Bob Hawke, the environmental PM, bequeathed a huge ‘what if’ on climate change

Marc Hudson, University of Manchester

Since the news broke of his passing, Bob Hawke has been feted as the “environmental prime minister”. From saving the Franklin River, to protecting Antarctica from mining, conservationists have praised his environmental legacy in the same way economists have lauded his financial reforms.

Hawke was in the Lodge during the crucial period when Australia first became aware of – and tried to grapple with – the issue of climate change. And the trajectory of his leadership, not to mention the manner and timing of his political demise, leaves behind a huge question of what might have been.

Read more:
Vale Bob Hawke, a giant of Australian political and industrial history

Hawke had been in the public eye since becoming head of the ACTU (a far more consequential body back then) in the late 1960s.

Famously, he took the leadership of the Australian Labor Party from Bill Hayden on the morning that then Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser called the 1983 election. That election had a major environmental issue: the proposed damming of the Franklin River in Tasmania.

Labor promised to halt the project if elected, and it duly did so, winning the court case later that year. But elsewhere Labor remained reluctant to use its federal environmental powers in a wholesale way. Although there was a National Conservation Strategy, Hawke and his senior ministers remained focused on transforming Australia’s economy, bringing down tariff barriers, floating the dollar, and much else.

There were specific battles over the Wet Tropics, uranium mining, and other “green” issues. But something was coming down the track that would ultimately outstrip them all.

Climate conundrum

Barry Jones, Hawke’s science minister from 1983 to 1990, tried in vain to get ministers interested in climate change. Jones mournfully noted in 2008 that he had raised the alarm in 1984, but his cabinet colleagues did not listen:

The response from my political colleagues in Canberra was distinctly underwhelming. I think some of them were persuaded by (industry) lobbyists to say sooner or later a technological fix will come up.

Political journalist Niki Savva’s memoir, So Greek (p.136), gives a clue as to the possible reasons behind this:

Bob Hawke couldn’t stand Barry. A few journos, included myself, were talking to Hawke at the back of his VIP aircraft once about his ministers, when one of my colleagues said to him: “Take Barry Jones…” Hawke interrupted and said testily, “No, you take him.”

It would take a different, more politically cunning minister in Hawke’s next cabinet (1987-90) to bend his colleagues’ ears towards the climate question. The incoming environment minister, Graham Richardson, realised the electoral importance of green issues – whether the ozone hole, deforestation or sewage – in helping Labor differentiate itself from the Liberals. Meanwhile, Hawke had other advisors who were also fighting the green fight from within, and noisy large environment groups without.

After the Commission for the Future (a Barry Jones initiative) had launched the Greenhouse Project in 1987, Hawke began to give speeches about the importance of action against the emerging threat of global warming.

In June 1989, Richardson, having proposed a greenhouse emissions target only to see the idea nixed in cabinet by treasurer Paul Keating, noted:

The environment is galloping up the hit parade, and will be top of the pops pretty soon. It’s come from nowhere as an election issue to be Number Two to interest rates.

Hawke’s 1989 statement on the environment (jokingly called the World’s Greatest Environmental Statement) contained little detail on the idea of emissions reductions. Ironically enough, the Liberals went to the March 1990 election with a more ambitious emissions target than Labor.

After winning the 1990 election with Green preferences, the Hawke government established the “Ecologically Sustainable Development” policy process. It featured nine working groups in areas including agriculture, tourism, energy use, and so on, with an overarching “greenhouse” group added later.

However, by 1991, the climate issue was slipping down the charts once more, eclipsed by concerns such as the first Gulf War and the “recession we had to have”. What’s more, Hawke’s relationship with Keating had broken down after he reneged on his promise to stand aside after a third term, and the airwaves were now dominated by political intrigue.

Rising resistance

Meanwhile, the business community was growing more organised in its resistance to environmental regulation. After Hawke vetoed a uranium mine in Kakadu National Park in 1991, industry formed the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network (see Guy Pearse’s High and Dry for the full story) to make sure climate policy didn’t follow the same path.

Hawke stuck to his guns. In October 1991, at a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, he pledged to go to the following year’s Earth Summit in Rio and apply maximum pressure for global action.

