The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Library
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Bob Hawke

The Hon RJL (Bob) Hawke AC was Prime Minister of Australia from 1983 - 1991.With eight years in office, he was Australia’s longest-serving Labor Prime Minister and the third longest-serving Prime Minister of any party. He became Prime Minister after only two years in parliament, and only one month as Leader of the Opposition.

Life before Politics

Bob Hawke [Image source: UniSA]Bob Hawke was born on 9 December 1929 at Bordertown, South Australia. His father Clem was a Congregationalist minister and his mother Ellie was a teacher. Ellie had a strong belief in her son’s destiny as a political leader and this contributed to his self-confidence throughout his career. His political role model was his uncle Albert Hawke, Labor Premier of Western Australia between 1953 and 1959.

He was educated at Perth Modern School and the University of Western Australia, where he graduated with the degrees of Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts (Economics). He was Western Australia's Rhodes Scholar of 1953 and studied at Oxford University from 1953 to 1955, graduating with the degree of Bachelor of Letters. His thesis was on wage-fixing in Australia.

Bob Hawke [Image source: UniSA]In 1956 he returned to Australia to take up a research scholarship in arbitration law at the Australian National University, and in 1958 became Research Officer and Advocate with the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU). He quickly demonstrated his competence in research and advocacy leading him to take on the presentation of the ACTU’s annual case for higher wages to the national wages tribunal, the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. Over the next ten years he attained enough prominence and success in his advocacy role to be encouraged to run for ACTU president, despite having never previously held elected office in a trade union. He was ACTU President from 1970-1980. His considerable skills of negotiation and his pragmatic approach to governance meant he was generally liked and respected by the unions, employers and the wider Australian public.

Life in Politics

Bob Hawke [Image source: UniSA]Bob Hawke joined the Australian Labor Party (ALP) in 1947 while at University.  He was elected President of the ALP for the period 1973-1978. In 1980 he was elected to the House of Representatives in Federal Parliament for the electorate of Wills in Melbourne. He was immediately appointed as the Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations, Employment and Youth. In February 1983 he became the Leader of the Labor Party, on the same day that an election was called for March 1983. He led the Labor Party to victory in the general election in March 1983 and, in winning three successive elections, became Australia’s longest serving Labor Prime Minister.

Hawke remained a popular and effective Prime Minister throughout his term, thanks to a consensus style of government and a range of effective and necessary reforms in economic policy, healthcare, human rights, environmental policy and international affairs. The Hawke government was unequivocally committed to the principle and practice of equality of opportunity and to the security of Australia through constructive international engagement. Hawke, more than any other prime minister before or since, changed the Australian economy, transformed the operation of government and transfigured political culture particularly in the ALP. He ceased to be Prime Minister in December 1991 and resigned from the Parliament in February 1992.

Life after Politics

Since resigning from Federal politics Hawke has been a successful businessperson in property, a consultant for international negotiations and business and a journalist for Channel Nine and various newspapers. In August 1994 he published The Hawke Memoirs. He maintains a high public profile through academia, various labour campaigns and his work as a public speaker. Hawke has championed many public causes including Australia’s movement towards a republic and more recently through the Hawke Centre and its research institutes. Most recently, Hawke helped establish the International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding in 2009 with the idea of promoting interfaith dialogue and uniting disparate people to create common understanding.

Bob Hawke was made a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) in 1979. He is an Honorary Fellow at the University College of Oxford, was presented with an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters by the University of Western Australia, and holds honorary Doctorates from Nanjing University of China; the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; the University of New South Wales; the University of South Australia; Honorary Doctorate of Civil Law, Oxford (Rhodes Trust centenary celebrations at Oxford University - 2003) and Hon Doctorate of Humanities, Rikkyo University, Tokyo (2003).

He was appointed Adjunct Professor in the Research Schools of Pacific Studies and Social Sciences at the Australian National University for the period 1992-1995, Honorary Visiting Professor in Industrial Relations at the University of Sydney 1992-1997 and Member of the Advisory Council of the Institute for International Studies at Stanford University 1992-1999.

Current honorary positions include: Member of the Board of Advisers of the Boao Forum for Asia; Chairman, The Hawke Research Institute Advisory Board at the Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre, University of South Australia; Chairman of the Committee of Experts on Membership of the Education International; Chairman, Trade Union Education Foundation; Member of the Advisory Board, Deliberative Issues Australia; and Patron of Indigenous Engineering Aid.

For more biographical information about Bob Hawke visit the National Archives of Australia 'Australia's Prime Ministers' site.