Robert James Lee Hawke, born on December 9, 1929, was the 23rd Prime Minister of Australia, serving in that office from March 1983 to December 1991. He is the third longest serving Prime Minister in Australian history.
Hawke was a true friend of Kuwait and was committed to the country’s freedom, prosperity and success.
Soon after Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait on 2 August 1990, Hawke spoke to members of the National Security Committee of Cabinet to discuss the situation and Australia’s response.
On 10 August 1990, he announced Australia’s decision to join the United States-led multinational force, enforcing UN sanctions on Iraqi trade through the Gulf (and at times in the Red Sea).
Three days later, the Royal Australian Navy frigates, HMAS Darwin and HMAS Adelaide, sailed from Sydney for the Gulf, followed shortly afterward by the replenishment tanker HMAS Success.
Australia’s deployment of naval ships to the multinational force was one of the first with the United States. It was to continue well after Kuwait’s liberation on 26 February 1991 and involved over 1,800 Australian Defense personnel. Alongside the three warships, Australia also provided a supply vessel, four medical teams, air transportation and a mine clearance diving team.
Speaking at the time about Australia’s decision to commit forces to the Gulf, Hawke told journalists “if we believe in the principle of rights of independent nations to be free and to be free from naked aggression from their neighbors then we have to be prepared even at some risk to back up our beliefs with action”.
Hawke – a close friend of US President George H W Bush – was also engaged in the diplomatic effort to convince other nations to join the multinational force to liberate Kuwait.
Marking the announcement of the ceasefire on 28 February 1991, Hawke expressed his shared joy with Kuwaitis over the liberation of the country. He also reiterated Australia’s commitment to values such as national self-determination, national sovereignty and the rule of law over the rule of force.
Following Kuwait’s liberation, Hawke continued his relationship with the country. In 2010, he led the Australia Gulf Council Mission in a visit to Kuwait, where he met with the former Prime Minster, His Highness Sheikh Nasser Mohammed Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah.
Hawke was known for his great warmth, openness and sense of humor. He did many great things for Australia, including opening up the economy to make it among the most successful and competitive in the world.
He also left a wide impression mark on the global stage, particularly in regards to his efforts to forge closer ties between Australia and Asia and his work to end apartheid in South Africa.
Hawke passed away on 16 May 2019. A state memorial service will be held in Sydney on 14 June 2019.
For those wishing to pay their respects, an online condolence book is available at https://www.pmc.gov.au/pmc/condolences
By Jonathan Gilbert, Australian Ambassador to the State of Kuwait