, “How is it that you don’t change?” And Jill, the second miracle, is how have you stayed with him for 26 years? But more of that later.

Bob Hawke, the heart and soul of our movement, the heart and soul of our Party and I believe also, the heart and soul of our nation Australia.

Today we come to honour him, not because he’s some sort of living saint. I don’t think Bob would aspire to that status. In fact Bob, none of us can, least of all me and I’m sure not you, as well, and sainthood is possibly best postponed to another life.

No, we honour him because he dreamed big dreams for Australia, and then got on with the business of dedicating every fibre of his being to turning those dreams into the reality of modern Australia.

To dream is one thing. To build and to begin the building is another. To stay the course through to when the building is done, well, that’s a third, but with RJ Hawke, we get the trifecta—the dreamer, the builder, the bloke who stays with it through to the end.

The achievements are vast. Just think about them for a moment.

In politics: the biggest Labor election win since Curtin of 1943; four successive Labor governments; the longest serving Australian Labor Prime Minister.

On the economy: tariff reform; the floating of the dollar; the internationalisation of the economy; taking Australia out of the economic dark ages and embarking upon our future in the world economy.

On social and environmental reform: the introduction of Medicare; the near doubling of Year 12 retention rates in schools; the decision to save the Franklin; great advances in reconciliation with Aboriginal people.

And on Australia’s place in the world: there he was, with the idea to set up the first ever pan-regional body designed to bring cooperation in the wider Asia-Pacific region, APEC; the Cambodian peace settlement; the chemical weapons convention.

This was not an idle government. They did a few things. They did a lot. This is the report card worthy of a great government, a great leader, a great Labor Prime Minister in Bob Hawke.

Bob Hawke was and remains a Labor moderniser, holding fast to our continued values, our continuing values of a fair go for all and nation building for all, while never fearful of applying those continuing values to the great challenges that we face for the future.

To survive Labor must always be a dynamic movement, never a static movement. To survive Labor must always be broadening the tent, never narrowing it, broadening it to include business, large and small; broadening it to embrace all working people, unionised and not; broadening it to embrace all communities, rural and urban; broadening it to embrace all peoples, whatever their race, whatever their creed, whatever their gender—in this great single enterprise called Australia.

And to survive Labor must always be looking to the future, never rooted in the past. Never locked in past battles, always ahead of the curve, looking for the next. Preparing Australia for the enormous challenges of the 21st Century, the complexity and the magnitude of which put into pale significance those we have seen in the century just passed.

Bob Hawke, the great achiever, the great moderniser, but also, the great unifier.

I’ll let you into a little secret: Bob and I had a little tipple last night, and we talked a little bit about today, and I asked him to reflect on his career and what made him most proud. What were the things that were the most important?

His answer, I believe, says everything about the man. The thing of which he’s most proud was his role, the role he was able to play in bringing the nation together after nearly a decade of ugly division, and those of us with memories alive enough and active enough can remember how bad things got in the decade following the dismissal of 1975.

Here we had, in this great Labor leader, this great Labor Prime Minister, a man who saw the challenge as being to unify the nation—and he did so.

Remember the summits, summits that brought the nation together around a new reform agenda for the future. Summits that entrenched the ideas of reconciliation, of recovery, and of reconstruction, bringing the nation together as only RJ Hawke could.

Himself a great bridge between all side of politics, between all parts of the economy and all parts of our nation, and only as Hawkey could.

Hawkey the larrikin, the lovable larrikin. Hawkey, none of us will forget his marvellous advice to all employers on the morning after the Americas Cup win, summed up, I believe, succinctly for all times. Hawkey the mad keen punter, Hawkey the life and soul of the Party, and not just our Party, and Hawkey the great campaigner, the man who not only campaigned because he had to but because he loved to. The excitement, the drama of direct engagement with the Australian people whom he loved and who loved him, as they still today.

You know, Hawkey has lost none of that old magic. As a new candidate, and as a new member of parliament, Hawkey did shopping centres with me. Picture it, there you stand, the new candidate or, the election later, the just-new member, and you might have hoped in your heart of hearts that you’d made some impression on your local community. But if you’re standing with RJ Hawke, you’re experience is as follows: to be totally ignored, to be knocked over in the rush, as the entire shopping centre positively swoons in his presence, a collective going weak at the knees.

That’s what happened when Hawkey would arrive at the shopping centre with you—a humbling experience for a candidate, and a member, particularly one who had tabs on himself like me.

You laughed too loudly, Riordan.

And, that was 10 years after he was last in office. It was nearly 20 years after he had first become Prime Minister, and that says so much of the man. There he was, at it again, aged 78, in the campaign of 2007, cutting a swathe through the shopping centres and RSLs and bowls clubs of Australia, and no more so than in a seat called Bennelong.

I developed a fleeting impression that for Bob, Bennelong was personal—the passion, the commitment, the dedication as he personally introduced himself to all 87,000 voters. The victory in Bennelong, Bob, is in large part you. I thank you for that.

But not just campaigning there—right across the nation. In one of his last articles, written before his tragic death in November 2007, the great journalist Matt Price wrote the following of Hawkey on the campaign trail in Perth:

“Bob Hawke barely paused to draw breath during a rousing, passionate speech that didn’t so much persuade his friendly audience to vote Labor as harangue them into submission…

“Like a mysterious force of nature, his speech ploughed ever forward, uprooting those in its path.”

And at the end of the speech, Matt reported the following exchange:

‘“How does it feel to be feted like a rock star?” wondered a local TV reporter. “I’ve got used to it, boy,” snapped Hawke.” And then he went on to say “If it helps Labor, I can cope.”’

Bob, you are loved by our Party, you are loved by our movement, and I believe you are loved by the nation.

We salute you, Bob Hawke—great achiever, great moderniser, great unifier, and we today, as a Party and as a movement, extend to you the honour of Federal Life Membership of the great Australian Labor Party.

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