23 June 1987 - Bob Hawke pledges “By 1990, no Australian child will be living in poverty”

June 23, 2018

On 23 June 1987, Labor PM Bob Hawke uttered one of his boldest and most memorable lines – “By 1990, no Australian child will be living in poverty”.

Hawke pledged it during his speech to the Labor party’s campaign launch for the 11 July 1987 Federal election (with then Coalition leader, John Howard, as his rival).

Whilst it filled the hearts of the Left with joy and “ex-ante accomplishment”, conservatives and other hard heads were aghast and in disbelief that something so “feel-good”, audacious and platitudinal, yet vague and unachievable, could be offered up with a straight face – and without the fourth estate then picking or tearing it to bits.

After Labor won that election, the back-peddling began with Labor and PM Hawke claiming that he had “gone off script” – a slip of the tongue at the time. Apparently, the speech was meant to say, “By 1990, no Australian child need live in poverty” – presumably implying that those children still living in poverty by 1990 would be choosing to do so (rather than having to do so).

Unsurprisingly, towards the end of 1990 (and after another Federal election), Hawke’s outlandish promise from 1987 had not been achieved. Instead, faced with two quarters of deep negative growth upon release of the September quarter 1990 ABS national accounts, with bankruptcies, unemployment and poverty breaking out everywhere, Hawke’s then Treasurer uttered one of his own most memorable lines ever – “This is the recession that Australia had to have.” [Paul Keating, 29 Nov 1990]

Mark this day of extreme Left-wing “over-promising and under-delivering” by:

  • reminding ourselves of the feel-good promises that, in particular, virtue-signalling politicians and PMs make (and too often get away with) as we approach the next array of elections,
  • looking into (and, if you like, making a tax-deductible donation before 30 June) an Australian charity that is a non-government anti-poverty program helping children in need,
  • distinguishing between Australian and global poverty, that is:
    • relative e.g. Australian terms – ie dependent on social context (eg below 50 or 60% of a country’s median household income, as the OECD, EU and organisations like ACOSS use), versus
    • absolute e.g. global terms – ie a set standard which is consistent over time and between countries (eg World Bank defines extreme, abject or absolute poverty as living on less than US$1.90 per day (PPP basis) and moderate poverty as less than $3.10 a day)
  • doing what you can to encourage strong families among your family, friends and community, acknowledging that the key indicator and cause of child poverty in the West is family breakdown including, in particular, absent fathers and single mothers (as social poverty reliably begets economic poverty)
  • viewing Senator Bernardi’s June 2018 Senate Motion marking the anniversary of former PM Hawke’s audacious claim, acknowledging where child poverty now stands in Australia, particularly in remote communities (feel free to Re-Tweet it if you are on Twitter) and/or

  • sharing this Action Plan post on social media with family, friends and responsible parents, but also those that might/could fall for similarly made promises in the future.

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