Hawke’s days as prime minister, however, were numbered. In December 1991, after a lacklustre parliamentary response to John Hewson’s “Fightback!” policy launch, Keating’s forces moved in for the kill. Hawke’s time as leader had begun and ended with leadership coups – a tactic that has become an even more potent threat in recent years as the climate wars have heated up.

Read more:
Carbon coups: from Hawke to Abbott, climate policy is never far away when leaders come a cropper

Keating didn’t go to Rio in 1992, making Australia the only OECD country that didn’t have its top political leader present at the landmark summit.

Australia produced an eye-wateringly weak National Greenhouse Response Strategy that was not worth the paper it was written on, and was within two years challenged by greens seeking a carbon levy.

There was an effort to get more meaningful domestic policy ahead of the first round of UN climate talks in 1995. But this was defeated by a beefed-up constellation of energy companies, academics and think-tankers, with newspapers and unions helping. Since then, Australian climate policy has been, to put it mildly, inadequate.

Could it have been different?

Hawke had a penchant for the grand gesture – from “no Australian child will be living in poverty” to “Australian servicemen not dying overseas” – and this naturally prompts us to ask “what if”?

What if he had been at Rio? What if Australia had invested properly in energy efficiency, solar and other renewables? Of course it’s entirely conceivable that the business community’s response would simply have been even more ferocious, and the environmental movement’s early-1990s malaise all the more pronounced. But it’s not impossible to imagine that Hawke’s forceful determination would have carried the day, as it did on so many others.

There’s been a lot of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere since Hawke was prime minister, and plenty of hot air pumped into the climate policy debate. But although Hawke fell agonisingly short of finding out who would prevail in 2019, the next prime minister’s climate task is clearer than his, and far more difficult: preparing Australians for inevitable consequences of past policy failures.The Conversation

Marc Hudson, Researcher, University of Manchester, University of Manchester

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Hawke was our larrikin, but also our reformer

Richard Holden, UNSW

Bob Hawke will be remembered variously as Labor’s longest and Australia’s third-longest serving prime minister, as a union leader, and a larrikin.

But most of all, he will be remembered as a reformer -— presiding over a set of economic reforms that modernised the Australian economy and set the stage for the prosperity of the last three decades.

Floating the dollar

On Sunday March 6 1983, hours after the election that swept him to victory, Hawke and his treasurer-designate Paul Keating met the head of the treasury John Stone, a contemporary of Hawke’s from Perth Modern high school, in the empty saloon bar of Canberra’s Lakeside Hotel, where Hawke had spent the night.

Stone told him the dollar was far too high and recommended a huge and immediate devaluation of 10%. Hake’s new economic advisor Ross Garnaut soon formed the view that it was crazy to manually adjust the dollar to stop too much money pouring into and out of the country. When, later in the year, Stone opposed the idea of floating the dollar and the Reserve Bank recommended only inching slowly towards a float, Hawke said words to the effect of “why not right now?”.

From Monday December 12, 1983, buyers and sellers have set the value to the dollar, allowing its price to adjust (mostly) smoothly in order to meet supply and demand. The economy has better managed itself.

Financial deregulation and foreign investment

When Hawke took power the Australian banking system was hopelessly insular and concentrated. Four big banks held 81% of the assets and only one new banking licence had been granted since World War II.

In early 1985 the government injected some real competition into Australian banking, inviting applications for new banks.

Later that year it relaxed restrictions on foreign investment in Australia.

Together these reforms provided a capital-thirsty Australian economy with the much-needed fuel it needed to unlock a huge range of investment opportunities.

The Accord

The wage-price spirals that bedeviled advanced economies in the 1970s continued in Australia until the prices and incomes Accord of 1983. High inflation had led to large wage claims which further fuelled inflation.

The key was to find a way to break this vicious circle of expectations. The first Accord, which guaranteed wages increases every six months indexed to the consumer price index, did just that. Once people knew that wages weren’t going to gallop ahead of prices, there was less of a reason to raise prices, which put less pressure on wages, and so on.

Hawke introduced a raft of other changes to industrial relations all the way through to the 1991 introduction of enterprise bargaining, all of which reformed an outmoded industrial relations system. But it was the Accord that was in many ways the most dramatic.

