After former Prime Minister Bob Hawke’s passing earlier this year, Australians from all walks of life were quick to praise the larrikin leader.
On Wednesday, more tributes flowed as both houses of Parliament stopped to pay respect to the longest-serving Labor prime minister.
There were many but it was Queensland One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts, freshly returned to the Senate after his dual citizenship saga, whose meditations were the most memorable.
Roberts waxed lyrcial about all manner of things including but not limited to sheepdogs, the JFK assassination, the moon landing, his father’s hate for Hawke and several of the country’s most controversial politicians during this wide-ranging seven-minute speech to a nearly empty Senate chamber.
These are the most cooked bits from the self-described “servant of the people of Queensland and Australia”:
1. He compares Bob Hawke to Pauline Hanson and Joh Bjelke-Petersen
“Bob Hawke is one of the very few people in this country who is known by his first name. People would say ‘Bob’, and people would know who they were talking about. People say the same thing about Joh and the same about Pauline,” he said.
In trying to praise him for becoming a national icon, Roberts somehow tries to equate Bob Hawke with controversial One National leader Pauline Hanson and divisive former Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Let’s unpack that.
Hawke is celebrated for his vehement opposition to racism, credited with spearheading the sanctions that helped end apartheid in South Africa and granting thousands of permanent resident visas to Chinese students so they wouldn’t have to return home after the Tiananmen Square Massacre.
Hanson, on the other hand, has made a political career out of targeting minority groups — first Asian migrants during the 1990s before switching to Muslim ones. She opposes multiculturalism, wants cameras installed in mosques and Muslims schools, and the burqa banned.
Now onto divisive Queensland Premier Bjelke-Petersen, who is best remembered for his hardline conservativism and strongarm police tactics, as well as the rampant corruption that he presided over in government and his hatred of the trade unions.
Contrast that with Hawke’s legacy as the great Australian reformer who — as Roberts goes on to acknowledge — implemented many of the country’s most significant economic policies with Paul Keating, including superannuation, Medicare, and the floating of the Australian dollar.
It’s safe to say while the names ‘Pauline’ and ‘Joh’ are well-known, they don’t quite conjure up quite the same admiration among the general population.
2. “Funerals are a wonderful time”
Roberts needs to get invited to better parties because funerals are objectively not a good time.
3. He slips in the JFK assassination and the moon landing
Exactly how Roberts’ brain works is unclear. He gets up in the Senate to memorialise Bob Hawke and within the first minute, it takes a serious detour to the 1960s.
“I can even recall in 1983 being on Singleton’s main street, John Street in Singleton, when I heard the news that he had replaced Bill Hayden as the opposition leader,” Roberts said. “There are very few things like that that I remember like that. I remember where I was when the moon landing occurred, when John F Kennedy was assassinated, and … I remember Bob Hawke being made opposition leader.”
It’s vague but it’s also oddly one of the most positive things Roberts says about Hawke.
4. He didn’t even vote for Hawke
You would think that in a speech memorialising a politician after their death, they could have at least counted on your vote during their lifetime. But no, Roberts wasn’t convinced by Hawke until after his first full term.
“I actually didn’t vote for Bob Hawke in 1983, I voted for Malcolm Fraser, much to my regret. But I did vote for Bob Hawke when the alternative was Andrew Peacock,” he said.
At least Roberts got there in the end. Although it should be noted that most of Australia backed Hawke over Peacock who led two pretty unsuccessful runs as Liberal leader.
5. Malcolm Roberts’ dad really hated Bob Hawke
It’s unclear why Roberts spends a good portion of his memorial speech lamenting his father’s hatred for Hawke but he does.
“My dad has teased me forever for (voting for Hawke) because my dad was born into an underground coal miner family in Wales and understood the blight that the British Labour Movement had put on the coal miners for nationalising their industry so my father teased me for voting for Bob Hawke,” Roberts said. “Later on my father would also call him the silver bodgie — that was a name used as a term of derision.”
So there you have it. The Roberts family hated Hawke for something that happened on the other side of the world and with which Hawke had nothing to do. Moving on.
6. Roberts compares Hawke to a sheep dog
Perhaps the oddest of all the analogies littered throughout his speech is this one, equating Australia’s most beloved PM with a farm dog.
“It was like having a group of people and a sheep dog running into the middle and just shaking all of the water and the mud off it and just infecting everyone with its enthusiasm and then wanting to play and then taking off. In doing that, Bob Hawke picked up this whole country,” Roberts said.
7. Roberts makes another terrible comparison. This time to Mark Latham.
Here we go again.
“(Hawke) was especially down to earth. After all, One Nation has another former Labor federal leader in our party today who is also down to earth and has a wicked sense of humour,” Roberts said.
After the first set of comparisons, Roberts for no apparent reason alludes to Mark Latham — a comparison of two figures that aside from the fact they were once federal Labor leaders, doesn’t carry much water.
For context, Latham last year defended charges of defamation after he accused journalist Osman Faruqi of “aiding and abetting Islamic terrorism”. He was dropped by Sky News as a commentator after he made comments about a schoolboy’s sexuality and dropped as a columnist for the Australian Financial Review after he trolled domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty.
Of Hawke, Roberts said, “He was so beloved by the people of Australia. Even his political enemies respected him enormously.” It’s impossible to imagine anyone saying the same about Latham.
8. Roberts claims Hawke nicked John Howard’s policies
“My knowledge of politics in the 1980s is very limited because I had spent three years in America but, as I understand it, John Howard didn’t have the support from Malcolm Fraser to implement reforms. That didn’t stop Bob Hawke. He stole them and implemented them and so did Paul Keating. They made a great team as I understand it,” Roberts said.
At least Roberts was good enough to qualify this claim by saying he doesn’t actually have any idea.
9. He compares himself to Hawke
Just when you think Roberts is getting ready to sign off and let Hawke rest in eternal peace, he can’t help but big note himself and his own personal reformist achievements.
“When I was working in the underground coal mines in Kentucky, I came across a wonderful old timer who had had a stroke and I had to help him out considerably because he couldn’t go underground and we tackled many challenges and brought in quite a few innovations in America,” he said.
While the phrasing makes it seem like Roberts and his friend may have singlehandedly overhauled the entire North American coal mining industry, he’s humble enough thankfully not to list them.
He does however close by sharing some wisdom that the old timer shared with him.
“My friend, Guy, told me there is only one thing we leave behind: our name,” Roberts said.
It’s a shame then that Roberts unknowingly spent his seven minutes in the Senate trampling Hawke’s.
Watch the whole beautiful mess below.
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