BOOK REVIEW: News Weekly
HAWKE: The Prime Minister, by Blanche d'Alpuget
, August 21, 2010
An exercise in narcissism
The Prime Minister
by Blanche d'Alpuget
(Melbourne University Press)
Hardcover: 408 pages
Rec. price: AUD$54.95
Reviewed by Peter Westmore
Blanche d'Alpuget's book on her husband Bob Hawke's nine years as Prime Minister (1983-91) qualifies as neither biography nor history. Rather, it should be seen as a form of autobiography by Hawke, but with the deniability which comes from the fact that it was written by his wife who is a well-known author and biographer in her own right.
This exercise in hagiography is, nevertheless, interesting for its revelations of what motivated Hawke, and for its observations of people and events, including his former Labor Party colleagues. This helps explain why, after reading the book, former senior Labor leaders such as Paul Keating and Graham ("Richo") Richardson were vitriolic in their comments about their former leader.
It also explains why Hawke's daughter denounced the book's description of Hawke's first wife, Hazel.
What emerges from the book is Hawke's infatuation with himself, and his shallow understanding of the great forces which shaped the world in which he was a bit-player.
Hawke's public life occupied the period from about 1960 to 1991, when the great issue facing the world was the struggle between the more or less democratic West and the totalitarian Soviet Union for the future of mankind.
There can be no doubt that the USSR was bent on world domination. This struggle, the Cold War, occupied a central place in every nation and in world affairs from the end of World War II to the collapse of the USSR in 1989. It was even central to the operations of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, which Hawke headed for about 11 years before taking the safe Labor seat of Wills in Victoria in 1980 and being catapulted into the Labor leadership and leading Labor to victory in 1983.
Hawke's understanding of the Cold War era is therefore an insight into the man.
According to Ms d'Alpuget, "the Cold War had become the toxic air the planet breathed and to which it had become accustomed. Hawke's entire adult life and almost all his enmities within the trade union movement and the Labor Party, stretching from the 1960s to the 1980s, were infected with the unseen poison...".
His view of Ronald Reagan, US President from 1981 to 1989, who, with Pope John Paul II, brought about the end of the Soviet empire, confirms his myopia. Ms d'Alpuget writes that Reagan's "obsession with the Soviet Union, which he dubbed the 'Evil Empire', seemed to opinion-makers in the media and academia both inscrutable and dangerous".
Hawke was not a left-winger, at least in Labor Party terms. But his anti-anti-communism meant that he played almost no role in the great issues which faced the world during his prime ministership.
His economic policy was dictated by Treasury and administered by his bÃªte noir, Paul Keating, while his foreign policy was the creation of Gareth Evans, a gifted egocentric who sent RAAF F-111s to spy on a forestry company's logging in the Tasmanian wilderness.
Hawke's major contribution was the ALP-ACTU accord, under which Hawke co-opted unions and big business into a corporate state model of government. While this had negative consequences, one positive result was to end decades of class warfare in Australia which had long been exploited by our local communist parties.
Hawke's financial legacy will be measured in terms of financial deregulation, which to an unprecedented extent exposed Australia to the forces of globalisation, and left the country with a soaring net foreign debt which has continued to escalate to its present dangerous level of about $650 billion.