Tariff reduction

Although the Whitlam government began the removal of tariff barriers with a dramatic 25% cut in 1973, it Hawke that began a further and systematic reduction in tariffs and other trade barriers, for some products all the way down to near zero. It was also coupled with adjustment assistance for affected workers (something I have said consistently that didn’t go far enough.


A raft of government assets began to be privatised under Hawke. From the Commonwealth Bank to Qantas, these large Australian companies were lazy, slow-moving, and insulated from competition. Qantas used to fly direct to Rome several times a week. Why? Well, which politician or diplomat doesn’t like a trip to Rome and would want to change at Heathrow?

Removing political meddling and subjecting these companies to competitive pressure ensured they served their customers better, employed more people over time, and provided returns to most Australians through the shares there superannuation owned.

A philosophy, not a list of policies

This is an incomplete list of Hawke’s reforms and achievements. And his government left more than a list of accomplishments, however important.

Hawke, and the government he led was the “Third Way” before we knew what that term meant. Before Clinton was Clinton, before Blair was Blair.

It took a Labor government to make these market-oriented reforms. Matched with policies like the reintroduction of Medicare, they reflected an ideology that was pro-market, but also prosocial.

And while Paul Keating as treasurer must surely receive a good measure of credit, so too the then opposition — especially John Howard — for not mindlessly blocking many of the reforms, it was the leadership of Hawke that made it possible.

A charismatic leader, master tactician, and pathbreaking economic reformer. We will miss you, Bob Hawke.The Conversation

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Vale Bob Hawke, a giant of Australian political and industrial history

Frank Bongiorno, Australian National University

If Bob Hawke had never become prime minister, he would still be recalled as a major figure in Australian political and industrial history. As president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), Hawke was as instantly recognisable as any pop star. But it is as prime minister of Australia (1983-1991) that he made his greatest mark.

Robert James Lee Hawke was born in Bordertown, South Australia, on December 9 1929, the younger of two sons of Clem Hawke, a Congregationalist minister, and his wife Ellie. The family – minus Neil, who was at boarding school in Adelaide – moved to South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula in 1935. Clem had always doted on Bob, regarding him as “special”. But following Neil’s tragic death from meningitis, Ellie’s passionate love and missionary purpose focused with a new intensity on her remaining son.

The family moved to Perth in 1939. Hawke was educated at the selective Perth Modern School and, from 1947, the University of Western Australia, where he completed degrees in arts and law. He also threw himself into student politics, eventually being elected president of the Guild of Undergraduates.

Clem’s younger brother Albert, a Labor member of the Western Australian parliament and premier from 1953 until 1959, was in these matters his nephew’s mentor and guide.

Bob’s survival of a near-death experience in a motorcycle accident confirmed his parents’ conviction that God had spared their son for a high public purpose. Hawke would abandon Christianity after witnessing poverty in India, but never lost the zeal that dictated he must fully use his talents to make a better world.

Bob and Hazel Hawke on their wedding day in 1956.
John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library

While Hawke was at university he met the attractive and intelligent Hazel Masterson, to whom he became engaged in 1950. The following year, Hawke failed to win the Rhodes Scholarship, but was determined to make another bid. Hazel then became pregnant: if they had married – as was usual for a courting couple in such straits – Bob would have been ineligible. Instead, Hazel underwent a traumatic abortion, the first major sacrifice in a marriage that would demand much of her.

Awarded the Rhodes Scholarship in 1952, Hawke travelled to Oxford, where he completed a Bachelor of Letters thesis on Australian wage determination, learned to fly, and broke a world beer-drinking record. Hazel joined him in England.

Bob Hawke soon after he was elected ACTU president in 1969.
Uwe Kuessner/ Wikicommons

They married in Perth in 1956 and moved to Canberra, where Hawke had a scholarship to research a doctorate in law at the Australian National University. In 1958, the offer of a position as ACTU research officer led him to abandon his studies and the Hawkes – including Susan, the first of their three children – moved to Melbourne. He proved a pugnacious, knowledgeable and persuasive advocate, becoming a hero in union circles after some notable successes in the Arbitration Commission. In 1963, he narrowly missed winning the federal seat of Corio.

