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24 May 2019 18:49
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  •   Home > News > International

    ABC's Barrie Cassidy — who once served as media adviser for Bob Hawke — pays tribute to the late PM

    Insiders host Barrie Cassidy spent five years as media adviser to Bob Hawke, Australia's 23rd prime minister who has died aged 89. Cassidy pays tribute to the late Labor Party legend.

    What did I most admire about Bob Hawke? He abhorred racism. And bigotry. Hated both.

    And whenever he got a whiff of it he would call it out, no matter the consequences and no matter what the focus groups would think.

    That above anything else had a profound impact on me during my four years as his senior press secretary.

    He first displayed his credentials when as ACTU boss he organised the demonstrations against the visiting Springboks in support of action against apartheid.

    That was not popular, but he did it anyway and day and night used the media to make his case.

    Then once prime minister — at CHOGM meetings in The Bahamas in 1985 and Vancouver in 1987 — he enlisted international banker Jim Wolfensohn to organise financial sanctions against South Africa.

    It was all done in secret. Just a few staff and public servants knew what he was up to. The media was kept in the dark for fear it would come to nothing.

    But it worked. And years later the South African foreign minister described the campaign as the "dagger that finally killed apartheid".

    When John Howard in opposition suggested Australia should reduce Asian immigration, Hawke immediately, unhesitatingly, went on the attack in the parliament.

    Beforehand some advisers had warned him that Mr Howard might have public sentiment on his side; that he should proceed with caution. Hawke said to them : "Then tell me what I need to say to turn them around."

    Bob Hawke will always be remembered as the great reformer who together with Paul Keating opened up the economy to the world.

    He should also be remembered for this. When he came to office in 1983, Australia had a school retention rate of just 30 per cent, one of the lowest in the developed world. When he left office eight years later that retention rate was 70 per cent.

    Just imagine how that alone changed the economy and the country.

    To me though he was as John Singleton once described him — an intellectual knockabout; just as at ease with world leaders as he was with punters at the races.

    He was as Aussie as they come. He was so genuinely comfortable with people, and them with him.

    Well played, Bob.

    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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