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Education International pays tribute to an iconic labour leader

Bob Hawke, former Prime Minister of Australia and former Chair of Education International’s Committee of Experts, died on 16 May at the age of 89 in his home in Sydney.

Hawke was the first Chair of EI’s Committee of Experts, a position he held from 1993 until 2011. In that period he undertook numerous EI missions for the purpose of investigating whether teachers’ organisations that had applied for EI membership, were independent, democratic unions meeting all EI membership criteria.

David Edwards, EI General Secretary, recalls the major contributions Hawke has made to the development of EI as a strong, independent and credible international union. “He was also a great advocate for public education and for better conditions for teachers, and he believed in the important role to be played by education unions, both nationally and internationally. Bob Hawke has been a great inspiration to many of us, and he will be dearly missed,” says Edwards.

Hawke was a renowned Australian labour leader and former president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. He was also one of the longest serving Australian Prime Ministers, from 1983 until 1991 with the highest approval ratings of any Prime Minister. He is credited for Australia’s economic reform in the 1980s, for increases in the percentage of children finishing high school, and for the country’s universal healthcare system – Medicare. He introduced pension and welfare reforms at home, while improving trade links abroad.

Bob Hawke was a world leader and a staunch defender of democracy, social justice and human rights. He "abhorred racism and bigotry", according to a statement put out by his family. He played a pivotal role in ending apartheid in South Africa by mobilizing the leaders of the Commonwealth countries, US President Ronald Reagan and other world leaders against the White Minority Regime. He will also be remembered by his successful international campaign to protect Antarctica from mining and his work to establish trade relations with China.

“With the death of Bob Hawke one of the last great, international social democratic leaders has left us”, says EI General Secretary Emeritus Fred van Leeuwen, who worked closely with him for 18 years. “We have lost somebody who should be an example for many world leaders today, a compassionate leader and a great friend of Education International.”  

EI has extended its condolences to Bob Hawke’s family.

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