In 1969, Hawke was elected ACTU president, receiving the left’s support in what turned out to be a closely fought contest. During the 1970s, he became a towering figure in national political and industrial life.

Hawke was peculiarly popular at a time when unions were not, perhaps partly on account of his reputation for having the magic touch in the resolution of industrial conflict. His arched eyebrows and dark wavy hair gave him a striking, handsome appearance seemingly made for television. His educated yet unmistakably Australian speech resonated with the era’s more assertive national identity.

The relationship between Bob Hawke and Gough Whitlam was fraught.
TV Tonight

Hawke was also ALP president from 1973 until 1978, and he served as a governor of the Reserve Bank from 1973 until 1980. His relationship with Gough Whitlam was fraught – there was hardly room on the national stage for two egos on this scale – but Hawke was a calming influence after the dismissal, resisting calls for a general strike.

To many, Hawke’s rise to the prime ministership appeared inexorable, yet by the late 1970s there were in place some formidable personal barriers. Hawke was a champion womaniser and boozer. He was an unpleasant drunk. And his widely admired charm and charisma came with a volcanic temper, sometimes on display in his television appearances.

Some flamboyantly boorish behaviour at the 1979 ALP National Conference in Adelaide – involving intemperate criticism of party leader Bill Hayden in the presence of journalists – briefly imperilled his career. But having decided to enter parliament, he gave up the grog. A 1982 biography written by his former lover and future wife, Blanche d’Alpuget, made a clean breast of his personal excesses and family failings. By this time Hawke was the federal member for Wills and shadow minister for industrial relations, having entered parliament at the 1980 election.

Hawke’s pursuit of the federal Labor leadership showed that he was prepared to be ruthless in dealing with an opponent when they stood in the way of what he saw as his destiny. Piece by piece, he and his allies undermined Hayden’s confidence and standing. An unsuccessful bid for the party leadership in mid-1982 was followed by elevation to the leadership in February 1983 after key party powerbrokers lost confidence in Hayden’s prospects, virtually forcing his resignation. Hawke led his party to a comfortable victory on March 5.

In government, he was fortunate to have inherited the Prices and Incomes Accord, finally agreed by the federal ALP and ACTU after Hawke assumed the leadership. The accord committed unions to wage restraint in return for benefits such as Medicare.

Hawke was also endowed with a talented frontbench. But he proved himself a skilled cabinet chair, with a flair for getting the best out of people. His popularity was a valuable asset; Hawke’s approval rating soared, giving weight to his conviction that he had a special relationship with the Australian people.

Hawke was also lucky. The drought ended. The worst of the recession would soon be over. And Australia II’s victory in the America’s Cup seemed as much Hawke’s victory as that of the successful syndicate, after a jubilant prime minister announced that any boss who sacked a worker for not turning up that day was a “bum”.

An emboldened government floated the dollar – in essence, the joint decision of a highly productive partnership with his treasurer, Paul Keating. The government, helped by a High Court decision, prevented the damming of the Franklin River in Tasmania, while Hawke steered the country through a divisive debate about Asian immigration. But in the face of opposition from some states and the mining sector, the government abandoned national Aboriginal land rights legislation, and Hawke’s later commitment to a treaty, similarly abandoned, further damaged the government’s reputation in Aboriginal affairs.

In 1984, Hawke shed public tears over the heroin addiction of his daughter, Rosslyn. He was not at his best in the subsequent election campaign. Hawke won, but had lost some of his shininess.

A balance-of-payments crisis and plunge in the dollar in the mid-1980s provided the backdrop for greater financial stringency and further free-market reform. Welfare carefully targeted those most in need, university fees were reintroduced, and tariffs were lowered. Some public assets were sold.

Critics complained of the abandonment of Labor tradition and criticised Hawke’s closeness to his “rich mates”, along with his alleged subservience to the United States. Electorally, though, Hawke remained a winner, enjoying further victories in 1987 and 1990. No federal Labor leader had won three elections, let alone four.

Hawke’s prime ministership came to grief over his rivalry with Keating and the deterioration of Australia’s economy, culminating in the worst recession since the 1930s. After an unsuccessful tilt at the leadership in mid-1991, Keating defeated Hawke in a ballot shortly before Christmas. Hawke resigned from parliament.

