Bob Hawke

Quick Facts

  • Prime Minister: 1983-1991
  • Name: Robert James Lee Hawke
  • Born: Bordertown, South Australia, 9 December 1929
  • Rhodes Scholar
  • Longest serving Australian Labor Party Prime Minister
  • Called the Silver Bodgie
  • Famous quote: After the yacht Australia II won the 1983 America's Cup, a jubilant Prime Minister Hawke memorably stated: ‘Any boss who sacks a worker for not turning up today is a bum.’


Bob Hawke was born in a small South Australian town near the Victorian border. His father was a minister of religion and his uncle was ALP Premier of Western Australia from 1953 to 1959. Bob Hawke joined the ALP when he was 18. After completing degrees in both Law and Arts at the University of Western Australia, Hawke won a Rhodes Scholarship and went to Oxford University to continue his studies. In 1958 he took a job as a research officer with the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU). Hawke went on to become ACTU President from 1970 to 1980.

For many years Hawke’s ambition was to be Prime Minister. In 1980 he stood as the ALP candidate for the Victorian House of Representatives seat of Wills and won. In early 1983, the Fraser Liberal/National Party Coalition Government called an early election to take advantge of Oppostion Leader Bill Hayden’s low popularity. Bill Hayden was persuaded by his party to resign, and Hawke became Opposition Leader on the day Prime Minister Fraser announced the March 1983 election. Labor won the election in a landslide and Hawke became Prime Minister. 

Bob Hawke had gained the reputation as a conciliator in his leadership of the ACTU, and his approach to government was much the same. One of the first acts of the Hawke Government was to call a summit of business leaders and union representatives in order to gain their support for reforms to modernise the economy and increase its competitiveness. These reforms included floating the Australian dollar, deregulating the financial sector and reducing trade barriers. The Hawke Government’s most important initiative was the Prices and Incomes Accord, which was an agreement reached with trade unions and workers to make the economy more productive by trying to keep wages and inflation rises low. In return, workers and their families were to benefit from social welfare measures, such as Medicare, which would guarantee free access to health care.

Alongside economic reforms, there were other important policy and legislative initiatives undertaken by the Hawke Government, such as the signing of a treaty banning mining in Antarctica, and stopping the Franklin River Dam in Tasmania going ahead. An initiative which improved the status of women in Australian society generally, and in the workplace, was the passing of the Sex Discrimination Act in 1984, which made it illegal for women to be discriminated against on the basis of their gender, and gave legal support to women who were, for the first time, entering occupations which were previously considered the preserve of men. A related initiative was the establishment of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in 1986, whose role was to ensure that Australia fulfilled its obligations under the United Nations human rights treaties to which it had agreed. 

After winning elections in 1984 and 1987, the Hawke Government narrowly won the 1990 election in an economic climate of high interest rates and rising unemployment. Hawke’s Treasurer, Paul Keating, had leadership ambitions and, after failing a leadership challenge in June 1991, successfully challenged Hawke for the prime ministership in December of that year. After losing the leadership, Hawke, the ALP’s longest serving Prime Minister, announced his retirement from Parliament.

After retiring from politics Hawke entered academia, accepting successive appointments at the Australian National University and the University of Sydney. The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre and the Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Library were establsihed in his honour at the University of South Australia. He often gives public lectures, in which he shares his views on current issues, such as social inequality, economics, international relations and Australia’s future. 



  • Blewett, Neal 2000, ‘Robert James Lee Hawke’ in Michelle Grattan (ed) Australian Prime Ministers, New Holland Publishers, Sydney.
  • D'Alpuget, Blanche 1982, Robert J Hawke, Schwartz.
  • Hawke, Bob 1994, The Hawke Memoirs, Heinemann, Melbourne.
  • Hawke, Hazel 1992, My Own Life: An Autobiography, Text Publishing, Melbourne.
  • Hurst, John, 1983, Hawke PM  (rev edn), Angus & Robertson, Sydney.
  • Jaensch, Dean 1989, The Hawke–Keating Hijack, Allen & Unwin, Sydney.
  • Anson, Stan 1992, Hawke: An Emotional Life, Macphee Gribble.
  • Mills, Stephen 1993, The Hawke Years, Viking.
  • Ryan, Susan & Bramston, Troy 2003, The Hawke government: a critical retrospective, Pluto.
  • Thompson, Tom & Butel, Elizabeth 1983, The World According to Hawke, Penguin, Melbourne.