September 16, 2015

Horse 1983 - Australia's Prime Ministers - Nos 23 & 24 - Bob Hawke and Paul Keating

XXIII - Robert "Bob" Hawke

Bob Hawke joined the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) as a research officer and after a spell in wage arbitration cases, he became ACTU President in 1969. Just over a decade later, he entered politics and achieved a 7% swing in the already safe Labor seat of Wills in Melbourne's north west in 1980.

Hawke was conincidentally and comically elected as Labor leader on the day of the announcement and issuing of the writs for the 1983 General Election. Thus he became Opposition Leader but never sat in the chamber in that role and in the election on 5th March 1983, the party led by Hawke won by the biggest single swing that a Labor government has ever achieved.

Australia in 1983 entered an economic slump and by the end of the year, the Hawke Government under Treasurer Paul Keating, decided to float the Australian Dollar on international money markets. Previous to this, the Australian Dollar had been pegged against the British Pound Sterling, then the US Dollar and finally a trade weighted basket of various currencies.

As Hawke was previously the President of the ACTU, he found negotiations with unions easier than a Liberal government would have done and between 1983 and 1991, seven Prices and Incomes "Accords" were brokered in an effort to formally index wages and prices; thus reducing the twin evils of unemployment and inflation, as well as hopefully reducing the number of industrial disputes and more importantly, the number of strikes. For the most part it seemed to have worked.
Towards the end of the Fraser Government in 1983, unemployment sharply rose to 10.4% but this was slowly beaten down to about 6.0% by 1989.

In addittion to the Accords, the Hawke Government also initiated superannuation pension schemes for all workers, rather than just civil servants. Although real wages fell during the tenure of the Hawke government, due to other things like the Family Assistance Scheme and improvements in leave and maternity allowances, household incomes mostly rose in real terms where both parents were working.
In addition to all of this, the Hawke Government also set about with the deregulation of the labor market and deregulated the financial sector. In 1985, the Hawke government oversaw the implementation of the dividend imputation system as well as the introduction of Capital Gains Tax.

There was also some window dressing going on as well with Advance Australia Fair finally being announced as the official national anthem in 1984, after the Fraser government had taken the question to a national plebiscite in 1977.

In 1984, the Medicare system was returned to the original Medibank model which Whitlam had proposed in 1972 but which Fraser had tinkered with; thus Australia acquired its current system of universal health insurance.
In 1986 the first Landcare scheme was initiated in Victoria, speifically to deal with eradicating feral rabbits but the scheme was so successful that it was extended to deal with other land degradation issues including soil erosion, salinity as well as weed removal and biological controls to remove pests.

Hawke's tenure as Prime Minister became increasingly tenuous and when Keating finally resigned as Treasurer in June 1991, a leadership challenge came shortly after. On the other side of the chamber, Opposition Leader Dr John Hewson released a policy called 'Fightback!'which included a 15% GST as well as other taxation reform and Hawke appeared to dither in the face of the policy. Hawke would finally be deposed in a Labour Caucus meeting in December 1990, after having led the Labour party to election victories in 1983, 1984, 1987 and 1990.

XXIV - Paul Keating

Keating who had been Treasurer since 1983 was a verteran of the party and an accomplished political fighter when he took the Premiership in 1990.
Keating started with the same sort of flurry and energy which is common in a lot of new Prime Ministers and his government passed changes to the Sex Discrimination Act, and following the establishment of native title rights for Australia's indigenous peoples following the High Court decision in Mabo vs Queensland (No.2) in 1992, he established the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC).
In the middle of the early 1990's recession and as described as "the recession that Australia had to have", Keating went to the supposedly unwinnable election in 1993 and actually gained two seats in the parliament; winning 80-65.
Keating introduced legislation which would eventually lead to the 1999 Referendum on the Republic (which failed) and was active in the setting up of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, APEC.
Keating's Government also continued along the path of privatisation which Hawke had been on before and the Commonwealth Bank was fully privatised in three stages from 1991 until July 1996 and Qantas was privatised in March 1993.

Keating's Government was always on the road to failure though and following defeats at the 1995 Canberra by-election and an unfavourable result at a Queensland state parliament by-election, the momentum had waned before it even started for the 1996 General Election.
Labor suffered the loss of 29 seats and with it, the second-worst defeat of a sitting government in Australian history.

Perhaps the most famous speech made by Paul Keating as Prime Minister was the so-called Redfern Park Speech in December 1992. In that speech, Keating was the first Prime Minister to acknowledge that European settlement had brought trouble and continued to bring trouble to Australia's first peoples:
"We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practiced discrimination and exclusion. It was our ignorance and our prejudice."

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