Bob Hawke

The first thing I'd like to say, of course, is that I was blessed with an extraordinarily able Cabinet and ministry. Perhaps the best measure of that is that John Hewson, as a journalist at that time, wrote that this was the most distinguished and capable Cabinet since Federation, a view which I certainly held and think continues to be true and I pay tribute to my colleagues.

The second point I would make is this, there's rightly been reference to the fact that these were very troubled economic times in reference to wages blow out. Now there's one point I want to make very strongly about this. There was a wages blow out, but this was not sought by, or the fault of, the trade unions. As leader of the trade union movement, at the end of the 1970s and 1980 I pleaded with Fraser to sit down, do the sort of thing that I later did with the summit. To sit down and work out a saner, more sensible approach to the claims to be made by workers and employers on the resources of the nation, so that we would avoid unjustified levels of wage increases and profit grabs. He refused to do this so we had the wages bust out.

It's very difficult to overstate the extent of the economic challenge confronting Australia. It was perhaps best put by Lee Kuan Yew in 1980 when he said that if Australia went on the way it was, it would finish up becoming the poor white trash of Asia, and this was true.

I'd had the opportunity of studying the Australian economy very closely over many years; firstly as the advocate presenting cases in the court, I had to be right across the economic data, then as president. Then as a member of the two committees of enquiry – the Jackson and Crawford committees of enquiry. I was a member of those, appointed by two separate governments. As a result of all this study and analysis I knew that we simply had to reform our structures; the assumptions, attitudes, policies, institutions of the past were not adequate to meet the challenges of our time and we did face the real threat that Lee Kuan Yew had referred to.

So I was very, very much committed to move as quickly as possible upon election to give effect to my promise to call a summit. That was, in many senses, I think, the foundation of so much of the total success of our government.

It should be remembered that that summit included representatives from the Federal Government, state governments, local governments, big business, small business, trade unions, churches, social institutions, the whole fabric of Australian society and the economic institutions were represented there.

Remember, we got a unanimous, bar one, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, but apart from Joh, we got a totally unanimous communiqué from that summit held within a month of coming to office, which gave me the mandate that endorsed the analysis that I'd given of the problems and the things that had to be done. So we were able to go ahead.

Of course I delivered very early on one of the promises I made in the election campaign. At the meeting in rural Australia I'd promised that if elected I'd finish the drought and of course we did that within a matter of a few weeks and everyone was very grateful for that. So these were tough and challenging times and I repeat again, the enormous indebtedness I felt to my Cabinet colleagues.

The one final point I would make is this, and Jim you have referred to things we did in the environment very early. I was very much environmentally-minded as well as being dedicated to optimising economic growth. The challenge of the Franklin was a big one during the campaign, but I was absolutely committed to that. I knew we'd lose seats in Tasmania. In fact we lost them all. But I said to our people we'll get them all back and we did. There is no reason to say it's got to be either environment or growth. Sensible government can provide decent policies which will ensure environmental protection and the conditions for optimising economic growth.

Thank you very much.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019