Speech in response to the condolence motion for the Hon RJL Hawke AC

03 July 2019

Ms BUTLER (Griffith) (18:13): It's a real pleasure to rise in this debate to join in the celebration of the life of one of Australia's greatest ever prime ministers, Bob Hawke. To Bob's family and Blanche, we feel Bob's loss as a party, as a nation and as a people. I would like to add my condolences and those of my husband, Troy, to the family and friends of Bob Hawke. We know he is so sadly missed and we offer our sincerest condolences. I extend those also on behalf of the people of Griffith.

Bob's capacity to connect with and to deliver for Australians was unrivalled. He was a Rhodes scholar, a punter, a beer-sculling intellectual, a union leader, a friend of business and workers, a Prime Minister and a great economic and social policy architect. He shaped much of modern Australia. He was a great egalitarian, and he imbued these values into the Australian psyche more than any other political leader. He knew the value of listening to Australians, respecting their views and bringing them along on the reform journey that is the foundation of Australia's amazing 28 years of continuous economic growth. It's economic growth based on fairness. It's lifted Australian living standards to among the highest in the world.

Bob knew the economy must work first and foremost for Australian families. High-paying jobs, better skills and highly educated, healthy and prosperous Australian families were at the forefront of an unprecedented period of change in the international economy. The developed economies of the world were going through a period that nobody really knew how to deal with—that was, stagflation. We had high inflation and high unemployment. Conservative governments around the world sought to deal with that through deregulation and union busting. But not Bob. Bob saw an opportunity for collaboration with the union movement. That's how we got the Prices and Incomes Accord. It was that economic foresight and willingness to work together in a consensus-building way—not to union bust and deregulate but to come up with the Prices and Incomes Accord—that really broke the back of inflation in this country, the major pressing economic challenge of the early 1980s and beyond. He did that because he knew the importance of strong wages and fair industrial laws in building the economic success of our nation.

More importantly, I think, the lesson from the Hawke and Keating era, from all sides of politics, was that you don't just magically stumble across economic success as a nation. Opening our economy up to the world, delivering Medicare, lifting school retention rates, boosting higher education access and success rates, skilling our next generation for trades linked to jobs in our economy, giving people dignity in retirement through our world-class retirement income system—all of these elements were crucial to our success as a nation. They are all part of the Hawke-Keating economic legacy and Australia's economic architecture, which we should never forget and we should never allow to be eroded.

I want to mention Bob's impact in my home state of Queensland and on the people of Griffith, because it was tremendous. Prior to his prime ministership, only about 40 per cent of the Queenslanders completed year 12 but, by the end of his prime ministership, it was up to 85 per cent of Queenslanders finishing school. I'm in that statistic. My parents went to grade 10, as was very common at the time. It was rare in my home town of Cairns to go past grade 10. But one generation later, my sister and I both finished grade 12 and we both went to university. It was a quantum leap in one generation and it was because of Labor's work in education under Bob Hawke.

Bob Hawke was also one of the great environmental reformers of our nation's history. He knew there was no point in being a voice from the sidelines on the environment; you had to win government to protect it, and that's exactly what he did. He protected Kakadu and the Tasmanian wilderness as well. He saved the Franklin River from damming. He protected Antarctica, still the most significant environmental conservation action in the world's history. It's an incredible thing to have achieved. But I want to mention the World Heritage listing of the wet tropics. I was born in Cairns. My parents were born in Cairns. I and my family have a long history in Far North Queensland. As a child, one of my first memories of politics was how controversial that World Heritage listing of the wet tropics was. It seems like a no-brainer today but it was incredibly controversial. My uncle Jim worked in the sawmill at Ravenshoe, which was affected by the wet tropics' World Heritage listing. I remember the pain that that community went through.

My earliest memory of Bob Hawke was of course the joyous memory of our Prime Minister being so engaged in our national sporting events. As a kid, you care so much about the fact that we won the America's Cup; it is such a big memory. But probably my second memory of him is of my aunt throwing a phone brick at the TV every time he came on, because she lived in Ravenshoe and logging was being shut down as a consequence of the World Heritage listing. They were hurt. Economic reform is not easy; environmental reform is not easy. But for me and countless people around the world, the World Heritage listing of that amazing wet tropics area, including the Daintree and all the way down almost to Townsville—it's a massive area of Queensland—is so important for the preservation of those World Heritage values. In fact, the first protest I ever attended, I was a kid. The first protest I ever attended as a child was to protest against a development planned for that World Heritage area. I wish I could do justice to the significance of the work that Bob Hawke did to protect the natural environment for the benefit of Australians and for the benefit of the world. He really was a great Australian and a great conservationist.

Bob Hawke—Hawkie—was one of the greatest reformers in our history, along with Paul Keating and his predecessor Gough Whitlam. Those Labor prime ministers who came after them were fortunate to have them as people to look up to. I know that Prime Minister Rudd and Prime Minister Gillard drew so much from the legacy of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. There was something about Bob, wasn't there? There was something so Australian. He brought us together as a nation. Our country—our small but prosperous and brave country—became the optimistic, forward-thinking, modern nation that it is now because of the work that Bob did during his prime ministership. He is so sorely missed, because he was a proud Australian who did Australia proud. He will be missed. He's been honoured by the contributions that have been made today. We'll never forget his contribution or his memory. Cheers, Hawkie.