The hugely popular Mr Hawke, 89, died on Thursday and was hailed by Labor leader Bill Shorten for his role in advancing opportunities for education among the working class. Mr Shorten said in a statement: “With his passing, the labour movement salutes our greatest son. ”Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Mr Hawke “had a unique ability to speak to all Australians and will be greatly missed”.
While others may have struggled to dismiss a reputation for boisterous, if well-meaning, behaviour, silver-haired Mr Hawke said it helped him win favour with working-class voters.
Mr Hawke earned his reputation as a “larrikin” in part due to his setting a world record for drinking a “yard”, or 1.4 litres, of beer in 11 seconds while at Oxford University.
Robert James Lee Hawke, a former trade union leader, was first elected to parliament in 1980 and was named leader of Australia’s centre-left Labor Party less than a month before a snap general election in 1983.
Voters quickly embraced Hawke and Labor won an unlikely landslide victory against the conservative government led by Malcolm Fraser, who had been in power for nearly a decade, for Mr Hawke to become Australia’s 23rd prime minister.
He won a fourth election in 1990 to become Australia’s longest-serving Labor prime minister but his popularity began to wane amid a recession.
Labor is on track to end six years of conservative rule of the Liberal-National Coalition although re-election prospects for Mr Morrison have been lifted by tightening polls after early fears he would lose decisively.
Memories of the popular politician’s famous moments, however, are likely to dominate media over the next few days and may give Labor a boost in the final days of the campaign.
In contrasting campaigns, Mr Shorten offered voters an egalitarian dream and reform agenda, saying “It’s Time” for a change, while Mr Morrison warned a change to Labor would risk the nation’s long-held economic prosperity.
An Essential Poll for the Guardian newspaper on Thursday showed Labor ahead of Mr Morrison’s coalition government by a margin of 51.5-48.5 on a two-party preferred basis where votes are distributed until a winner is declared.
Both Mr Morrison and Mr Shorten have campaigned relentlessly since the election was called last month, squeezing in trips to the outback north and island south, along with obligatory big city tours.
On Thursday, Mr Morrison delivered his last major campaign speech in Canberra, while Mr Shorten gave his in Sydney.
They urged voters to see Saturday’s ballot as essentially a fight between Mr Morrison’s aspirations and Shorten’s reforms.
Mr Morrison said: ”I will burn for you every day, every single day, so you can achieve your ambitions, your aspirations, your desires. That is what’s at the top of my agenda.”
While Mr Morrison promised stability, Labor leader Mr Shorten promised “real change”, reducing inequality through tax reform, higher wages and better public infrastructure.
Mr Shorten said: ”Our political opponents stand where they always have stood – against change, against progress, and are servants to the same vested interests – the big banks and big business.”