Returning to Australia, in 1958 Hawke was offered a post as research officer at the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) headquarters in Melbourne. He was selected as the ACTU's president in 1959 despite the fact that he had never held office in a trade union, and in 1973 he became federal president of the Labour Party.
In March 1983 Hawke was elected Australia's twenty-third prime minister. He went on to become one of the most successful Australian leaders of the twentieth century. His policies were moderate and center-leftist, both internationally and domestically. The Hawke government reflected its leader's personal traits of moderation, consensus, and pragmatic compromise. Domestically, the Hawke government enacted several initiatives of the traditional labor Left, such as the restoration of universal health insurance, various environmental initiatives, and the continuation of the reconciliation process between the Australian government and its indigenous constituents. Yet consistent with many reforms associated with rightist governments, he also allowed the Australian dollar to float, privatized state sector industries, overhauled the tariff system, and implemented widespread industrial deregulation.
Hawke's sense for attaining the middle ground became most evident in Australia's foreign policy. Although he was elected with the support of the unionist Left, including unions controlled by the Communist Party, he did not share their anti-American views and never pursued purely socialist positions. He was a strong supporter of both Israel and the U.S.-Australian alliance, and he maintained cordial relations with U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.
The demise of the Hawke government came by way of a severe economic recession in 1991. Hawke's popularity declined, and he lost a no-confidence vote on 20 December 1991. He resigned from parliament shortly thereafter and retired from public life, although he has since supported several Labour figures in federal elections.
Hurst John. Hawke PM. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1983.