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Bill Hayden

Bill Hayden Former Governor General of Australia

Former Governor General of Australia
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro Former Governor General of Australia
A.K.A. William Hayden, William George Hayden
Countries Australia
Occupations Diplomat Politician
Type Politics
Gender male
Birth 23 January 1933, Brisbane
Age: 87 years
Star sign AquariusAquarius
The details

William George "Bill" Hayden AC (born 23 January 1933) is an Australian politician who was the 21st Governor-General of Australia from 1989 to 1996. He was previously the Leader of the Labor Party and Leader of the Opposition from 1977 to 1983, and served as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade under Prime Minister Bob Hawke from 1983 to 1988. Earlier he had briefly been the Treasurer of Australia under Gough Whitlam in 1975.

Early life

Born in Brisbane, Bill Hayden was the son of George Hayden, an Irish-American sailor originally from Oakland, California, and already 52 years old at the time of Bill's birth. Hayden's paternal grandparents were from Cork in Ireland, and significant parts of his approach to social issues and politics throughout his public life reflected the Irish side of his family background.

Hayden was educated at Brisbane State High School and served in the Queensland Police Force from 1953 to 1961. He continued his education privately, completing an economics degree (on a part-time basis) at the University of Queensland. Prior to the 1970s, he was a self-described democratic socialist.

Politics (1961–1988)

During the late 1950s he became active in the Labor Party. In the 1961 federal election he surprised almost everyone, including himself, by winning the House of Representatives seat of Oxley, located in southwest Brisbane. He ousted Don Cameron, the Minister for Health in the Menzies Liberal government, on a nine-point swing. Hayden's win was part of a 15-seat swing to Labor that nearly brought down the Menzies government.

One of the youngest members of the legislature (only 28 years old at the time he entered it), Hayden proved to be a diligent, well-spoken parliamentarian. In 1969 he became a member of the Opposition front bench. When Labor won the 1972 election under Gough Whitlam, Hayden was appointed Minister for Social Security, and in that capacity introduced the single mothers pension and Medibank, Australia's first system of universal health insurance. On 6 June 1975 he succeeded Jim Cairns as Treasurer, a position he held until the Whitlam government was dismissed by the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, on 11 November 1975. Labor suffered its worst-ever defeat in the election held a month later; the Liberals' Malcolm Fraser became Prime Minister, and Hayden was left as the only Labor MP from Queensland.

Opposition Leader

When Labor lost the 1977 election in yet another landslide, Whitlam retired as leader and Hayden was elected to succeed him. His political views had become more moderate, and he advocated economic policies which encompassed the private sector and the American alliance. Several opinion polls during early 1980 showed the ALP under Hayden neck-and-neck with, or actually ahead of, Fraser's administration. At the 1980 election. Labor finished a mere 0.8 percent behind Fraser's government on the two-party vote, having gained a nationwide swing of over four percent. Yet, due to the geographically uneven nature of the swing (strong in Victoria and, to a lesser degree, Western Australia and New South Wales, but comparatively weak everywhere else), Labor fell 12 seats short of toppling the Coalition. Hayden did, however, manage to slash Fraser's majority, from 48 seats to 21. He not only regained most of what Labor had lost in the previous two elections, but put the party within striking distance of winning the next election.

By 1982 it was evident that Fraser was manoeuvring to call an early election. But the main threat to Hayden came less from Fraser than from elements in Hayden's own party. Bob Hawke, a former union leader who had been elected to Parliament two years earlier, began mobilising his supporters to challenge Hayden's leadership. On 16 July 1982 Hayden narrowly defeated a challenge by Hawke in a party ballot but Hawke continued to plot against Hayden.

