Memories of Bob

May 17, 2019 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Mark Leibler was the president of the Zionist Federation of Australia between 1984 and 1994…and has fond memories of Bob Hawke.

Bob Hawke with Mark Leibler

I did indeed have a great deal of contact with Bob Hawke in my then capacity as President of the Zionist Federation of Australia. My interactions with him mainly related to Israel in addition to a whole range of other matters of particular concern to the Australian Jewish community. Bob was warm and charismatic and always sympathetic to the difficulties faced by Israel and to the needs of the Australian Jewish community.  He was a friend who will be sorely missed.

Walt Secord

NSW Labor frontbencher and NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel acting chair Walt Secord joined the tributes to former prime minister Bob Hawke.

Mr Secord said he had met Mr Hawke on many occasions in various capacities as an Australian Jewish News journalist in the late-1980s; as chief of staff to then-Premier Kristina Keneally and most recently, as a senior NSW Labor frontbencher on various State and Federal election campaigns.

“I remember one of the first news articles I wrote at the Australian Jewish News was about Mr Hawke’s impromptu visit to the Hakoah Club and on another occasion I was sent to take a photo of a visit and I arrived early to encounter him smoking cigars and playing billiards with Jewish Labor supporter, the late-Sam Fiszman. Clearly, they were good mates.

I remember once going to the Australian Jewish News photo library and finding stacks of photographs of Mr Hawke in Israel and addressing Jewish community rallies in Sydney and Melbourne – as a trade unionist and as a political leader.

Mr Hawke abhorred racism and intolerance. He fought apartheid – and supported Soviet Jewry and the Refuseniks with then-Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Isi Leibler. Mr Hawke was also loved by the Australian Chinese community for his support for local Chinese students after Tiananmen square.

I have met Russian Jews in Sydney’s east and in Israel, who knew about the international campaigns including Mr Hawke’s efforts to draw attention to their efforts to leave the former Soviet Union and they said they were forever grateful.”

I also got to know the Hawke family, particularly, his daughter, Sue Pieters-Hawke when I was chief of staff in Canberra to the Federal Minister for Ageing when she was appointed to an aged care board after his first wife, the late-Hazel Hawke was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s’ disease.”


Emeritus professor Bettina Cass, Social Policy Research Centre, University of NSW – Bob Hawke and the famous pledge to end Child Poverty

Much has been written about Bob Hawke’s legendary commitment to end child poverty by 1990. This pledge did not come out of nowhere; it was based on a great deal of policy analysis and consultation with families carried out by a dedicated team from the Hawke Government’s Social Security Review, of which I was Director.

In 1987, after our team delivered to Prime Minister Hawke and Minister of Social Security Brian Howe our report on reforming family payments to create greater income equity and fairness and address child poverty,  the Hawke Government delivered comprehensive child poverty reforms that substantially increased assistance for low-income families and benchmarked income support payments to the cost of children.

These reforms, along with tax reforms favouring low-income families, reduced child poverty by a substantial 30 per cent and reduced income poverty considerably for other low-income families. Bob Hawke, and his treasurer Paul Keating and Minister Howe were strongly supportive of our work and recommendations, Bob Hawke always listening to our briefings with acute perception and awareness. Prime Minister Hawke demonstrated that poverty was not inevitably entrenched, but could be addressed and reduced by dedicated reforms which put low-income children first. He had the insight, sense of equity and policy priority to exercise leadership in this reform. It was a great joy and privilege to work with him.

Robert Goot, Bob Hawke and Roberta Goot

Robert Goot

I had many dealings with Bob Hawke in my capacity as national Chairman of the Australian Campaign for the Rescue of Soviet Jewry in the  1970s when he was President of the ACTU. He was committed to the cause of Soviet Jewry and prepared to galvanise trade union support for that cause which support was especially important. He worked behind the scenes in the ACTU so as not to allow the issue to become internally politicised.

During my term as President of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies from 1978-82, I continued to deal with him on questions of Soviet Jewry and Israel. He was always a compelling advocate, a great and true friend of the Jewish people and very supportive and helpful in marshalling support for our causes in which he believed instinctively. It will be a long time before we see a person of his qualities character and capacity again, if at all.


One Response to “Memories of Bob”
  1. Philip Mendes says:

    Memories of Bob Hawke

    I have mixed views on the late Bob Hawke. My earliest memories were very positive. As a young teen (and committed socialist) in the late 70s/early 80s I loved watching Hawke interviewed on our old black and white television. He seemed to be a genuine character, both popular with the general public, and most importantly on the side of the workers and the underprivileged. I was pleased when he was elected to Parliament, and even more pleased when he was elected Prime Minister defeating the despicable conservative Malcolm Fraser.

    But he was for me a great disappointment as Prime Minister. Maybe it was a result of giving up the alcohol, but he seemed far more inhibited and less likeable. I also expected a Labor Government to stand up for the interests of the workers and particularly those on low incomes. But Hawke as PM seemed to be close to the big capitalists, and there was little if any talk of redistributing income or promoting a more equitable society.

    To be sure, he and his government famously promised to end child poverty in 1987, and his energetic Social Security Minister Brian Howe partnered with the brilliant Bettina Cass to drive this strategy. As a young social work graduate in the late 1980s I was sceptical of the seriousness of this promise. But on revisiting this policy debate for a recent book:
    I concluded that Howe and Hawke deserved more credit for this campaign than they received at the time.

    Nevertheless, I was massively relieved when Hawke was replaced by Keating in 1992. I felt his government no longer stood for anything beyond self-interest, whereas Keating espoused strong values and beliefs agree with them or not. I am certain that Hawke would have lost to John Hewson in 1993, and Australia would have been stuck with the worst right-wing government in its history. At least till the horrendous Tony Abbott came along.

    As for Hawke on Israel, this was not at that time a major focus of my interest. I was too young in the mid-1970s to be aware of his brave defence of Israel against extreme anti-Israel ideologues in the Labor Socialist Left such as Bill Hartley and George Peterson although I researched this as an older person. Later he became more critical of Israeli governments as his Labour colleagues in Israel were replaced by Greater Israel extremists from Likud. His comments to a Jewish community gathering in 1988 to honour prominent ex-Refuseniks from the Soviet Union provoked major criticism from former friends in the Jewish community, but as I recently wrote in a published review of Let my people go authored by Sam Lipski and Suzanne D. Rutland (Hybrid Publishers, 2015):

    The book commences with the dramatic visit of the leading former refuseniks to Melbourne in May 1988. These heroes of the “Let my people go” campaign were greeted by a large and enthusiastic crowd at the Arts Centre Concert Hall, and formally welcomed by Prime Minister Bob Hawke who was long regarded as a close friend of the Jewish community and Israel. The authors comment that Hawke “punctured the air of celebration” by drawing an analogy between the Soviet Jewry campaign and the struggles of the Palestinians and Black South Africans for freedom. They argue that his remarks offended many of the audience, and fractured his long-term friendship with Isi Leibler. But they don’t fully explain why this was so. I remember thinking at the time that Hawke may have chosen the wrong occasion to make these remarks, and they could have been worded slightly more sensitively. But nevertheless, the Australian Jewish community prior to the signing of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accord had a serious blind spot on Palestinian human and national rights. And Hawke felt rightly that they needed to be told this by friends even if they preferred not to hear the message.

    I personally prefer friends of Israel who tell Jews and Israelis the truth about the awful impact of the West Bank settlements on the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace and reconciliation. Not that the Palestinians are blameless, far from it. Both sides have to compromise for progress to be made. I think Hawke maintained this balanced view till the end.

    Philip Mendes

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