Robert James Lee Hawke – Fact sheet 267

Prime Minister of Australia 1983–91

Robert James Lee (Bob) Hawke was born in Bordertown, South Australia on 9 December 1929, the son of a minister of religion and a former teacher. The family moved to Perth, Western Australia, where Hawke completed his schooling. He studied at the University of Western Australia, and then Oxford University as Western Australia’s Rhodes Scholar for 1953. On returning to Australia he started doctoral studies at the Australian National University, Canberra, but did not complete them. Hawke joined the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) as a research officer in 1958, and an advocate before his elevation to ACTU President from 1969 to 1980. He unsuccessfully contested the Victorian seat of Corio for the ALP at the 1963 federal election. He continued to build a presence in the Australian Labor Party (ALP), and was a member of the National Executive from 1971, and served as National President from 1973 to 1980.

As an ACTU leader Hawke had become a household name and his transfer from the industrial relations field to national politics was predicted (and expected) by many. He entered federal parliament by winning the Melbourne seat of Wills at the 1980 general election and was immediately promoted to the opposition front bench as spokesman for industrial relations, employment and youth affairs.

On the same day in February 1983 that Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser sought, and was granted, a double dissolution election, the ALP announced that parliamentary leader Bill Hayden would step aside. Hawke was confirmed as leader five days later, on 8 February. The ALP won a clear majority at the March election, and formed government for the first time since 1975. Under Hawke’s leadership the party also won elections in 1984, 1987 and 1990.

As prime minister, Hawke’s success relied on his considerable skills as a negotiator supported by his affable and gregarious nature. His government had an early focus on building relationships between the employee and business sectors (eg the 1983 Economic Summit and the prices and incomes accord). On the world stage Hawke sought to position Australia as a middle power in a global trading world, while also focusing on other issues such as public health (with the introduction of Medicare), school and tertiary education, and the environment.

Bob Hawke lost the ALP leadership, and the prime ministership, in a party room challenge by former Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer Paul Keating on 19 December 1991. He resigned as prime minister the next day and from Parliament on 20 February 1992.

Bob Hawke died at home in Sydney on 16 May 2019.

National Archives holdings relating to Bob Hawke

The National Archives holds a collection of records created by Bob Hawke in his years as a member of parliament and prime minister. Official Commonwealth records about Hawke, which include his dealings with the government as an ACTU official, as well as records of the Hawke Cabinet, are also held. Selected records are listed below.

Selected personal records of Bob Hawke

Selected Commonwealth records relating to Bob Hawke

Cabinet records

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesHawke ministries – Cabinet files1982–91A11116
SeriesFirst Hawke ministry – Cabinet submissions1983–84A13977
SeriesFirst Hawke ministry – Cabinet memoranda1983–84A13978
SeriesFirst to fourth Hawke ministries – Cabinet decisions1983–91A13979

Government agency records


Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019