Bob Hawke

Bob Hawke (b.1929) was Prime Minister within three years of entering Parliament, and led Australia for longer than any other Labor Prime Minister. Hawke’s early career was in the trade union movement, which he represented in important wage cases in the 1960s. A brilliant advocate, he cultivated a popular larrikin image. He was President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions from 1970 to 1980. His landslide win over Malcolm Fraser’s Liberal-National coalition in 1983 laid the foundations for thirteen years of Labor rule. During this time Labor moved away from many of its traditional industrial and trade policies.

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11 March 1983

Bob Hawke becomes Prime Minister

The Australian Labor Party led by Bob Hawke decisively wins the 1983 election and Hawke replaces Malcolm Fraser as Prime Minister. The Hawke government produces a Wages Accord with the trade unions, intervenes to prevent the damming of Tasmania’s Franklin River, deregulates major industries, privatises the Commonwealth Bank, establishes the Medicare health scheme, re-introduces university fees through the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) and establishes the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC). For more information, visit the Australian Prime Ministers Centre.


Robert Hawke.
3 September 1988

Referendum on rights

Following two unsuccessful attempts to enact a bill of rights, the Hawke government establishes a Constitutional Commission in 1985. Before the Commission completes its report, the Hawke government calls a referendum putting four proposals for constitutional change to the Australian people. These include four-year maximum terms for the federal parliament, recognition of local government, guarantee of the right to vote and ‘one vote one value’, and a guarantee of basic freedoms by extending the operation of existing guarantees in the Constitution. All four proposals are defeated nationally. Some critics argue that the best defence of civil liberties lies in the common law rather than in a specific legal instrument.


The Canberra Times, 4 September 1988.