'Australians knew Bob loved them': tributes paid to PM Hawke

Patrick Keneally

Bob Hawke’s successors as Australian prime minister and the Labor opposition leader hoping to follow in his footsteps, Bill Shorten, have led tributes to the former leader, who died on Thursday evening, aged 89.

The passing of the longest-serving Australian Labor prime minister just two days before a general election drew forth praise for his legacy, with even political opponents praising Hawke’s contribution to the country’s development.

Related: Bob Hawke obituary

Paul Keating, Hawke’s treasurer and successor as prime minister, said the country “is much the poorer for Bob Hawke’s passing”.

“Bob possessed a moral framework for his important public life, both representing the workers of Australia and more broadly, the country at large,” he said. “He understood that imagination was central to policy-making and never lacked the courage to do what had to be done to turn that imagination into reality.”

Scott Morrison said Hawke had a great intellect, enormous passion and courage. The prime minister extended “deep sympathies” on behalf of the conservative movement to the labour movement and the Labor party.

“I think we can all say as Australians, all, that we rejoice in the life of Bob Hawke,” he said.

While Morrison thanked for his contribution to the nation, the former prime minister Tony Abbott made a more direct claim to Hawke’s legacy, saying his signature achievements of financial deregulation, tariff cuts and privatisation “went against the Labor grain”.

“You might almost say he had a Labor heart, but a Liberal head,” Abbott said in comments widely mocked on social media. “Certainly the Coalition supported nearly all his big reforms, helping to make his tenure a time of economic revitalisation.”

Shorten, who just days ago promised to win the election “for Bob”, said: “The Australian people loved Bob Hawke because they knew Bob loved them, this was true to the very end.

“With his passing, the labour movement salutes our greatest son, the Labor party gives thanks for the life of our longest-serving prime minister, and Australians everywhere remember and honour a man who gave so much to the country and people he cared for so deeply.”

Shorten recalled images of Australia’s 23rd prime minister as a larrikin: “Maybe in the stands, eyes fixed on the track, creased and folded form guide in hand, ticking off another winner. Or in that iconic jacket, mouth open with laughter, dodging the beer and champagne, giving his prime ministerial blessing to a national sickie.”

Sally McManus and Michelle O’Neil, the leaders of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, which Hawke headed before leading Labor to victory in 1983, acknowledged Hawke’s passing “with immense sorrow and gratitude”.

“As a leader of our nation and of our movement, Bob was a hero to working people – an architect of the accords, the father of Medicare, and a founder of universal superannuation,” they said.

“The Australian union movement has enormous pride that a great and respected representative of working people and ACTU president went on to become a loved and legendary Australian prime minister.

“Millions of working people owe their health, their prosperity and their dignity in retirement to Bob’s work.”

Related: Bob Hawke: from the campaign trail to the world stage – a life in pictures

The former British prime minister Tony Blair said he had admired Hawke and learned from him.

“He was an immensely successful leader of Australia but he also impacted all of us round the world who were looking for a sustainable model of government which combined strong economies with high levels of social justice and investment in the most disadvantaged sections of society,” Blair said.

“Sharp, with a marvellous strategic political mind, and concealing a first class intellect behind that friendly and ‘good bloke’ exterior, he was wonderful and warm company, and from the first time I met him back in 1982, always willing to reach out and help younger politicians. A true model for so many of us. He will be greatly missed.”

Hawke’s widow, Blanche d’Alpuget, said: “Bob Hawke and Paul Keating and their governments modernised the Australian economy, paving the way for an unprecedented period of recession-free economic growth and job creation.
“Bob’s consensus-style approach of bringing together the trade union movement and the business community boosted job opportunities while increasing the social wage through Medicare and extra financial support for low-income families.

“Among his proudest achievements were large increases in the proportion of children finishing high school, his role in ending apartheid in South Africa, and his successful international campaign to protect Antarctica from mining.”