Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
I join with the Prime Minister and congratulate him on his fine and heartfelt words in honouring the life of William George Hayden AC.
We are all a product of our environment.
Bill Hayden described himself as ‘a product of the Great Depression’.
We celebrate Bill’s life because he escaped his impoverished background and made remarkable contributions in public life to our country.
We admire Bill’s character because he never forgot his roots.
Bill was born in 1933 and unemployment was 31 per cent. He was the son of a father and mother who had been ‘busted’ by the Depression.
Bill described the 1930s as tough and mean times which made ‘so many men and women hard and bitter’.
Growing up in the suburbs of South Brisbane filled with downtrodden men, dispirited women and ‘doleful faces’, Bill had the odds stacked against him.
He wrote later in life, ‘I was heading for Hell on a fast track’.
But Bill used his working-class background and his environment as motivation to rise above it.
Indeed, Bill’s upbringing helped him to acquire wisdom beyond years – ‘about give and take, about forgiving and forgetting, about getting up and having another go in the face of adversity’ – as he eloquently put it.
During the Second World War, Bill was impressed by the American servicemen and the atmosphere of Australian wartime responsibility.
That sense of duty propelled him into the public service, post-war.
But he described his job as a clerk as ‘the pits’.
So, he chanced his arm with the Queensland Police ‘to do good’ – in his words.
Constable Hayden served the Queensland Police Force for seven years.
He encountered pub brawlers, contended with wife-beaters, and dealt with cases of incest.
After a while, there was not much behaviour that shocked Bill.
But no black hole was worse for him than ‘advising a wife and mother that her husband had been killed.’
He wrote, and I quote:
‘The work of a policeman can make one suspicious and conservative in many respects; it can also encourage compassion as a result of sharing in so much of other people’s tragedy and suffering.’
It was Bill’s sense of justice – and desire to address injustice – which saw him want to bring about change on a scale that he could not achieve in uniform.
So, he pursued the path to political office.
Bill was pre-selected by Labor to contest the supposedly ‘unwinnable’ seat of Oxley in the 1961 election.
But win it, Bill did – with a more than 9 per cent swing. He would hold Oxley for more than 26 years.
In his maiden parliamentary speech, the working-class Bill stood up for his own in defending Queensland’s coal miners, the railway workers, the timber cutters and dairy and beef farmers.
He spoke with great pride of his Labor Party describing it as one which ‘does not seek to pander to the dictates of the powerful minority groups and affluent sections of society whose interests so often are detrimental to the majority of Australians.’
When Gough Whitlam’s time came in 1972, it was time for Hayden – as Minister for Social Security – to bring about the changes he yearned to see in Australian society.
The former police officer – who had seen the destitution of so many single mothers – introduced welfare support which alleviated some hardships and provided more financial independence.
The impact of this policy is conveyed in one woman’s letter to The Age which was published the day after Bill’s death.
‘My deepfelt thanks to Bill Hayden for the introduction of the single mother’s pension. I personally benefited from this and it made a tangible difference to my family.’
Bill was also the architect of Australia’s first universal health insurance scheme, Medibank.
As the Prime Minister has noted, there could have been no Medicare without Medibank.
I’d add that Bob Hawke’s successful government would not have been possible without Bill Hayden’s successful groundwork.
In the wake of the Dismissal and Labor’s defeats in ‘75 and ‘77, Hayden served as much more than a bridge between the Whitlam and Hawke governments.
Bill Hayden rebuilt the Labor castle with stronger foundations and sturdier walls.
He put in place a system of discipline which governed the castle.
He learnt from Whitlam’s mistakes and excesses.
He adopted a more centrist and pragmatic policy platform, especially to rein in spending and restore economic credibility.
Bill astutely observed, ‘We cannot achieve social reform unless we competently manage the economy.’
Bill Hayden speedily transformed the Labor Party from a position of woe into a winnable position.
Indeed, the more than 4 per cent swing to Labor in the 1980 election against Malcolm Fraser’s Coalition was a truly remarkable outcome.
The result should have justified Bill remaining as Labor leader and contesting the 1983 election.
But it was not to be.
Bob Hawke became the custodian of the Party which Bill Hayden had restored – a party which delivered the best Labor Government that Australians have known.
Hayden put his party and the Australian people ahead of his personal ambition.
As Foreign Affairs Minister in Bob Hawke’s Cabinet, Bill brought tact and gravitas to a position which demanded both qualities amidst the backdrop of the Cold War.
In life, Bill Hayden underwent many conversions:
From idealist to realist.
From Democratic Socialist to Social Democrat.
From radically minded to more conservative minded.
From contemplating joining the Communist Party to joining the editorial board of Quadrant.
From atheist to Catholic.
And, most notably, from impoverished boy to illustrious man.
Indeed, a man who served our country at the highest level with the greatest distinction, along with his wife, as our 21st Governor-General.
During his Labor leadership, Bill was plagued by self-doubt. When he lost the leadership, he said he ‘felt like a total failure’.
My hope is that, in his twilight years, Bill underwent a final conversion.
From a disposition of self-doubt – to one of self-assurance.
I hope that Bill had an absolute sense of his self-worth in the realisation that the totality of his achievements made him a truly great Australian.
For any Australian who feels they are overcome by life’s setbacks, Bill Hayden reminds us of how the setbacks of life can be overcome – through sheer hard work, a sense of duty, and a stoic temperament.
On behalf of the Coalition, I offer my heartfelt condolences to Bill’s devoted wife, Dallas.
To his much-cherished children, Georgina, Ingrid, and Kirk.
To his Labor Party colleagues. And to his many friends.
Bill is now reunited with his beloved daughter and first child, Michaela.
May he rest in peace.