In December Labor surprised many pundits by its failure to win the vital Flinders by-election in Victoria, further raising doubts about Hayden's ability to lead the ALP to power. On 3 February 1983, in a meeting in Brisbane, various leading Labor figures, including Paul Keating and Senator John Button, told him that he must resign. He reluctantly accepted their advice. Hawke was then elected leader unopposed. Later that morning, unaware of the events in Brisbane, Fraser in Canberra called a snap election for 5 March. Fraser had been well aware of the infighting within Labor, and wished to call an election before the party could replace Hayden with Hawke. It was only a few hours before the writs were issued that Fraser learned of Hayden's resignation. At a press conference that afternoon Hayden, still chagrined, said that "a drover's dog could lead the Labor Party to victory, the way the country is".

Foreign Minister

Labor won the 1983 election handily, and Hayden became Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade. In that post, he advocated closer integration between Australia and its Asian neighbours. In a 1983 interview, he stated: "Australia is changing. We're an anomaly as a European country in this part of the world. There's already a large and growing Asian population in Australia and it is inevitable in my view that Australia will become a Eurasian country over the next century or two. Australian Asians and Europeans will marry another and a new race will emerge: I happen to think that's desirable." Asiaweek, 19 August 1983.

As Foreign Minister Hayden had oversight of the Australian foreign aid program. In 1983 Hayden announced a review of the Australian foreign aid program (known as the "Jackson Review" after the chair, Gordon Jackson) which reported in March 1984. The main recommendations of the report, which were directed at improving the professional quality of the Australian aid program, were accepted by the Government. During the next few years, in various speeches Hayden set out the foreign aid priorities of the government.

Governor-General (1989–1996)

After winning the 1987 election, Hawke offered Hayden the post of Governor-General as a consolation for replacing him as Labor Leader, denying him the chance to become Prime Minister. The Queen's appointment of Hayden as Governor-General to succeed Sir Ninian Stephen was publicly announced in mid-1988. In the following months, Hayden resigned from Parliament and severed his political connections with the Labor Party. He assumed the post in early 1989, and served with discretion and distinction, including during the period of transition from the Hawke Government to the Keating Government in December 1991. As a mark of respect for the service Hayden had rendered to Australia, the usual term of five years for a Governor-General was extended to seven years.

Upon his appointment as Governor-General, he became, ex officio, Chancellor and Principal Companion of the Order of Australia. He had previously said he would never accept any honours.

Former Prime Minister John Howard and former Governor-General Bill Hayden at Padraic McGuinness's funeral

The Governor-General is normally the Chief Scout of Australia. Hayden declined the office on the grounds of his atheism, which was incompatible with the Scout Promise. Instead, he served as the "National Patron" of the Scout Association during his time in office.

Later life

By the late 1990s Hayden joined the board of Quadrant. In the debate preceding the 1999 republic referendum, he rejected the specific proposal and sided with the monarchists, stating he only supported direct election of a president.

Since retirement from the position of Governor-General, Hayden has continued to contribute to public policy discussion in Australia. While on the board of Quadrant, he took time to lend personal support to the publication and wrote a tribute to its editor P.P. McGuinness on his death in 2008. He has also continued to write opinion and comment pieces for other magazines and newspapers in Australia about current social, economic and political issues including foreign affairs.


By virtue of being Governor-General, he was the Chancellor of the Order of Australia and its Principal Companion (AC).. He declined a knighthood.

He received an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Queensland in 1990 for his distinguished contributions to Australian life. Other awards included admission to the Order of St John Australia and also the Gwanghwa Medal of the Korean Order of Diplomatic Merit.

In 1996 he was recognised as the Australian Humanist of the Year by the Council of Australian Humanist Societies. In 2007 at the 45th State Conference of the Queensland Branch of the Australian Labor Party, Hayden was made a Life Member of the party.

Styles and honours

  • Mr Bill Hayden (1933–61)
  • Mr Bill Hayden MP (1961–72)
  • The Hon Bill Hayden MP (1972–88)
  • The Hon Bill Hayden (1988–89)
  • His Excellency the Hon Bill Hayden AC (1989–96)
  • The Hon Bill Hayden AC (1996–present)

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