Australians rejoice for the life of Robert James Lee Hawke.

By Neena Badhwar

Thousands of people gathered inside the iconic Opera house and many sat at the forecourt steps outside to pay tribute to former prime minister Bob Hawke, who died at the age of 89 on May 16.

Among them were Mr Hawke’s widow Blanche d’Alpuget, his family, and a slew of politicians, diplomats and dignitaries. There were five former prime ministers in attendance, including Tony Abbott.

Paul Keating paid tribute to Bob Hawke with whom he made a handsome yet an impressionable team that achieved many worthwhile policies together finally when he took over as Prime Minister.  

“Bob and I would have private skirmishes over this policy or that, even criticise one another to immediate staff,” Mr Keating said.

“But by instinct and a very large dollop of friendship, we always remained wedded to the same objective, a point even the closest of our staff sometimes fail to comprehend.”

Prime Minister Scott Morisson calling all Australians to rejoice for the life of Robert James Lee Hawke, said, “Our 23rd Prime Minister was a proud and faithful son of the Labor movement, and he became one of the proud fathers of our modern Australia.

“Today, we will rightly honour his many achievements for our economy, for our security, for Indigenous Australians, for our society, and Australia’s place in the world.”

“As a Liberal, I’m honoured to acknowledge these achievements, as I know others would be.”

“On many occasions – admittedly not all – our party was pleased to partner in many of the changes Bob was able to bring about. But he led them and that will be forever to his credit and his Government.”

“The 80s in Australia will always be the Hawke era, and it is a rich legacy for Australians,” he said.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese defined Bob Hawke as ‘Australia amplified’.

Hawke’s first term in office established Medicare which was first introduced as Medibank by the Whitlam government. With Paul Keating as treasurer, the Hawke government’s lasting achievements included floating the Australian dollar, dismantling tariffs and deregulating the banking system.

Bob Hawke was the longest serving Prime Minister after Sir Robert Menzies and John Howard having won election four times. He is also famous for having granted 40,000 Chinese students amnesty to stay in Australia after the student-led protests at Tiananmen Square  and massacre in 1989 in China.

When I came to Australia in 1976, I met Bob Hawke many a times, on TV actually, he was a powerful ACTU president who fought for the rights of common Australians. Everything about him carried a pull, his skirmishes with the press, with the interviewers. I read everything and anything about him in newspapers. Once in SMH when it was a broadsheet newspaper, Bob Hawke, as the Prime Minister was quoted as saying: ‘When histories are written, we are just a grain of sand on a beach’. He made you feel proud at every public moment and he etched deep impressions on people of Australia during his times. I finally did get the opportunity to see him in person at a boat cruise organised by the India Tourist office in Sydney when the Indian Tourism Minister was visiting. Everyone had crowded around him, he had this great magnetic persona. I just went close to him, no picture but he stayed large as ever in my memory, and always will.

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