Bob Hawke: Thousands honour ‘deeply loved’ Australian ex-PM

Thousands of Australians have honoured the nation’s third-longest serving leader, Bob Hawke, in a state memorial service at the Sydney Opera House.

Mr Hawke was prime minister from 1983 to 1991 – a period of immense national reforms. He died last month aged 89.

He was honoured as an “inspirational” figure in a service attended by his family and many prominent Australians, including five former prime ministers.

Mr Hawke launched his successful bid for PM at the opera house in 1983.

He went on to win four elections – still a record for a Labor Party leader – and achieve record approval ratings. Together with successor Paul Keating, Mr Hawke is credited with modernising Australia’s economy.

Among other legacies, he created Australia’s universal Medicare healthcare system, promoted large-scale conservation efforts, and outlawed workplace gender

In his tribute, Prime Minister Scott Morrison described Australia as “a nation Bob Hawke loved and that deeply loved him in return”.

Among hundreds of people in the sold-out hall were former prime ministers Mr Keating, John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull, as well as current Labor leader Anthony Albanese.

Thousands more watched the service on a screen outside, with some carrying tributes on placards.

Former prime minister Julia Gillard, who is chairing a summit overseas, said in a video message: “A million words could be written and a million more spoken about Bob Hawke, such is the breadth of his achievement.

“But for me, the essence of the Bob I knew is caught by one word – inspiration… He inspired the nation to embrace a new and better future.”

Others celebrated Mr Hawke for his “larrikin” humour, resolve, and preparedness to show emotion.

Mr Hawke cried publicly a number of times in office – most famously in 1989 at a memorial service at Parliament House following the crackdown on Chinese students at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

It prompted him to offer asylum to Chinese students who were in Australia – a decision which ultimately granted permanent visas to 42,000 people.

Ms d’Alpuget used her speech to thank Chinese Australians for their condolences, saying “in no country besides Australia did he have more friends… than in China”.

Mr Keating drew laughs when he told the service that he and Mr Hawke would sometimes “criticise one another to immediate staff… often heavy criticisms”, but said the pair were united in delivering significant reforms.

“What matters is the value of the legacy, its quality and its endurance,” he said, adding that Mr Hawke’s was “five-star and 24 carat”.

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