Articles >

How to win friends and influence people

Published by Forbes on 1984-11-19

ROBERT JAMES LEE HAWKE, once a socialist and former chief of the nation's trade unions, is Australia's most popular prime minister in decades, His Labor Party will almost certainly win the national elections scheduled for Dec. 1,

Is Australia, the Lucky Country of wide-open spaces and high living standards, veering to the left? Quite the contrary. Bob Hawke's popularity owes much to hardheaded economic policies that have pleased most of the business community as well as the average Australian. It owes something as well to his steadfast support for Australia's U.S. alliance. If Hawke is a leftist, so is Ronald Reagan.

Hawke's government has moved to loosen the rules on commercial and investment banking -- what Americans call deregulation. The protected and inefficient automobile industry has been told that some of the walls will be taken down over the next few years. Hawke pushed through a union-business accord to hold down prices and wages.

Victorious next month, however, Hawke will still need to struggle with his own Australian Labor Party, many of whose eggheads regard him as an enemy. Hawke, standing firmly in the middle of the road, is harassed by his party's radicals, who can command enough clout within the party to embarrass him politically.

Hawke favors continuation of close defense arrangements with the U.S. Australia's far left -- reflecting the continent's traditional isolation from the outside world -- lives in a never-never land where it imagines the U.S. is a worse menace to world peace than the Soviet Union. America-bashing is its favorite sport. The far left's constant nattering about antinuclearism is code for hating the U.S.

This Labor left would like to ban the visits of U.S. nuclear vessels. It would like barriers against imports from the U.S. and Japan to protect Australia's low productivity and high wages. A few unionists would like new benefits that could help rekindle the double-digit inflation that Australia faced last year.

But the left must contend with Hawke's tremendous personal popularity and his sensible pragmatism. Bob Hawke combines a pugnacious, matey type of personality with a genuine intellect. A compact, athletic man and recipient of a Rhodes Scholarship as well, Hawke, 54, was once a heavy drinker and womanizer. He has reformed now and works full time at running his native land. In the 2: months since the Labor Party" sweeping victory, Hawke has provided this country of 15 million sometimes rambunctious and contrary people with the charismatic leadership it has not had in recent memory.

This leadership is more interested in encouraging investment and creating jobs than in promoting socialism, and its nonideological practicality has clearly endeared Hawke to the pragmatic Australians. It has also won him the confidence of the business and investing community.

But Labor Party radicals feel Hawke has not fulfilled his 1983 election promises. During that campaign Hawke promised to "review" security ties with the U.S. You could have taken this ambiguous statement to mean that he would distance himself from the U.S. Having "reviewed" U.S. relations, however, he apparently found them fine. No one should have been surprised: Hawke is a sincere anticommunist and friend of the U.S. His Labor ideology has not prevented him from becoming a firm supporter, even fan, of Ronald Reagan.

Because he has defied his own loony left, Hawke recently came close to suffering a humiliation at the hands of his own party. The Labor left insisted at a conference in July that the party adopt a radical platform that would ban visits by U.S. nuclear submarines and ships; prohibit American B-52s from landing at Darwin: dismantle strategic American bases at Pine Gap, Nurrungar and North West Cape; disband the Australian internal security services; and end the mining and export of uranium. Hawke went to bat against these extremist measures.

On the uranium question, the left's key issue, Hawke came within 11 votes of losing to the radicals. Hence the Dec. 1 election, 15 months before one was technically due. The early election is obviously an attempt by the silver-haired prime minister to use his personal popularity to win the electorate's endorsement of his own policy. A mandate for Hawke will box in the left wing of his own party and free him to tackle the thorny issue of tax reform next year. Nor need he worry that the middle-of-the-road majority will sit at home: In Australia voting is mandatory.

If Hawke wins big in the House of Representatives -- which he may well do -- his hand will be strengthened within his own party. If Hawke doesn't win big -- nobody thinks he will lose -- he will face difficulties in holding to his pro-U.S. pro-investment policies.

Hawke enters the election with a strong hand. "There has been an extraordinary turnaround in our economy," Hawke said recently. "Things were in bad shape during the previous government's tenure." True. When Hawke came to office in March 1983, Australia was in the grip of its worst recession in 50 years. The inflation rate touched 11%; interest rates were hovering around 16%; unemployment was 10%. Today inflation is running at 6%; interest rates have dropped to 13%; and unemployment has slid below 9%.

In claiming full credit for Australia's remarkable economic recovery, Hawke is being less than fair. His conservative predecessor, Malcolm Fraser, had to clean up the mess left from a previous left-wing Labor government, from the second petroleum crisis and from the world recession. But to his credit, Hawke has largely continued the generally probusiness policies of his predecessor.

This annoys the left, and sometimes even the right. "Hawke has pursued virtually the same economic policies as Malcolm Fraser," explains Bob Santamaria, a leading conservative social critic. "He's probably even more free-market-oriented than Fraser was." Santamaria opposes Hawke's deregulation of the banking industry because, he claims, it will drive interest rates back up.

Brushing aside such criticism, Hawke boasted recently: "We have created a quarter of a million new jobs in 18 months -- against the loss of almost a quarter of a million jobs under the previous government."

Andrew Peacock, head of the opposition Liberal Party -- and the man who will be prime minister if Labor loses the election -- argues that these gains were a matter of luck. He says Hawke was helped by the end of the record drought and by the recovery of the U.S. economy, which stimulated Australia's exports of meat products and wool, among other things.

Peacock, a rather dilettantish politician of the right, senses that he has a weak case against Hawke from the economic and foreign policy standpoints. Peacock's party, therefore, hammered until recently on the theme of corruption.

No one has accused Hawke of wrongdoing, but for the last year there have been allegations of corruption and influence-peddling in the state of New South Wales, whose premier, or governor, Neville Wran, is national president of the Labor Party.

Hawke is particularly sensitive to the question of morality. As a former swinger, he now behaves with a sobriety that contrasts sharply with the excesses of the flesh that he once indulged in. In September he wept in public after Peacock charged that Hawke had connections to organized crime. Hawke's wife explained that he took the matter personally because the charges -- which Hawke denied -- came at a time when the Hawkes' daughter and her husband were undergoing treatment for drug addiction.

A poll taken after the incident showed that sympathy for Bob Hawke had risen further. He may be unloved on the far left and still somewhat distrusted on the right, but Hawke clearly is admired by the overwhelming majority of his fellow Australians.


Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist


© Copyright 2003 - 2008, Pranaygupte.com - by Fluid Design