How will history in future years with the benefit of proper perspective, rate former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke who died on the eve of the recent election? Well, if the Economist obituary is any guide then probably as the Second Coming.
I question the magazine’s gushing claims of Hawke as the great economic reformer, the actual credit for those measures belonging to his Treasurer and successor Paul Keating.
Hawke’s political strength lay in his Australian blokiness, something alien to the often grumpy and almost monastic Keating. Hawke was a Rhodes scholar and was educated at Oxford, Keating by contrast left school at 14 but in my view he was Hawke’s intellectual superior. Until they fell out they were a winning team, a parallel situation to New Zealand at the same time with Lange and Douglas.
I met Hawke when he came to New Zealand in 1980 to launch Federation of Labour boss Tom Skinner’s autobiography in Auckland before a several hundred strong audience of mainly unionists and Labour Party stalwarts. I well remember the puzzled looks I copped for my attendance, explicable given my rampant anti-Labour activities in those days. Oh the abiding naivety of the left about their heroes.
Tom’s inscription in my copy says it all, specifically, “To my good friend Bob Jones”. That audience would have been even more bewildered if they’d seen me later that evening as Tom’s dinner guest in an upmarket restaurant, together with Hawke and the evening’s compere Ian Fraser, this after Bob and I had tried and failed to pick up two pretty girls to bring with us.
At dinner Tom told us the funniest political story I have ever heard relating to him and Rob Muldoon, which sadly I’ll have to take to my grave.
So how did I know Tom? Because as with so many prominent lefties at the time, he frequently came to my office at day’s end for drinks and to talk about his property investments.
A couple of years back, out of the blue I received an abusive letter from a lawyer in a small Northland town. He ripped into me for back in 1973 placing a huge sign on a Wellington building reading “Matt Rata Reads Comics”. Matt it will be recalled was a Cabinet Minister in the Kirk government which I’d declared war on. Effectively too as borne out by Kirk’s successor Bill Rowling’s 1975 election concession speech in which he opens with, “Muldoon didn’t beat me, Jones did” and proceeded to make outlandish statements such as how much I’d spent. I’d spent less than $400. You can find that on Youtube.
As Mike Moore and other senior Labourites said to me in subsequent years, I need never apologise for my campaign for they deserved it for attacking me in Parliament in 1973 for things I hadn’t done.
God only knows what inspired this lawyer’s attack nearly half a century later. I ignored the abuse and replied, pointing out that the public have no idea of the reality of politics. They read about politicians attacking one another in the House and assume they’re sworn enemies. Nothing could be further from the truth for as Mike Moore once quipped, “My political enemies sit behind me in the House and my opponents opposite.”
I told the lawyer that the day the sign went up Matt rang to see if I was free and came over for drinks. To complain about the sign you might think; No. Rather to bitch about that screaming dullard Norm Kirk’s bawling him out because of it, as if he’d put it up.
To his credit, the lawyer wrote a gracious apology. This gets back to something I’ve always asserted, namely that if you enjoy stimulating conversation you’d want Labour politicians as your friends and the Nats as your trouble-free quiet neighbours.