22 October 2023

Tributes flow for Labor hero Bill Hayden, dead at 90

| Ian Bushnell
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Bill Hayden

Former Labor leader and governor-general Bill Hayden: architect of universal health care and modern Labor. Photo: NAA.

Tributes are flowing for the former Labor minister, leader and governor-general Bill Hayden, who has died, aged 90.

Described as the greatest man never to become prime minister, Ipswich-born Mr Hayden is being hailed as the architect of universal health care and reshaper of modern Labor.

Mr Hayden was Minister for Social Security and Treasurer in the Whitlam government and Foreign Minister under Bob Hawke, to whom he ceded the Labor leadership and subsequently the prime ministership when the party swept to power in 1983, famously saying a drover’s dog could have won that election.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese mourned his passing and honoured his life.

“My first thoughts are with Dallas, his beloved wife of 63 years, their children and all those who knew and loved him best,” he said.

“If Bill Hayden left no other legacy than as a key architect of universal health care, he would still stand for all time as a legend of our labour movement and a great contributor to our nation.”

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Mr Albanese said Mr Hayden gave his utmost in all his roles.

He said Mr Hayden was noted for his humility in a time of forceful personalities.

“Yet there was nothing modest about his ambition for Labor or Australia. This was the quiet strength of character he brought to the cause of progress,” Mr Albanese said.

“As a reforming Minister for Social Security, Bill introduced Medibank, Australia’s first plan for universal health care.

“As a former police officer who understood that poverty too often trapped women in violent relationships, Bill introduced Australia’s first single mother’s pension.

“When Bill became leader after two devastating election defeats in 1975 and 1977, he gave the party a new direction and empowered a new generation of talent.

“As Paul Keating put it, Bill’s leadership made the turn to ‘Labor Mark II’. He laid the foundation for the social and economic reforms that created three decades of economic growth and delivered Australia a new era in education, foreign affairs, environmental policy and – of course – universal health care.”

Mr Albanese said that without Bill Hayden championing and building Medibank, there could have been no Medicare.

And without his commitment to budget discipline, former prime ministers Bob Hawke and Paul Keating would have found it harder to forge ahead with economic reform.

“Without Bill Hayden’s instinctive grasp of the relationship between facing our nation to the world and securing our prosperity for the future, the government in which he served might not have achieved the same degree of engagement in our region that still benefits Australia today,” Mr Albanese said.

“Fittingly for a man who left such a lasting policy legacy, Bill retained an enduring interest in the big ideas. Like so many of my colleagues, I benefited greatly from Bill’s advice, I valued his insight and I always appreciated the considered way in which he offered it.”

Through the setbacks of losing elections and the leadership, Bill Hayden never lost his sense of humour, the Prime Minister said.

“Crucially, he never lost his faith in our party’s capacity to change the country for the better, he never doubted Australia’s ability to make a difference in the world, and the work he did in the service of these causes will never be forgotten,” he said.

Mr Keating said Mr Hayden prepared the way for modern Labor governments.

“A modernising treasurer, the author and founder of Medicare, the reshaper and builder of the post-war Labor Party, foreign minister and finally, in high office, governor-general,” Mr Keating said.

“Political circumstances denied Bill Hayden the prime ministership, but the Hawke government in which he served as foreign minister was set up and shaped by him as leader of the parliamentary Labor Party.

“And, the economic personnel he put in place were the building blocks the Hawke government relied upon to shift the country’s policy to the economic rationalism which has since made Australia so flexible and so wealthy.”

Parliamentary press gallery legend Laurie Oakes said Mr Hayden would have made a great PM.

“Inheriting Bill’s policies and the people he’d put in key roles gave Hawke a head start,” he said. “A politician in the finest Labor tradition. Humble, decent, clever, game as they come, Bill’s contribution was immense.”

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Governor-General David Hurley said Mr Hayden was a servant of the nation.

“Bill Hayden dedicated his life to service – from his early days as a police officer to his long parliamentary career and finally as Australia’s 21st governor-general,” the Governor-General said.

“He set an example of putting others before self, dedication and compassion. His interest in the lives of the Australian community is still remembered and, three decades on, visitors to Government House recall his warmth. His was a life well lived that enriched our community.”

A state funeral will be held to honour Bill Hayden’s life.

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Stephen Saunders8:58 am 23 Oct 23

He wasn’t the only Minister in that 72-75 Labor Government that actually cared about ordinary people, and possibly even sought to govern on their behalf.

Look at the current lot of cynical grifters and careerists – open borders Albanese, Chalmers, Bowen and O’Neil. Totally devoted to the top end of town. Perfectly happy to drive more and more of the losers into share-houses and tents.

The best bloke never to be prime minister…

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