Hawke speaks out on reform, abolition of the states and anti-Americanism

Bob Hawke

Former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke, in an interview that coincides with the release of official documents, has renewed his long-held belief that the state government system should be scrapped.

The Cabinet papers cover Mr Hawke's first full two years as prime minister in 1984-85 at the start of a major reform period that also occurred in New Zealand.

He first called for the abolition of the states in his 1979 Boyer lectures when he was still president of the trade union movement.

In the wide-ranging interview with The Australian newspaper, he urges politicians, business and unions to work closer together on reform in the national interest as well as giving advice on how it worked in the mid-1980s.

Reflecting on the reforms implemented after the national economic summit held in 1983, Mr Hawke says today's business and union leaders could work closer with government.

"You can never have too much consultation," he says. "I was very much dedicated to bringing people together. I had always taken the view, and still take the view, that ignorance is the enemy of good policy.

"I got big business, small business, unions, state government, local government, churches and welfare organisations together. I got Treasury to brief them so they understood what the opportunities and the challenges were. It was on that basis that we got a mandate for change."

Mr Hawke also highlights the effort that he and his finance minister, Paul Keating, went to educate the public on the merits of reform and win support for that reform.

"We didn't just come in with proposals for economic reform; we brought the Australian people along with us," Mr Hawke says.

"As a result of the way we did it, not just the [national economic] summit but the continual education, we had the best, the most economically literate electorate in the world.

“We had an educative process and people came to understand that what had been appropriate in the past was not only inappropriate now in some cases, but counterproductive."

Hawke on state governments
Australia could do with less government – "Of course, you would be better off without the states," Mr Hawke says.

"We have a set of governments that represent the meanderings of the British explorers over the face of the continent over 200 years ago. They drew lines on a map and then said that is how Australia is going to be governed.

“If you were drawing up a system of government for Australia today, in ideal terms, what we have got now is the last thing you would have."

Hawke on anti-Americanism
In February 1985, the Hawke government faced a backlash from the Labor backbench over plans to monitor the testing of the US intercontinental MX missile.

He was able to negotiate a withdrawal of Australia's involvement with his long-time friend, US secretary of state George Shultz.

Mr Hawke says there was still an element of "anti-Americanism" in sections of the Labor caucus at the time.

"You had this traditional area of anti-Americanism," he says, "and you had a lot of the emotional garbage around uranium mining and nuclear weapons. It all sort of fused around this issue."

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2 Comments & Questions

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Agree with Hawke on most of this - except the abolition of the states.

Australians would never vote to amend the constitution to abolish their own state. It's one of those checks and balances that keeps the nation's governments under control (Notice Hawke didn't suggest reducing the powers of the federal government).

Australia's state governments look out for their own citizens and push back on the federal government when necessary (such as anti-American loonies in the Hawke government). Without state and territory governments Australia would end up something less than democracy like New Zealand.

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Hawke should ask himself who he represents. How do professionals politicians get to live in castles?

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