The late Australian Labour Prime Minister Bob Hawke acknowledged the growing consensus amongst scientists about climate change during the 1980s.
In 1991, Hawke pledged to attend the Rio Earth Summit Conference, a landmark global warming think tank. However, Australia never attended the Summit as priorities shifted under his successor Paul Keating’s Government.
Since his passing in 2019, the ‘Environmental PM’s’ legacy continues to ring true in the ears of the Australian public and scientific leaders.
Mr Hawke and his cabinet repositioned environmental protection and climate change from a fringe political issue onto the mainstream agenda.
His list of eco-achievements include the preservation of Tasmania’s Franklin River, the Kakadu in the Northern Territory and the Queensland Daintree tropics.
Mr Hawke’s environmental leadership was bold and visionary when climate change was still a theory, if not considered a myth. Now we have seen what many of his era may have thought of as dystopic future progress from a possibility into a reality.
Mr Hawke’s succession by the Keating Government saw the brief glimmer of climate action eclipsed by more pressing world events of the time such as the Gulf War, national child poverty and Australia’s expansion into the Asian economy.
However, now it is time to shine Mr Hawke’s leadership spotlight onto climate change and environmental conservation once again.
Throughout his retirement, Mr Hawke continued to champion environmental policies.
Doing a segment with his granddaughter Sophie for the ABC’s Beyond 2000 for World Environment Day in 1989, Mr Hawke worked to raise awareness of environmental issues.
“We don’t inherit the planet, we borrow it not simply for ourselves but for our kids and their kids,” he told the audience.
“The Greenhouse Effect or Global Warming cannot be dismissed as just another environmental problem but has the effect to change within a single lifetime how all nations and people live and work.
“Care for your planet as you would care for your children as their tomorrow depends on our actions today.”
At Mr Hawke’s memorial service at the Sydney Opera House, his granddaughter Sophie addressed her grandfather’s concern over Australia’s climate inaction.
“One of the reasons Pop was such a respected leader is that he trusted his advisors, including scientists. That lack of trust in scientists certainly needs to change” she told gatherers.
The issue of climate change is proving divisive among the coalition’s own ranks. Australia’s Science Minister, Karen Andrews has come out saying Australia can no longer waste time arguing about climate change.
“Every second that we spend discussing whether or not climate change is real is a second that we don’t spend talking about and putting in place the strategies to mitigate the effects,” Ms Andrews says.
Just like Mr Hawke said decades ago, the science of climate change can’t be ignored with action needed by leaders in politics and industry.
Like the whole of Australia, if he were alive today, Mr Hawke would surely be saddened by this season’s bushfires and be calling for everyone to come together to act on climate change for future generations.