Hawke launches biography

Former Labor hero Bob Hawke has spoken words of encouragement to Prime Minister Julia Gillard before a looming federal election.

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Speaking in Sydney at the launch of Hawke: The Prime Minister, Mr Hawke paid tribute to a who’s who list of guests who turned out for the event, including former cabinet members Neal Blewett and John Brown.

The biography was written by Mr Hawke’s wife, Blanche d’Alpuget.

‘Talented ministry’

“Without question, the Hawke ministry was the most talented since Federation,” Mr Hawke said on Monday night.

“I certainly believe that is true. I don’t believe another ministry comes within coo-ee of that ministry.”

Mr Hawke used the occasion, held at The Wharf Restaurant at Walsh Bay, to wish Australia’s prime minister of three weeks luck ahead of the forthcoming election.

“I know I speak for the great majority of people here tonight… we wish you well in the weeks and months ahead, and that you get the outcome that you want, which you so richly deserve,” he told Ms Gillard.

Hawke Gillard’s ‘role model’

Ms Gillard, meanwhile, described Mr Hawke as her role model because of his matchless performance in national leadership.

“For those of my generation, in our 20s for most of the Hawke era, Bob Hawke is the benchmark for the prime ministership,” she said.

Mr Hawke had the capacity to take advice and run an orderly administration and cabinet, as well as the confidence to delegate to his ministerial team, Ms Gillard added.

“These qualities remain the gold standard for any Australian head of government,” Ms Gillard added.

Environmental commitments

“And I am not ashamed to say that I take Bob Hawke as a role model.”

Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett, who was also present at the launch, quietly said “here here” when Ms Gillard referred to Mr Hawke’s commitment to preserving Kakadu, Daintree and the Tasmanian forests during his time as prime minister.

She made a discreet reference to some of his family problems bubbling over into the political domain.

“There are moments when the intrusion of his private life into the public square were painful for himself and his family,” she said.

Hawke ‘loves Australians’

“Bob has always been a man of strong emotion, with reserves of humanity that welled deep from his psyche and upbringing.”

His popularity among the general public, Ms Gillard reasoned, stemmed from his enduring love and affection of the Australian people.

“He is a cheerful larrikin but also a Rhodes scholar with three degrees,” she said.

“A man at home in a palace or a pub – black tie or boardshorts.”

Wearing a black, knee-length leopard-print dress and patent leather high-heeled shoes, author Blanche d’Alpuget described her book as “an arms-length biography”.

“I didn’t interview him (Mr Hawke) for the book,” she said.

Battle with depression

“I talked to other people and then I just left gaps where I left comments for him.

“It sounds odd, but it’s an arms-length biography.”

In an interview on ABC TV’s The 7.30 Report, Mr Hawke recalled that it “wasn’t Bob Hawke” who fought the 1984 election, such was his depression after finding out his daughter Rosslyn was addicted to heroin.

“I’d considered resigning,” he said.

“I went through the whole campaign in agony, literally in agony.”

Mr Hawke said he was “shattered” to discover of his daughter’s addiction and blamed his own parenting.

He contemplated suicide at one point, but “not seriously for long” and says he recovered from it quickly after the election win.

‘Mystifying’ behaviour

“I just had this utter depression that this beautiful child who was devoted to me had reached a point of near death and it just shook me,” Mr Hawke said.

“It was very, very difficult.

“I was accustomed in all my professional life to that time… to concentrating and bringing to bear my intelligence on the issue, and making decisions which were appropriate to the challenge that was confronting me.

“When your mind is surging with these other emotions, by definition it’s impossible to utilise that process which had been so compellingly successful for me in the past.”

D’Alpuget says her husband told only a handful of people about his struggle with depression, leaving many mystified by his behaviour.