Canberra: Bob Hawke, one of Australia’s longest-serving Prime Ministers and a former Labour Party icon, died on Thursday at the age of 89 — just two days before the May 18 general election.
Known affectionately as “Hawkie,” Hawke was known for his maverick style and will be remembered as Australia’s “larrikin” leader – the Prime Minister who loved a drink and joke and made the serious work of politics look like fun.
He was Australia’s Prime Minister from 1983 to 1991, winning four elections and becoming the country’s third longest-serving leader after Robert Menzies and John Howard.
His achievements as Prime Minister included modernizing the economy and integrating it into the global community, establishing Medicare and championing environmental issues. Hawke achieved the highest approval ratings of any leader.
“Today we lost Bob Hawke, a great Australian – many would say the greatest Australian of the post-war era,” Hawke’s wife Blanche D’Alpuget said in a statement.
“Bob was dearly loved by his family and so many friends and colleagues. We will miss him. The golden bowl is broken.”
Hawke joined the Labour Party at the age of 18 in 1947 and later won a Rhodes Scholarship to the University of Oxford in 1953.
He later joined the trade union movement, rising to become President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions by 1969.
Hawke first won a seat in Parliament in 1980 and became Labour leader in 1983. He and Labour won a general election by a landslide soon after.
He had set a world record for drinking a yard of beer in 11 seconds while at Oxford University, and he would still perform his party trick of downing a glass of beer at cricket matches well into his late 80s.
During eight years in power, he introduced pension and welfare reform at home, while improving trade links abroad. He was known for his concern for Australia’s vulnerable, once declaring that he wanted to create a country where there were “no second-class Australians”.
He was also lauded for making radical market reforms, including floating the Australian dollar.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison called him “a great Australian”, adding that he had “a unique ability to speak to all Australians and will be greatly missed”.
Australian actor Russell Crowe described him as a “great man who never lost his humility”. Hawke is survived by his wife D’Alpuget and his three children – Susan, Stephen and Rosslyn.