Bob Hawke and Blanche d’Alpuget at the Labor campaign launch in 2016.
AAP/Mick Tsiakis

His memoirs, published in 1994, attracted considerable interest not least for his continuing hostility to Keating who was still then prime minister. In 1995, following a divorce from Hazel, he married d’Alpuget. Hawke subsequently worked in the media, pursued a business career and served as chairman of the committee of experts of Education International, a global voice of the teaching profession.

In a 2010 survey of historians and political scientists, Hawke came second, just behind his hero, John Curtin. Hawke’s historical reputation has risen as his record has been viewed in light of the more modest achievements of every one of his successors.

He is survived by his second wife, Blanche d’Alpuget, his children by his first marriage, Susan, Stephen and Rosslyn, six grandchildren, as well as great-grandchildren.The Conversation

Frank Bongiorno, Professor of History, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Heed Hawke’s call – Australian federalism is an idea whose time has ended

Bede Harris, Charles Sturt University

Former prime minister Bob Hawke’s recent call for the state governments to be abolished is worthy of support.

Labor has historically been in favour of centralisation, while the Coalition has supported federalism. So, Hawke’s position is not surprising. But leaving aside party politics, there are good reasons why Australia should consider this change to its Constitution.

Solves no problem and confers no benefit

The reason Australia has a federal Constitution is a negative one. It was due to fear from the colonies of domination by each other or by the new national government.

Taken at its best, the adoption of federalism in preference to a unitary system was the necessary price of creating Australia as a nation. At its worst, it was a base compromise pandering to colonial jealousies, which now saddles Australia with an unnecessarily complex and expensive form of government.

Unlike in countries such as Nigeria, where federalism serves the purpose of providing for ethnic autonomy, Australian federalism solves no problem and confers no benefit.

The supposed major benefit of federalism is that it provides protection against tyranny by diffusing power. But federalism does not affect what governments can do to individuals, only which government may do them. Distributions of power are not as effective a protection of liberty as are restraints on power.

Federalism cannot provide an effective limit to what the state and Commonwealth parliaments can in combination do to the individual. Only a Bill of Rights can do that.

So, Australia is left with nine governments and 15 legislative chambers for a population of 24 million.

The costs of this are staggering. In 2002, the annual costs of federalism to the economy was estimated at A$40 billion – a figure that would be much higher today.

This covers costs such as running state and territory governments, costs to the Commonwealth of interacting with the states, and compliance costs to business. But it excludes intangible costs in the form of time and inconvenience: think of simple matters such as car registration or entry into a new school system experienced by anyone who has moved interstate.

Public opinion in favour

There is ample evidence that Australians, notoriously resistant to constitutional change, would support abolishing the states.

A 2014 survey by the Griffith Federalism Project found 71% of respondents favoured changing the current system. Among this majority, there were preferences for different allocations of power between national, regional and local governments.

The idea of replacing the states with regions defined along rational economic lines was an interesting feature of these results. But even more significant were the results of a 2014 survey commissioned by lobby group Beyond Federation, in which 78% of respondents supported the idea of Australia having a single set of laws for the country. So, it seems that constitutional reform to abolish the states would be well received by voters.

Making such a change would mean that, as in New Zealand and the UK, Australia would have a single (national) parliament with comprehensive lawmaking power. That parliament could delegate lawmaking authority to regions and/or local governments, in the same way as state parliaments currently delegate power to local authorities.

However, there would be no more disputes over which lawmaking power the national parliament had, and no doubt that national law overrode regional and local law. The legal system would be much simpler, and compliance costs to business and individuals radically reduced.

Australia would also have one department of education, one department of agriculture, one department of the environment and so on, instead of multiple agencies currently.

Disputes over shares of Commonwealth revenue allocated to the states is a constant feature of federal-state relations. All that would be a thing of the past. Expenditure could be determined according to the needs of people, irrespective of where they lived and without reference to artificial state boundaries.

The current focus on “reforming” the federation avoids the real issue: why have federalism at all? If we were writing a constitution from new, would we really recreate the current nine-government system? If the answer to that is “no”, there is a good reason to change it.

The Conversation

Bede Harris, Senior Lecturer in Law, Charles Sturt University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.