Bob Hawke, Australia’s hugely popular prime minister from 1983 to 1991, who presided over wrenching changes that integrated his nation into the global economy and strengthened ties with Asia and America, died on Thursday at his home in Sydney. He was 89.
His wife, Blanche D’Alpuget, announced his death.
Rising to power as a trade union leader, Mr. Hawke led his center-left Australian Labor Party to four consecutive election victories in a tenure of nearly nine years, in which Australia emerged dramatically from relative isolation into larger roles in world trade, military cooperation with the West and partnerships with Asian neighbors.
It was a major reorientation for a prosperous, sparsely populated country of 15 million (now 25 million) that had always viewed itself as apart, and a bit above, Asian nations to the north, a continent of pleasant cities and open spaces like the Old American West that had had little to do with global defense strategies or competitive world markets. Modern realities, however, were catching up with Australia.
Confronting chronic strikes, soaring inflation, high unemployment and trade deficits, Mr. Hawke revolutionized the economy. He cut protective tariffs, privatized state-owned industries, imposed new taxes on fringe benefits and capital gains, floated the overvalued Australian dollar to improve trade, reined in powerful unions and increased spending for education, welfare, public housing and old-age pensions.
While his policies were painful to middle-class Australians, he subdued inflation and unemployment for years, and was regarded by his countrymen as “a good bloke,” a blunt, trim, silver-haired cigar smoker with the wit of a Rhodes Scholar and the rugged features of an Aussie who loved horse racing and football, admitted marital infidelities and once bragged of downing two and half Imperial pints of beer in 12 seconds.
“We are now living in a tough, new competitive world in which we have got to make it on our own merits,” Mr. Hawke told The New York Times in 1985. “The world does not owe us a living. Gradually, there is coming about a change in attitude of Australians, that ‘She’ll be right, mate,’ which characterized much of our approach in the past.”
Mr. Hawke, an ally of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, went to Washington, Moscow and capitals in Europe, Asia and the Middle East to define Australia’s new, more outgoing foreign policies. As Australia’s increasingly outmoded ties to Britain were ebbing, he solidified Western military alliances and regional trade agreements.
Despite wide antinuclear sentiment in Australia, Mr. Hawke endorsed American bases in the outback that provided early warning against Soviet attacks, satellite military intelligence on China and the Soviet Union, and communications for America’s Pacific and Indian Ocean fleets. He withdrew from an American testing program for MX intercontinental missiles, but affirmed the Australia-New Zealand-United States security treaty, Anzus, after New Zealand halted port visits by American nuclear warships in 1984.
Mr. Hawke promoted exports to ease trade imbalances. By the mid-1980s, Australia was selling a quarter of its cargoes to Japan, and had growing markets for its wool, minerals, wheat and meat in America, New Zealand, South Korea and China. The resurgent economy drew immigrants from Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia in record numbers. By the late ’80s, nearly 20 percent of Australia’s population was foreign-born, and ethnic diversity was a growing issue.
In 1990, the Australian economy slid into a prolonged recession. Unemployment exceeded 10 percent, the highest since the 1930s depression. In December 1991, mounting anxieties led to Mr. Hawke’s removal in a Labor Party coup. He was replaced as prime minister by Paul Keating, his treasurer and the architect of many of his economic initiatives.
Robert James Lee Hawke was born on Dec. 9, 1929, in Bordertown, South Australia, to Clement and Edith Lee Hawke. His father was a Congregational minister, and an uncle, Albert Hawke, had been the Labor Party premier of Western Australia in the 1950s. Bob attended the Perth Modern School and the University of Western Australia, graduating in 1952 with bachelor’s degrees in economics and law.
Raised as a Christian, he became an agnostic after attending a 1952 World Christian Youth Conference in India, where he saw severe poverty and concluded that religion was irrelevant to people’s needs.
He won a Rhodes Scholarship and enrolled at University College, Oxford, in 1953. He wrote an 80,000-word thesis on Australian’s wage system that became a textbook for law students, and received a degree in literature in 1955.
Returning to Australia, he married Hazel Masterson in 1956. They had three children: Susan Pieters-Hawke, Stephen, and Roslyn. A fourth child, Robert Jr., died in infancy. The couple were divorced in 1995. He then married Blanche D’Alpuget, the author of a flattering biography of Mr. Hawke.
In 1957, Mr. Hawke joined the Australian Council of Trade Unions, labor’s umbrella organization, as head of research, and in 1959 presented annual wage requests to the commission that fixed national pay scales for much of the work force. He was a brilliant advocate, and his success raising wages over the next decade made him a labor movement hero.
As president of the A.C.T.U. from 1970 to 1980, he spoke out on international affairs, decrying South Africa’s apartheid policies and French nuclear tests in the Pacific and became an ardent supporter of Israel. He also transformed Australian unions from warring factions into a unified force. In the late 1970s, when crippling strikes afflicted Australia, experts said his settlements repeatedly averted national paralysis.
In 1980, after his rehabilitation from longstanding alcoholism problems, Mr. Hawke won a seat in Parliament representing part of Melbourne. In 1983, he was elected leader of the Laborites, and a month later led his party to a landslide victory in general elections, making him Australia’s 23rd prime minister.
After being deposed in 1991, Mr. Hawke remained in Parliament a few months, then resigned in 1992 and quit politics. He became a businessman, journalist and consultant, published “The Hawke Memoirs” (1994), and took up causes, including a movement to recast the Commonwealth of Australia as an independent republic, severing ties to the British crown.