Bill Hayden

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Hon Bill Hayden

William George Hayden (born 23 January 1933), Australian politician and 21st Governor-General of Australia, was born in Brisbane, Queensland, the son of an American-born sailor of Irish descent. Bill Hayden was educated at Catholic schools and joined the Queensland Police Force when he was 20. He furthered his education through private study, completing an economics degree at the University of Queensland and becoming a convinced socialist. He became active in the Labor Party, and in the 1961 federal election he surprised everyone including himself by winning the seat of Oxley, held by a Liberal cabinet minister.

Hayden was a diligent MP and in 1969 he joined the Opposition front bench. When Labor under Gough Whitlam won the 1972 elections, Hayden became Minister for Social Security, and in that capacity introduced Medibank, Australia's first system of universal health insurance. In June 1975 he was appointed Treasurer (finance minister), a position he held until the Whitlam Government was dismissed by the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, on November 11.

When Labor lost the 1977 election, Whitlam retired as leader and Hayden was elected to succeed him. His political views had shifted to the centre and he advocated economic policies which favoured the private sector and supported the American alliance. At the 1980 elections he improved Labor's position but failed to defeat the Malcolm Fraser's Liberal government. At this election the popular union leader Bob Hawke, known to harbour leadership ambitions, was elected to Parliament.

By 1982 it was clear that Fraser was manoeuvering to call an early election, and Hawke began mobilising his supporters to challenge Hayden's leadership. On 16 July Hayden narrowly defeated Hawke's challenge in a party ballot, but Hawke continued to plot against Hayden. In December Labor failed to win a vital by-election, reinforcing doubts about Hayden's ability to win an election.

On 3 February 1983 Fraser called a snap election. On the same day, Hayden's closest supporters told him in an emotional meeting that he must resign, which he did. Hawke was then elected leader unopposed. When Hawke won the election, Hayden became Foreign Minister, a position he held until 1988, performing competently but without evident enthusiasm.

After the 1987 federal election Hawke offered Hayden the post of Governor-General to give him a dignified exit from politics and some consolation for having robbed him of the chance to become Prime Minister. Hayden assumed the post in early 1989, and served with discretion during the transition from the Hawke government to the Keating government.

After Hayden left office in 1996, however, it became apparent that he still resented how he had been treated by the Labor Party. He had a particular animus against Paul Keating, who, he believed, had engineered the 1982 leadership change. In 1998 he used the occasion of a defamation case involving another politician to deliberately publicise rumours about Keating's personal life. By the late 1990s Hayden had become a conservative, joining the board of the conservative magazine Quadrant. During the 1999 debate on an Australian republic, Hayden adopted a monarchist position, completing his alienation from his former party and the left generally.

Further reading

  • John Stubbs, Hayden, William Hienemann 1989
  • Bill Hayden, Hayden, An Autobiography, Angus and Robertson 1996 ISBN 0207 18769X


Preceded by:
Jim Cairns
Treasurer of Australia
1975
Succeeded by:
Phillip Lynch
Preceded by:
Gough Whitlam
Leader of the Australian Labor Party
1977–1983
Succeeded by:
Bob Hawke
Preceded by:
Tony Street
Foreign Minister of Australia
1983–1988
Succeeded by:
Gareth Evans
Preceded by:
Sir Ninian Stephen
Governor-General of Australia
1989–1996
Succeeded by:
Sir William Deane

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