Interview: No Ifs, No Butts
Unions: National Focus
Industrial: Fools Gold
Bad Boss: Bones of Contention
History: The Gong Show
Politics: The Hawke Legacy
International: Sick Nation
Economics: Closed Minds
Review: Mixing Pop and Politics
Poetry: One Size Fits All
The Locker Room
The Monk Off Our Back
The Hawke Legacy
The legacy of the Hawke government is that it illuminates the path back to office for Labor today.
This path lies not in emulating specific policies from the 1980s, but rather in designing policies which engage with the current needs and future aspirations of Australians. It is critical that these policies be matched with an effective party organisation and, most importantly, strong and effective leadership.
For a time, at least, Labor enjoyed the components of this electoral trifecta: a modern and vibrant party organisation with strong candidates and cabinet ministers, an enviable fundraising and campaigning record; policies which resonate in the electorate and which not only meet the needs of the times, but are forward looking; and, effective political leadership which can unite these two elements and communicate to the electorate Labor's purpose and vision for government.
The experience of the Hawke government is that these three factors were essential in winning and maintaining government. But the most important of these factors was political leadership.
Bob Hawke made a great contribution to Australian politics and society, as a trade union leader and as prime minister.
After starting with the ACTU in 1958, Hawke quickly made a name for himself as an intelligent and articulate advocate. He won the presidency of the ACTU in 1969, and within a year was hailed as the "best known person in Australia".
So much so, that in a secret report written for President Richard Nixon in 1971 - recently made public - the United States government worried about Hawke's growing popularity and concluded that Gough Whitlam's hold on the leadership of the Labor Party was "tenuous".
Hawke soon became the trade union movement's most successful advocate and negotiator. Known as the "fireman" he could resolve difficult and protracted industrial disputes. His powers of persuasion were legendary, and as was said, also "his conviviality - measured by copious beers over negotiations in hotel bars."
Bob Hawke enjoyed popularity that no political leader had previously experienced or has matched since - not even John Howard. With his approval peaking at 75 per cent, the Labor Party traded on Hawke's affinity with the electorate, wielding it as a political weapon against a succession of lacklustre Coalition leaders.
But Hawke's rapport with the Australian people involved more than just popularity; he seemed to possess a visceral connection with the electorate.
This enabled Hawke to refresh and modernise Labor's image, demonstrating that it was a party which could govern for all Australians. He embraced a reformist agenda, repositioning party policy, whilst remaining faithful to tradition and maintaining unity.
The fortunes of all governments are ultimately bound by the success or failure of their leaders. This was never more so than with the Hawke government. His ascension to the leadership made certain Labor's victory at the 1983 election, and was essential in Labor being a government of longevity.
Leadership is a critical element in politics, because it depends on individuals to use the levers of power to bring about change.
Successful leadership requires leaders who can influence the aspirations, beliefs and actions of those they seek to lead.
Hawke not only had these qualities, he had a far more important leadership quality: trust.
The vast majority of people had come to know Hawke, they respected his intelligence and his conviction, and he had a track record in resolving industrial disputes.
Moreover, Hawke possessed the political equivalent of rolled gold - he was not seen as a politician. He was somewhat above (or outside) the fray. His rise to fame and power had occurred outside the established political structures.
Haunted by the experience of the Whitlam government, Hawke understood the strategy Labor needed to return to office.
He highlighted economic management, careful attention to administration and the machinery of government, and was mindful of the foreign policy bogey, which had been used against Labor in the 1950s and 1960s.
He recognised the need for better communication and often spoke of the need for "gradualism" in implementing a reform agenda.
The centrepiece of his appeal to the electorate in 1983 was to promise consensus. He had been talking consensus since the 1970s.
He pledged to "bring Australia together", promising industrial harmony and to repair and reconstruct the economy with an "accord" between unions, employers and the government.
What is important is that he was responsive to the times and offered a vision for the future. Hawke understood the mood within Australian society and was able to articulate a strategy to respond accordingly.
Successful political leaders need to be enmeshed with the times in which they seek to lead. Not only do leaders need to suit their times, but to be truly successful, leaders need to make judgements in response to challenges they face.
Truly effective leaders manage to transform challenges into opportunities.
He suited a new political environment where the challenges in society required political solutions based less on dogma and ideology, and more on pragmatic, workable, consensual policy choices.
Today, the aspirations of the Labor Party draw very much on the Hawke legacy.
The party's moderate reform agenda, its commitment to social democracy and responsible economic management, its professionalism and political savvy, broad party unity, and desire to win - these were the hallmarks of Hawke's government.
The Labor government elected in 1983 heralded the party's most successful and creative period in office.
It was a time of policy innovation; unmatched electoral success; a caucus and ministry of exceptional talent, harnessed by effective leadership; and a lasting legacy of accomplishments.
As Hawke has said himself, "in the best traditions of our Party", the Labor government "created a more compassionate society and more efficient economy at home and a more independent and respected nation abroad."
This legacy should be a rallying point to invigorate the Labor vision and to develop new policies and strategies that will see the party returned to government once again.
Troy Bramston is co-editor (with Susan Ryan) of The Hawke Government: A Critical Retrospective, published by Pluto Press.
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