Obituary: Bob Hawke (1929–2019)

Bob Hawke was Australia's longest-serving Labor Prime Minister, serving four terms (eight years) in office. He became Prime Minister after only two years in Parliament, and after one month as Leader of the Opposition. 

Robert James Lee 'Bob' Hawke was born on 9 December 1929 in Bordertown, South Australia. He was the younger of the two sons of Congregational minister Clem Hawke and Ellie (Lee) Hawke, a former teacher. His uncle Albert Hawke became Western Australia's Labor Premier in 1953. 

After attending Perth Modern School, Hawke studied at the University of Western Australia from 1947 to 1953. He became president of the University's Student Representative Council and graduated with Law and Arts degrees in 1953. 

He went to Oxford University in 1953 as Western Australia's Rhodes scholar and submitted a thesis on the history of wage-fixing in Australia. He graduated with a Bachelor of Letters in 1955 and returned to Australia in 1956. 

On 3 March 1956, he married Hazel Masterson at Trinity Church, Perth. They had four children Susan (b.1957), Stephen (b.1959), Roslyn (b.1960) and Robert (b.1963). 

In 1963 his first attempt to enter federal Parliament failed after he contested the seat of Corio (Victoria) against Liberal minister, Hubert Opperman. 

In 1958 he became a research officer and advocate for the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU). He played a key role in the 1959 basic wage decision and then succeeded in a metal workers' case before the Arbitration Commission. 

When Albert Monk retired as president of the ACTU in 1969, Hawke was elected his successor. During his years with the ACTU, Hawke transformed wage fixing in Australia and was acknowledged as the system’s best advocate. 

In 1973 he was elected federal president of the Australian Labor Party for a five-year term. As president of both the ACTU and the Labor Party, he represented the labour movement and the Labor Party on governing and advisory bodies, such as the Reserve Bank Board. He was awarded Companion of the Order of Australia in 1979. 

Hawke won the seat of Wills in October 1980 and was elected Labor Party leader on 8 February 1983. The federal election was called for 5 March 1983. 

His win in 1983 (75 seats of the 125 House of Representatives seats and 30 of the 64 Senate seats) was the greatest Labor electoral win since John Curtin led Labor to victory in 1943. Hawke led the Labor Party to a record four terms with further election wins in 1984, 1987 and 1990. 

The key issues of the Hawke government were globalisation, micro-economic reform and industrial relations. The opening of Australian finance and industry to global competition and the restructuring of the role of trade unions represented one of the most extensive undertakings of micro-economic reform in Australia's first century. 

On 20 February 1992, two months after losing his position as Prime Minister to Paul Keating, Bob Hawke resigned from his seat. He held no official posts after office but became a successful businessperson. 

Bob and Hazel Hawke divorced in 1995 and in that year Hawke married Blanche d'Alpuget, the author of his 1982 biography and the 2008 book on his years as Prime Minister. 

In 1997 the University of South Australia established a Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre, a Hawke Research Institute and a Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Library. 

Bob Hawke remained an occasional commentator on Labor Party matters and on federal politics until his death on 16 May 2019.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019