Josh Frydenberg MP – tribute to former Australian PM Bob Hawke and highlighting Hawke’s strong fondness for Israel

photo of Josh Frydenberg MP
July 3, 2019

I also want to pay tribute to his deep affection for the Jewish people and for the state of Israel, which was a continuous thread in his public and private life.

Full speech

Mr FRYDENBERG (KooyongThe Treasurer) (10:20): I thank the member for Corio for a wonderful personal address. It’s a great privilege to join the other speakers and pay tribute to the Labor Party’s longest-serving Prime Minister and one of Australia’s great Prime Ministers, Bob Hawke.

His contribution to his country will not be forgotten. On his watch, the Australian economy became more competitive and open, as it’s been said, with deregulation of the labour market, tariff reform, privatisation and, of course, the floating of the Australian dollar.

On his watch, Australia stood tall on the world stage, standing against apartheid but also strengthening our relationships with our neighbours and also with our key ally, the United States. Bob Hawke developed a personal rapport with Ronald Reagan. He inaugurated AUSMIN. He was instrumental to the establishment of APEC. I also want to pay tribute to his deep affection for the Jewish people and for the state of Israel, which was a continuous thread in his public and private life. In fact, his tireless advocacy on behalf of Soviet Jews was something that will never be forgotten, and it led to a number of them being given freedom and being taken from behind the Iron Curtain.

On the environment, the Franklin, the Daintree, the Antarctica and the Kakadu national parks all had their protections extended, benefitting from the signature of his pen and the vision of his heart.

It wasn’t just what he achieved that was special; it was also the way he went about it and the impression that Bob Hawke left. Whether he was shedding tears of sadness when he spoke about his family, or shedding tears of joy when Australia won the America’s Cup, his nation was behind him. The Australian people loved Bob Hawke. He knew it, and they thrived together.

Like many in this place, I have my own Bob Hawke story. When I was a young student at University College in Oxford, in the main dining room there were portraits of heads of state, prime ministers and presidents who had attended that college—Bill Clinton, Harold Wilson and Clement Attlee—but Bob Hawke, who had attended that college at Oxford, had no place on those walls. A couple of years later, when I returned to Australia and I was doing my articles of clerkship—the House may find it hard to believe I was very shy and retiring back then—Michael Duffy, who was the Attorney-General in Bob Hawke’s government, was there, and I went up to him and said: ‘Look, you wouldn’t know me from Adam, but I’d like to contact Mr Hawke. Is there any way to do it?’

He took me into a small room and he then dialled Bob Hawke. He said to Bob Hawke, ‘I’ve got this young man here who wants to speak to you about a proposition.’ So I did. I said: ‘Mr Hawke, I would like to see your portrait hang in University College at Oxford. As an Australian and as a former Prime Minister, you should hang there.’ Quick as a flash, he said, ‘That’s great.’ I asked who his favourite portrait artist was. He said, ‘Robert Hannaford.’ He sat for a number of sessions. The portrait was done.

The bill then came. It was quite a significant amount of money. I was thinking, ‘How do we put this together?’ Bob Hawke, who was famous for his love of horseracing, was in partnership with John Singleton and others. Their horse won a major race. The next morning, I rang Bob Hawke and I said, ‘Look, is there any chance that your friends may want to tip in for this portrait?’ He said, ‘Leave it to me.’ He rang back not long after. He said that it was done. The portrait was flown over to the United Kingdom. Bob Hawke himself flew over. The high commissioner went from London to Oxford. The portrait now hangs in University College at Oxford for all Australians to see their great Prime Minister.

The final word I want to leave with is to Bob Hawke’s father, Clem. In 1979, before Bob Hawke had entered politics, Clem was asked about the prospects for his son. Clem said: ‘Bob was as bright as a button as a boy. He is a humanitarian. Anything Bob takes on, he does well. He has a wonderful heart, sympathy for the underdog and great ideals.’ Clem said of Bob, ‘I think he would be a very good prime minister.’ Clem, you were right. You’re probably up there talking to Bob now and agreeing on one thing: your son was a great Australian Prime Minister. Rest in peace.

Link to parliamentary Hansard