In 1990, the Australian economy slid into a prolonged recession. Unemployment exceeded 10 percent, the highest since the 1930s depression. In December 1991, mounting anxieties led to Mr. Hawke’s removal in a Labor Party coup. He was replaced as prime minister by Paul Keating, his treasurer and the architect of many of his economic initiatives.
Robert James Lee Hawke was born on Dec. 9, 1929, in Bordertown, South Australia, to Clement and Edith Lee Hawke. His father was a Congregational minister, and an uncle, Albert Hawke, had been the Labor Party premier of Western Australia in the 1950s. Bob attended the Perth Modern School and the University of Western Australia, graduating in 1952 with bachelor’s degrees in economics and law.
Raised as a Christian, he became an agnostic after attending a 1952 World Christian Youth Conference in India, where he saw severe poverty and concluded that religion was irrelevant to people’s needs.
He won a Rhodes Scholarship and enrolled at University College, Oxford, in 1953. He wrote an 80,000-word thesis on Australian’s wage system that became a textbook for law students, and received a degree in literature in 1955.
Returning to Australia, he married Hazel Masterson in 1956. They had three children: Susan Pieters-Hawke, Stephen, and Roslyn. A fourth child, Robert Jr., died in infancy. The couple were divorced in 1995. He then married Blanche D’Alpuget, the author of a flattering biography of Mr. Hawke.
In 1957, Mr. Hawke joined the Australian Council of Trade Unions, labor’s umbrella organization, as head of research, and in 1959 presented annual wage requests to the commission that fixed national pay scales for much of the work force. He was a brilliant advocate, and his success raising wages over the next decade made him a labor movement hero.
As president of the A.C.T.U. from 1970 to 1980, he spoke out on international affairs, decrying South Africa’s apartheid policies and French nuclear tests in the Pacific and became an ardent supporter of Israel. He also transformed Australian unions from warring factions into a unified force. In the late 1970s, when crippling strikes afflicted Australia, experts said his settlements repeatedly averted national paralysis.