It matters not which team you’re on politically (greenies, lefties, righty-tighties or even far-right buffoons) the large majority of Australians across the political spectrum rate Bob as an inspired leader with a clear vision for reforming Australia, economically & socially. More accurately he is ranked as Australia’s best Prime Minister.
During the Hawke / Keating years I was working at the Department of Defence. About half of my time was spent at Parliament House tending to the Information Technology needs for the Ministers for Defence and Defence Science & Personal. Believe me they needed some hand holding! Like many with access to the Ministerial Wing I was able to observe the ferocious daily grind of Government during a time in Australian Politics that can only be described as exciting.
Of course some will describe those years as difficult, with high interest rates and other issues, but the bottom line was the Australian Economy was being remoulded from the ground up. The country was being setup for long term prosperity and the foundations laid by Hawke & Keating have provided us with 25 years of continuous growth – the envy of many other countries.
Everyone agrees Bob was a larrikin, he loved a beer and having a good time. He has sculled more than one schooner of beer on camera, there was none of this gentlemanly sipping for Bob – get it down and start the next one! Bob did give up drinking whilst he was PM.
Bob was a mans man. He was one of the boys when it counted, but intellectually he towered above them all. He was well balanced in that regard.
I would see Bob in the corridors often and he’d always give the obligatory nod as he passed. If a couple of us were standing around having a chat, Bob would throw in a few comments of his own even if those comments were completely off topic. Bob was inclusive and regardless of where you were on the Parliamentary Food Chain, he treated all as equals.
The dynamic duo, Bob & Paul, turned Australia around and slid us into the international economy in such a way that 30 years on we still enjoy to fruits of their labour. They gave us Medicare, giving universal healthcare to all regardless of how well endowed your bank balance was. The poorest Australians are entitled to the same medical care as those who sleep on pillows stuffed with $100 bills. Australians owe a debt of gratitude to the likes of Bob Hawke & Paul Keating.
I mentioned earlier that it was an exciting time in Australian Politics, and I meant it. Each time I walked into the Ministerial, Senate or Reps Wing there was something in the air. Everywhere you looked people were busy, Ministers discussing policy in the corridors, messengers running back & forth between offices. Reporters wandering around looking for stories while photographers were ready to document history as it was made.
The Prime Ministers Courtyard was just a few steps away from the office of the Minister for Defence. Kim Beazley’s office was on the ground floor, but when Senator Robert Ray took over Defence was relocated to the first floor. Step out of the office, turn left and walk 10 paces and you could watch the PM giving statements & interviews.
Opposite the Prime Ministers Office was a small press briefing room where Bob would casually wander in to for more interviews. It was well set up with flags on the back wall, chairs for the press and a small stage with a podium for Bob.
On the 19th of December 1991 things were a little different around the house, more whispering than open conversations, back benchers running in & out of Ministerial Offices – something was going! In the middle of the afternoon I had to return to Russell Offices, but had itchy feet and left early so I could get back up to Parliament House. Senator Ray, Minister for Defence, was in a bad mood. His advisers were busily making phone calls and I heard the Minister say “it’s f#^king on now…” or something similar, I can’t recall his exact words.
There was a punch-up brewing between Hawke & Keating so I sat down near the TV and watched history unfold. Ministers had very large televisions with closed circuit live footage available. You could have the news running in one window with a few smaller windows running other channels or parts of Parliament House.
The vote wasn’t far away so Senator Ray hotfooted it down there. There was a disturbance in the force and we all felt it. About eight or nine of us patiently waiting for a result. We chatted about what might happen, who will be victorious and I may have even had a beer or two. At this point I’d like to thank Australian Taxpayers for all the Ministerial Beer I drank over the years – I once had to be poured into a limo just to get home – but that’s another story I probably wont talk about about.
My money was on Hawke because he was one us, whereas Keating had an air of arrogance about him. He would most certainly not give you an obligatory nod in the corridor. Years later I shared an elevator with him, I said ‘good morning Prime Minister’ and he totally ignored me – the bastard! I like him, I really do, and I think he is a mental giant & genius but he is an arrogant son of a…
Keating won it by a narrow margin.
Senator Ray stormed back into the office blabbering about god only knows what – suffice to say he wasn’t a happy chappy! After a few minutes of contemplation in his office he returned, just as a replay of the announcement appeared on the news. That’s when the swearing started. You see, one member of the labor party (whose name wont be divulged) went into the vote as a staunch Bob supporter, but came out firmly on the side of Keating. “F#*king treacherous b$#*@&” were just some of the words boisterously bellowed by Senator Ray.
He said “there will be a press conference shortly” and I knew right away I wanted to be there. I made my way to the Prime Ministers Office where found the press room was filled with reporters, TV cameras, photographers and other onlookers. I waited in the corridor and before long Hazel, Bob and his family came out of his office and entered the conference room through the backdoor – that’s where I headed. I could only see the side of Bob as he stood at the pulpit giving an emotional speech. Just two or three metres away from my hero as he kissed the job he loved goodbye.
For me, it was an historical moment, a bit like when Kerr sacked Whitlam and that iconic event on the steps of old Parliament House. Norman Gunstan happened to be there out of shear luck, just as I was here with Bob. It was a night I wont ever forget, despite the beers.
Hawke & Keating were my hero’s, their respective Governments were united & focused on executing their economic & social reforms that gave us the Australia we have today. There was no division, no back stabbing and no egos and worked as a team pushing Australia forward, not backward. Current Governments could learn a lot from the likes of Bob Hawke who showed true leadership as he modernised this country.
Politics is a bit of joke in 2019, particularly when you look at people like President Donald Trump who’s as dumb as dog-shit. Thankfully, our politicians in comparison are mental giants – if only they could unite for all Australians.
We have lost an icon and he will be missed.