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Mrs Hazel Hawke by The Hon. Gough Whitlam

On the occasion of her speech In search of the light on the hill for the second JCPML Anniversary Lecture, July 5, 1999

COPYRIGHT: John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. JCPML00371/1/1

A year and a half ago in Canberra, as a former prime minister, I spoke in the lecture series for the 70th anniversary of the Old Parliament House. The warmest response to my lecture came after this passage:

A view is held, and sometimes expressed, in the Whitlam household that wives of prime ministers are more highly regarded and widely loved than prime ministers themselves, both during and after their terms of office. Perhaps tonight I should only pay tributes to the wives of my predecessors or opponents, although I may venture the thought that if her generation had enjoyed the opportunities for women provided by my government, Margaret might well have been speaking in this series in her own right.

Hazel Hawke was born ten years after Margaret. She is the only person born in Western Australia who has resided in the Prime Minister’s Lodge. If she had enjoyed the opportunities for women provided by my Government she might well have spoken in that lecture series as the first prime minister who had been born in Western Australia.

Hazel has become a strong and active leader in issues relating to the community, the family, the environment and the arts throughout Australia. While perhaps achieving greatest prominence during the period when Bob was prime minister she had always worked independently and become involved in important social issues. Her profile today remains high and her daily schedule quite daunting. Margaret and I were recently among the hundreds of people of all backgrounds who applauded the case she made for the Republic at a meeting in Sydney.

Hazel was born in Perth in 1929. She was educated at Mt Hawthorn State School and the Perth Central Girls’ School. She attained an Associate Diploma of Pianoforte in 1945. From 1944 to 1955, she worked as a secretary/bookkeeper for an electrical engineering firm and at the Institute of Statistics in Oxford, UK.

In 1956 she married, working at the Indian High Commission in Canberra during this year. From 1958-83 the Hawkes lived in Melbourne, where Mrs Hawke was a full-time homemaker, then worked at the Brotherhood of St Laurence, Melbourne, was a volunteer in the Action Resource Centre for Low Income People and was employed in the Social Issues and Research Department from 1975-79. She pursued a Diploma of Welfare Studies at the Caulfield Institute, Melbourne from 1980-81.

Hazel lived in the Prime Minister’s Lodge from March 1983 to December 1991, actively pursuing her interest in community work, women’s and children’s issues, music and the arts. In January 1992 the Hawkes moved to Sydney to live and in December of that year her autobiography, My Own Life, was published. They divorced in 1995.

Among her numerous positions across a broad range of organisations, Hazel is chair of the NSW Heritage Council, a Board member of the Australian Children’s Television Foundation and Patron of the World Wide Fund for Nature. Hazel has two daughters and a son — a second son died as an infant –, and six grandchildren. Her interests include her family and friends, community work, family and women’s issues, reading, gardening, music and the arts.

This year WA celebrates the centenary of women’s suffrage. It is also the centenary of the WA Branch of the ALP. WA Labor women have achieved a significant number of firsts:

  • In 1925 May Holman was the first Labor woman elected to any Parliament in the British Empire,
  • In 1943 Dorothy Tangney was the first woman elected to the Australian Senate,
  • In 1954 Ruby Hutchison was the first woman to win a seat in a State upper house in Australia, and
  • In 1990 Carmen Lawrence was the first women to be elected a head of government in Australia.

The first woman elected to any Parliament in Australia was Edith Cowan, after whom another university is named. She was a Nationalist member of the Legislative Assembly of WA from 1921 to 1924. Dame Annie Cardell-Oliver, who was born in Victoria, stood against John Curtin in 1934. In 1936 she became the Nationalist member for Subiaco in the Assembly and in 1948 the first Australian woman to attain full cabinet rank. The first Coalition women in Western Australia elected to the other houses were Agnes Robertson to the Senate in 1950, Margaret McAleer to the Council in 1974 and Judith Moylan to the House or Representatives in 1993. There are now two Liberal women from Western Australia in the House of Representatives, five in the Assembly, two in the Council and one in the Senate. There are now three Labor women from Western Australia in the House of Representatives, six in the Assembly, three in the Council and none in the Senate.

There are many Western Australian women who, like Hazel Hawke, made a difference throughout Australia without standing for Parliament. I mention two who lived in Government Houses; Alexandra Hasluck and Rachel Cleland. In the 50s Alexandra Hasluck’s first book aroused Margaret’s and my interest in the social history of this State. It was a biography of the pioneer botanist, Georgiana Molloy, who was the wife of a natural son of George III’s second son. One of her daughters was the second wife of the First Anglican bishop of Western Australia.

Rachel Cleland is the widow of the brigadier who was the Liberal candidate for Fremantle at the by-election caused by the death of John Curtin. He was the Administrator of Papua New Guinea from 1953 to 1967. In her Pathways to Independence (1983) Dame Rachel Cleland recalled her sympathy for the indigenous teachers for whom Bob Hawke was appearing in arbitration proceedings in the Territory in the mid-60s. She still exercises influence in this State.

May I quote again from the inaugural lecture:

Australian courts have been able to secure compliance with the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women because Senator Susan Ryan, Australia’s most successful woman legislator before Cheryl Davenport, persuaded the Senate to pass a Sex Discrimination Bill to enact the Convention in 1982 and then persuaded the Hawke Government to enact it in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 and the Affirmative Action (Equal Opportunities in Employment) Act 1986.

The next sentence does not appear in the published text. I believe that Hazel Hawke would approve it and I now repeat it:

God-fearing men and women should thank God that, more than ever before and largely due to several competent and compassionate Labor women in the Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly, the babies born in Western Australia will have been wanted by the couples who begot them and will be cherished by them.

I recommend that you read Susan Ryan’s excellent autobiography, Catching the Waves, which I launched in May. She attended the 1975 World Conference on Women in Mexico City and the United Nations Decade for Women Conference in Copenhagen in 1980. The platform of action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in September 1995 is to be examined at the Special Session of the UN General Assembly in New York next June. Jenny Macklin ascertained a week ago that the Howard Government has not yet determined the composition and size of the Australian delegation. Go for it!

I may have an obsession with enacting the human rights conventions adopted by the United Nations and its specialized agencies which deal with labour, education, health, agriculture, disarmament and trade. The earliest such convention, the 1948 Genocide Convention, has still not been made part of Australia’s domestic law. Since 1974 Labor leaders have been able to achieve an equal franchise, one vote one value, in the House of Representatives and in every chamber in Australia except the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council of Western Australia. It is not a novel concept in Western Australia. It was canvassed in the Assembly over 70 years ago, on 1 November 1928 by the Deputy Leader of the Nationalist Party, T.A.L. Davy, a South Australian Rhodes Scholar and the MLA for West Perth, who died in 1933, while Attorney-General, at the age of 42. If Australian Federal governments had enacted the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which entered into force in March 1976, Australian officials and judges would already have ensured that the Western Australian Parliament was elected in accordance with proper democratic principles. In December 1993 Carmen Lawrence was the first Western Australian leader of any party to take steps to secure one vote, one value for all the men and women in this State. In this place and at this time I again assert my respect and affection for Carmen Lawrence and my support for all her activities.

In this introduction I have broached some of the issues that I believe will take a man and woman born and raised in Western Australia to the Prime Minister’s Lodge in Canberra. I now introduce a woman who before, during and after her residence there has made a difference in the lives of women, men and children who live in every part of Australia.

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