Man of the people mastered politics after 35-year career
FROM his days as a police officer at Redbank to a 35-year career in public life, Bill Hayden was always known as a man of the people.
It is why they still talk about the day he rode his police horse into the public bar of Redbank's Kerwick Hotel and climbed the famous bar pole in front of a crowd of thrilled patrons.
"There was a steel pole in the corner and we used to have competitions climbing up it after a few beers," Hayden grins when asked about the incident.
"It could be a bit hazardous at times."
Hayden was Member for Oxley for 27 years from 1961 to 1988 and did not lose an election.
The reason may well be summed up in his attitude towards policy positions.
"The first question I asked myself on policy was, 'How are the people of Ipswich affected by it and how they are going to respond?'," he says.
Hayden escaped the tedium of the public service to become a police officer before entering politics.
He won the seat of Oxley off the Liberal Party's Don Cameron in 1961. It was the first time the seat had been held by Labor since the first decade of the century.
"I came from a political background," Hayden says.
"My parents were strongly Labor and my father was quite radical. He was what they called an anarcho-syndicalist and he belonged to the Industrial Workers of the World.
"I decided to have a go at it and I started studying to matriculate, having borrowed money from (wife) Dallas to buy books … which I have never repaid to her, and with compound interest I could never afford to.
"I did a Bachelor of Economics with some history and three units of politics … deluding myself that political science as it was called in those days was the science of politics, when it is no such thing.
"Politics is a special operation of its own. It defies logic in lots of ways."
But Hayden mastered it during his 27 years in office.
"I'd walk home at night from Parliament House to Kirribilli Guest House where we used to stay and I'd be calculating the majority I had and the swings that could take me out," he recalls.
"It would leave me traumatised, often. And like a bad habit, it stayed on."
Labor went within a whisker of winning office in 1961, but in 1963 Hayden says Menzies "went hard on war in south-east Asia and the downward thrust of Chinese communism through the Indian and Pacific oceans".
Hayden thought it was a corny tactic.
"But it worked. It was devastating," he says.
"In 1966 it was even worse for Labor, who were opposing the Vietnam War.
"But by 1970 things had turned around because conscription was resulting in young lads being killed from homes in the suburbs. People had either lost a member of their family, or knew somebody that had lost a member."
Labor went on to win office in 1972 and ended conscription.
"I'd been very active in opposing conscription and the Vietnam War from very early, when it was deeply unpopular, and we stuck with it," Hayden says.
"Suddenly it became popular and people were opposing it (the war) in big numbers. Politics had turned around."
Hayden says Prime Minister Gough Whitlam "created constituencies of unexpected groups of people" in a wide variety of spheres as the country was transformed.
He did that in the medical area with great aplomb by instituting Medibank, now known as Medicare.
In his role as Minister for Social Security, Hayden said in 1973 that Medibank was the "most equitable and efficient means of providing health insurance coverage for all Australians".
It remains one of the Whitlam government's most enduring legacies.
Hayden says Whitlam will be revered by the Labor Party for winning government after 23 years in the electoral wilderness and for reforming the party.
He has fond memories of Whitlam, including one story that sums the man up.
"When Labor was elected (in 1972) there was a short interim between that point and the Cabinet being elected. Gough and Lance Barnard, his deputy, were sworn in as ministers. They ran the government of the country, the two of them," Hayden recalls.
"And Gough said, 'The only problem with that was, it was 50 per cent bigger than it needed to be'."
After the controversial dismissal of Whitlam by Governor-General John Kerr in 1975, Labor was back in opposition.
Hayden, who was later to be installed as Labor leader, was the sole Labor survivor in Queensland in the 1975 election.
"I went to the polling booth and we queued up and you could tell people weren't going to vote for us," he says.
"They were shuffling their 'how to votes' and shuffling on their feet and looking away. They were embarrassed.
"I said to Dallas, 'I expect we'll be beaten today, but we'll put a brave face on because we've had 14 years of unparalleled experience and we really should appreciate that the people have stayed with us from 1961 to 1975'.
"But we won (Oxley) by 112 primary votes.
"We just worked hard. You can't take the electorate for granted."
Hayden was replaced by Bob Hawke as Labor leader on the eve of the 1983 election. Labor won, but Hayden deserves credit for getting the party into a position to win after he reduced Malcolm Fraser's seat advantage at the 1980 election from 48 to 21.
Hayden became Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade at a time when he says US president Ronald Reagan was "frightening people" with his rhetoric about the Soviet Union.
"They thought he was hungering for some sort of conflict ... and no one wanted that," Hayden says.
"We took initiatives to get the Soviet representatives out here for conferences about what could be done to get something working between the United States and the Soviets ... and that went well."
He achieved a similar goal by getting the respective players to the table during the conflict in Cambodia.
Hayden displayed the common touch when he finished off his career in public life as Governor-General from 1989 to 1996.
"The main thing was representing people and listening," he says.
"People would talk to me in a way that they would never talk to me as a politician. They would speak to me quite candidly about how circumstances were affecting them, whether it be economic circumstances, a drought or some government policy."
Hayden and wife Dallas now live on a farm of 600 acres at Bryden where he has run some steers, catches up on reading and lives a quieter life.
"When you spend all your life on public exhibition, by choice, it is nice not to have to do it any more," he says.
"We've been able to find another facet to our lives and personalities."