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Cabinet papers: Hawke blames prejudice in his cabinet for leadership loss

Bob Hawke and Paul Keating attending the premiers’ conference on May 31, 1991, about six months before Keating took over. Photo: Peter Morris Hawke interviewed by Blanche D’Alpuget in March 1986.

Bob Hawke believes he was dumped as prime minister because he attacked the “innate prejudice” of some of his cabinet colleagues to Aborigines.

He also attributed his fall to his refusal to give Labor powerbroker Graham Richardson his preferred portfolio when naming a new ministry after winning the 1990 election.

Mr Hawke accused the man who took his job, Paul Keating, of peddling “a myth” that he ran a “do nothing government”.

“This myth was essentially the creation of Paul and his acolytes who had advanced that proposition as a basis for an argument that there was a need to change the leadership, that this government was doing nothing, that we had to have a change,” Mr Hawke said.

In fact, he said, the Hawke government during his final two years in power passed more acts – 144 in 1990, 204 in 1991 – than any since federation.

The ongoing soap opera of the Hawke/Keating fallout form the background to the release of cabinet records for 1990 and 1991 by the National Archives of Australia on Friday.

Although three decades old, the records resonate with contemporary issues, including stopping asylum seekers jumping queues, war in the Middle East and coal mining.

The archives’ consultant historian, Professor Nicholas Brown of the Australian National University, said while the Hawke/Keating battle permeated the two years, there was little evidence of the clash in the cabinet papers.

Rather they reflected a government unexpectedly re-elected for a fourth term and forced to construct and prosecute a reform agenda.

The objection to mining at Coronation Hill in the Northern Territory by elders of the Jawoyn showed the problems encountered.

Treasury told cabinet that if mining was not allowed then investment and business would be frightened off.

Mr Hawke told journalists and academics at a National Archives briefing last month that he went into bat for the Jawoyn, using his deciding vote to block mining and address the “rather brutal, innate prejudice” in some of his colleagues’ minds.

“I was annoyed beyond measure by the attitude of many of my colleagues … and I think I made probably the strongest and bitterest attack I ever made on my colleagues in the cabinet.

“And may I say there is no doubt that was one element in the loss of the leadership, because there was a great deal of antagonism amongst my colleagues because of the intensity of the remarks that I made.

“These are the words … The monumental hypocrisy of this position is mind boggling. The same people who denigrate Blacks in this way can easily accommodate and embrace the bundle of mysteries which make up their White Christian beliefs: The virgin birth, the Holy Trinity, God in His? Heaven. Where is He? This superciliously supremacist discrimination is abhorrent to everything I hold important and what in the end I believe this party stands for.”

Mr Hawke said  Mr Richardson had settled his fate soon after Labor won the election in 1990.

“I refused to give Graham Richardson the transport/communications portfolio, something he had set his heart on.

“The background to that [is] that my good friend Sir Peter Abeles had told me something about Graham that in my judgment precluded him from being in that position. Because I still have a great deal of affection for Graham Richardson, because he’s in very bad shape, I’m not going to go to that issue, but I knew that once I made the decision to refuse him what he wanted that he would turn his support and his very, very considerable influence with the NSW Right. And that’s what he did.”

After losing the leadership in December 1991, Mr Hawke called an at times tearful press conference where he declared he knew the Australian electorate better than anyone.

Twenty-four years later the tears have gone.

“I basically was extra grateful for Paul,” Mr Hawke said, “because if I had not been thrown out then I would not have had the opportunity of marrying the woman with whom I’d fallen in love.”

Cabinet records release

Cabinet records for 1990 and 1991 held by the National Archives of Australia became eligible for access from January 1, 2016. Information about the cabinet records, lists of the documents and copies of key cabinet documents, including selected submissions and decisions, are available on the Archives’ website (naa.gov备案老域名). Click on the “Collection” tab, then “Popular research topics”, then “Cabinet”.

Requests for access to records not already released may be made via RecordSearch on the Archives’ website.

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