Jill Hennessy: Bob Hawke ‘always on the side of fairness and decency’

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State Member for Altona and current Attorney General for Victoria, Jill Hennessy, has reflected on Australia’s longest serving Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke who died, aged 89, on Thursday.

The Labor MP described Bob Hawke as ‘a hero of the Labor Party’ but someone who was ‘loved by our whole country’, acknowledging that the former Prime Minister was highly regarded by the people and both sides of politics.

“Bold and brilliant. Visionary, authentic and indefatigable. Always on the side of fairness and decency. Loveable, imperfect and inspirational. The Shakespeare of our national story. The joint feels smaller without him already,” Ms Hennessy said.

In more recent years, Bob Hawke has put his political influence behind a number of campaigns, but one which was close to Jill Hennessy’s heart during her time as Minister for Health was the introduction of assisted dying laws in Australia.

In 2016, during an interview with broadcaster Andrew Denton, Bob Hawke said opposition to euthanasia ‘doesn’t meet any requirements of morality and good sense’ and Australia had the legal and medical framework to manage such a law.

“I am more than happy for my name to be associated with a clear statement of belief that the time has come where we in Australia should have clear legislation on our books that makes euthanasia legal,” Mr Hawke said.

In the same interview where they were discussing euthanasia, Bob Hawke revealed to broadcaster Andrew Denton that he had discussed end-of-life options with his wife Blanche D’Alpuget.

“I have an understanding with Blanche. I could not stand to lose my marbles. If that were to happen then something should be done about it. I don’t expect a pillow pressed over my nose, but I’m sure something could be arranged with the family doctor,” Mr Hawke said.

A voluntary assisted dying bill was introduced to parliament in 2017, not long after Jill’s mother, Joan Hennessy, fought a losing battle with MS, diagnosed shortly after the birth of Jill. Joan was wheelchair bound raising kids, until eventually requiring full time care.

Jill Hennessy was kept in parliament for 26 hours as Victoria’s historic assisted dying laws were debated, with opposition MPs using every possible delay and deferral opportunity available throughout the protracted debate. The bill eventually passed and was made law.

Bob Hawke also had a literally life-changing effect on Federal Member for Gellibrand Tim Watts. Tim’s family provides him with a constant reminder of just one of the many fights fought by a man who would always fight for fair, and for those who needed it most.

“There are many Hawke achievements being celebrated, but I’ll always be personally thankful that when John Howard said that too many people like my family – Chinese-Australians – were coming to Australia, Bob Hawke stopped him dead,” Mr Watts said.

“Vale Bob Hawke. Labor leader, Prime Minister, legend. Australians everywhere remember and honour you as a man who gave so much to the country and its people, who you cared for so deeply. Raise a glass for one of the greats, Australia.”

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