Schwarten reveals Hawke's last thoughts on the election
THE last time the late, great Bob Hawke spoke with former Rockhampton MP and state government minister Robert Schwarten, he revealed who he thought would come out on top in the coming election.
Ever the pinnacle of Labor power, Australia's 23rd prime minister from 1983-1991 believed his old party would once again be on top.
But he knew he would not be around to see it.
The political giant's health was declining and he was aware that he wouldn't be around much longer.
"He went knowingly to his death. He wasn't frightened of it,” Mr Schwarten said yesterday.
Mr Schwarten was one of many who shared their memories and stories about the 89-year-old legend who died on May 16, two days before the Federal Election.
He remembered the time Mr Hawke came to Rockhampton to open the Dreamtime Centre in the mid to late '80s, and how whenever he walked down Rockhampton's main street, he would say 'g'day' to everyone he saw.
"He had a long and fulfilling life. He contributed more to Australian culture, history and development than any other individual I've met in my lifetime,” Mr Schwarten said.
"There will never be another like him.
"He was the most reformist prime minister in my life time. Prior to him, we had 30-odd years of conservative government.
"But Hawke really epitomised what the Labor party was about.”
From a working class, devoutly religious background, Mr Hawke rebelled against his upbringing to focus on politics.
"I've never met anybody who could mix with anyone as well in a political sense,” Mr Schwarten said.
"He was a great orator and could get off the podium and mix with all the mob. It didn't matter whether he was on the race course or in the board room, he could speak anyone's language.
"What you saw was what you got with him. He was a serious politician.
"He was also prepared to stand up for what he believed in. He knew why he was there and set his mind to get there.”
Renowned for his fondness for a cold beer, as well as his Guinness World Record for sculling a yard glass of beer in 11 seconds, Mr Hawke gave up alcohol during his time as PM.
"Having drunk with him on a couple of occasions, I can tell you that he could drink,” Mr Schwarten said.
"He could hold his grog well and was renowned for it, but the drink was getting more out of him than he was getting out of it.
"It's hard to imagine Kevin Rudd or John Howard sculling beers at the cricket, but nobody ever scorned him for doing it.
"He holds the record as having the highest ever PM popularity and was referred to often as a 'messiah'.”
Mr Hawke achieved many feats during his career.
Just some of them included launching Medicare, inflating the Australian dollar (which was previously fixed to the British pound and then the US dollar), opening the economy to global competition, striking the Prices and Incomes Accord with the unions, giving the Commonwealth power over World Heritage sites through the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act 1983, reforming immigration, recommending Advance Australia Fair become the national anthem and announcing green and gold as the country's national colours, and outlawing gender discrimination in the workplace.
"He had an unfailing memory, a compassion for others, and was a very emotional man in a lot of ways,” Mr Schwarten said.
"By and large, he was a knock-about bloke, with a high level of achievement in everything he did.
"He was amongst the best thinkers in Australia and if you met him post-politics, he never had a bad word to say about (Paul) Keating. I'm sure they had mended fences in the end.”
What made him so endearing to the Australian public, said Mr Schwarten, was his bluntness and the fact he was very much "an ordinary man”.
"He was very upfront about his failings, which made him more human,” he said.
"Some PMs pretended to be holier than thou but they had no truck with people, because we know we're all deeply flawed. He was the first politician to say he was a deeply flawed individual.
"He was honest, diligent, intelligent and had the best interests of others at heart.
"He had a humility about him and never thought he was better than anyone.”
A beloved larrikin and a cult icon until the very end, Mr Hawke still enjoyed his cigars and did his crossword and sudokus every morning.
"He was content with life,” Mr Schwarten said.
"Bob Hawke epitomised what Australia is all about: caring about others, honesty, tough decisions and taking others with you.”