Speech: Address to The Senate on former Prime Minister Bob Hawke
Thursday, 4 July 2019
Senator McKENZIE (Victoria—Minister for Agriculture and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (10:14): Many thoughtful words have already been spoken about former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, his contribution and his character.
On behalf of The Nationals, my contribution today will reflect on his life and work, in particular as it relates to rural and regional Australia.
Labor PMs are not generally remembered for their connection to rural and regional Australia, but Bob Hawke, an exception in so many ways, certainly had a lasting impact on the regions and our industries.
For the X-geners here in the audience, it went far beyond his memorable cameo addressing the kids at Burrigan school in A Country Practice.
Bob Hawke's presence in the regions was felt almost immediately on him becoming Prime Minister.
In 1983, within the first few weeks, there was fortuitous breaking of a long drought, one of the worst in Australia last century.
Don't we wish we could summon those same powers now to bring respite to our farmers who are battling another prolonged and cruel drought across so much of regional Australia.
His birthplace was in Bordertown, regional South Australia, part of a district which has a long history in agriculture and is led primarily by cereal crops and livestock farming.
The first Hawke cabinet is widely acknowledged as being the best Labor post World War II cabinet, in large part because of the diversity within its ranks, which included a shearer in Mick Young and not one but two farmers in John Kerin and Peter Walsh.
Bob deserves recognition for the strength of his first ministry and for his appreciation of the importance of agriculture to our national economy. In his election speech, delivered in February 1983, he told voters:
No Australian resource is more important than our land.
No sector of Australian industry is more important than our great primary industries, which still provide 50 per cent of Australia's export income in normal circumstances.
In his book John Kerin spoke of his difficulties in convincing the then Treasurer Paul Keating—and it's no surprise—that agriculture should be front and centre of the economic policy debate, but it was clear that Bob Hawke needed less convincing.
That said, there was some unrest in rural and regional Australia directed at the Hawke government's economic changes during this time.
His ability to draw a crowd was once again on show when 45,000 of our farmers descended on Canberra in 1985 to protest high interest rates, the threat of higher taxes, high fuel costs and low commodity prices.
But, to Bob Hawke's credit, he fronted those farmers, and the Hawke government's economic reforms ultimately deserve some credit for helping to advance Australian agriculture.
The Hawke government contributed to the further liberalisation of ag trade, which has continued under subsequent governments.
Bob Hawke and John Kerin recognised the importance of rural research and development in delivering productivity growth and international competitiveness.
They also recognised that the benefits from rural research extended to consumers and new production and more jobs in regional communities.
This led to the creation of research and development corporations, where research is undertaken on behalf of farmers and the broader community in partnership, with the cost shared through both industry levies and taxpayer funding.
In 1985, Bob Hawke officially opened the National Farmers Federation house in Canberra.
The NFF is a lead peak body for agriculture and continues to play a pivotal role in policy development and advocacy across the country.
Like all good advocacy groups, Bob Hawke and the NFF didn't always see eye to eye.
The story goes the then NFF President Ian McLachlan was once on the receiving end of Hawke's sharp tongue.
He had an appointment with the Prime Minister and planned to deliver a blunt message on behalf of Australian farmers.
But, Mr McLachlan decided to practice his lines at a media doorstop on the way into Old Parliament House.
The story goes that the President of the NFF was left in the cabinet room for an hour, and when the PM, Hawke, finally arrived the message was short, sharp and extremely colourful.
The Prime Minister made it clear he was unimpressed about being lectured to through the media.
Bob Hawke left a lasting legacy in rural and regional Australia through his role in the evolution of the Landcare movement.
He's considered one of the fathers of Landcare for his launch of the movement during his prime ministership.
Few would have thought that when he stood at the junction of the Murray and Darling rivers in 1989 and announced the start of the decade of Landcare the movement would grow to what it is today.
The decade of Landcare is now in its third decade, celebrating its 30th anniversary.
There were many others involved in Landcare's initial creation, such as the late Rick Farley and the late Phillip Toyne.
But Hawke's support of this emerging movement gave it legitimacy and a champion in the highest office of the country.
Bob Hawke's words resonated with farmers and the environmental movement.
We should always acknowledge that farmers care deeply about the environment, too.
Bob Hawke's call to action brought people together for a common cause.
At that Wentworth address, he spoke about the importance of cooperation to care for the land:
… the degradation of our environment is not simply a local problem, nor a problem for one State or another, nor for the Commonwealth alone. Rather, the damage being done to our environment is a problem for all of us—and not just governments—but all of us individually and together.
Landcare was built on that spirit of cooperation that has made it what it is today.
He continued to champion Landcare, and people from all sections of Australian society have continued to join the noble cause of improving our environment and creating more productive farmland.
We now have nearly 5,500 Landcare groups and hundreds of thousands of volunteers across Australia working at the front line.
Australian farmers have an international reputation as sustainable land managers, and Landcare has played a significant role in promoting innovative agricultural practices, and it's a tremendous legacy for Bob Hawke.
In 1989, he was also the first Prime Minister to pledge to plant one billion trees to address land degradation, salinity and erosion, and this has led to more than 700 million trees reportedly being planted.
Just last year, the Australian government delivered our forestry plan and the plan to grow a billion new plantation trees, and this time it's over the next decade.
We will need to meet the demand going into 2050, particularly saw logs for building and construction.
We need to ensure Australia's renewable timber and wood fibre industry is better prepared for future challenges and opportunities.
Bob Hawke will be remembered for so many contributions to the Australia we know and love today.
His contribution to the bush is undeniable.
As someone who believes that our nation needs sustainable and prosperous regions just as much as it needs thriving cities, I want to ensure this work is sufficiently recognised in his long list of accomplishments that I'm sure other contributions today will make to the Senate.It's true that Bob Hawke's relationship with the National Party also had its ups and downs.
In one instance during a heated dispute on live exports, of all things, between meatworkers and farmers, Hawke described our former leader Doug Anthony as a 'damned nuisance'.
I can only conclude that Mr Anthony was doing exactly what all good Nationals leaders do, and that's advocating strongly for the regions and ruffling a few feathers along the way.
But Bob Hawke left a lasting impression on the former Country Party member for Calare, now one of my constituents in Victoria, Sandy Mackenzie—for those who don't know, Calare is in New South Wales — who shared a beautiful tribute with me which sums up the measure of Bob Hawke.
This is Sandy's story: 'In 1980, on the day that the new parliament was sworn in, the new member for Wills, Bob Hawke, popped his head into my office and said: "G'day. I'm a bit new around here, and I'm in the office next door to you guys."'
Over the next two years, Sandy and the guy he shared the office with, Sam Calder, and Bob Hawke shared many of those larrikin humanity moments that I think Mathias was referring to as they started their parliamentary journey together.
Obviously, then Mr Hawke went on to become Prime Minister.
This is Sandy: 'In the 1983 election, Bob, when campaigning from a truck in Orange, saw me in the crowd and called out: "Hey, Sandy, you're looking a bit miserable down there. Come up here, and I'll give you a bit of a hug."'
I think that is a practical measure of his ability to build partnerships and relationships with all people in Australian society, and it's lovely to see someone campaigning to be Prime Minister of this country actually out in a regional community talking to us.
So, on behalf of the National Party, my sympathies to his family, his friends and his many colleagues on both sides of the aisle.