I joined the Labor Party in early 1990, around the time of the federal election that year. It was the first time I had voted, and I enthusiastically voted for the sitting Labor member for Greenway in order for Bob Hawke to remain Prime Minister.
It was of course Bob Hawke's fourth and final election victory, and he would go out undefeated at the polls.
My greatest appreciation of Bob Hawke is that he was the ultimate marginal seat campaigner—the seats and the messaging in elections where they are won and lost. Don't get me wrong: he would feel just at home in a safe seat held by any party or any individual. But something I maintain that only those of us who have to fight for every vote to win their seat to get here and to stay here truly understand is that it's about the constant effort to build and strengthen relationships with people, to not take anyone for granted and to prove yourself with everyone. How do you do that these days, to connect with 100,000 voters who live in an electorate like mine in Greenway, who are so diverse in every aspect, from age to ethnic background, to religion, to income? I've come to appreciate more than ever in reflecting on Bob Hawke that how you engage with people can be just as important and sometimes more relevant in the eyes of voters than your party's actual policies. For Bob Hawke it was always about relationships. The lesson of Bob Hawke is that he was so approachable. He loved meeting people. He was authentic. He didn't talk down to people, but he didn't dumb himself down either. He was a man of incredible intellect and status but, rather than begrudge him because of it, Australians respected him because of it.
People I know who were around him during government stressed his incredible work ethic. By the time of the 1990 election he was around 60 years old, but he was incredibly fit and motivated and his campaign schedule was punishing. And, as he got older, he never stopped campaigning for the Labor Party, for Labor candidates and for sitting Labor MPs. In 2010, when I was running for the first time, he came out to Blacktown and did a walk through at Westpoint Shopping Centre, Blacktown. Just like everyone else has said in their remarks, he was utterly mobbed by everyone. It didn't matter their age or their background, everyone wanted a piece of him. It was like they were touching someone holy. He never lost that aura, and he was so generous in being ready to campaign for the Labor cause.
In 2013, when it was hard to find friends, he still came out to Blacktown and, speaking to Labor supporters and motivating them just before campaign day, he said something I will never forget. He rattled off all the arguments he knew our opponents would make going into that election and he encouraged everyone to arm themselves with the facts: 'Here are the facts about the Labor mission and what Labor has done to bring Australia to this point of its economic prosperity.' This was well before fake news was a thing. He told everyone to arm themselves with the facts.
Bob Hawke had every attribute to ensure that over time he set the standard. Indeed, in 1980, the Labor campaign slogan was 'Raise the Standard'. This was an election that Labor did not win—did very well but did not win—and it was the election where he entered parliament. I have a poster that takes pride of place in my office featuring Bob Hawke with Lionel Bowen, Bill Hayden and Neville Wran—giants of the labour movement. I had to remind myself that, although he was being featured heavily in this campaign, he was actually entering parliament for the first time. How unprecedented was that?
This guy was actually a candidate and he was being featured alongside the great leaders of the Labor Party. I never really appreciated what 'raise the standard' meant until I thought about how this was about taking Australia and saying: 'We are a very lucky country, but we need to make ourselves better. Australia is good, but we need to be making ourselves better.'
In conclusion, we as Labor people are often approached by punters who will make the remark that Labor have never had a leader since like Bob Hawke and that we will never have the kind of messiah quality that Bob Hawke had again. If we are going to just accept that as a fact then the Labor mission is hollow. I know what Bob Hawke would have said, just as I'm sure you do, Madam Deputy Speaker Claydon. Instead of just accepting that as fact, he would be turning on the three lessons I have outlined here: the importance of connecting with everyone, the importance of arming yourself with the facts to have quality debate on the issues that matter and, just as Bob Hawke said, the importance for us in Labor to always be raising the standard, to never accept the status quo and to never accept that near enough is good enough. They are the lessons that I take from Bob Hawke. I'm grateful, just as I know all of us in Labor are, for his life and his service to our country and to our movement.