How financially corrupt was Bob Hawke in his ACTU and Parliamentary careers and in retirement? Anyone finishing Troy Bramston’s Bob Hawke, Demons and Destiny. The definitive biography would have to ask that question.
Bramston’s depiction of Hawke both as predator of and magnet for women was covered here. The media pack have also dealt him a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card on his shady money affairs, typically unmentioned till now let alone criticised.
Throughout Bramston’s monumental 720-page study, Hawke’s seedy companionship with TNT’s Sir Peter Abeles surfaces across several decades. Abeles was so close to Hawke that in 1974 he seriously asked Hawke to quit Labor to lead a new centrist anti-Whitlam party (p290), bankrolled with Abeles’ $250,000 (today’s coinage: $2.15m). Hawke disclosed the offer in a non-committal way to US Embassy operatives (Others say it was Hawke’s idea) .A pic caption in Bramston’s book sums it all up:
The closest friendship Bob Hawke formed was with businessman Peter Abeles in the 1970s. He provided Hawke with financial support, paid his bills, bailed him out of gambling debts, and supplied him with cars, drinks and women (736).
This essay, drawn from Bramston’s research, spells out what that caption implies: Hawke in various phases of his career was a kept man of a dodgy business tycoon:
♦ Abeles also paid Hawke’s mortgage and his children’s private school fees (289). It is not clear from either Bramston or his original source how much of the big mortgage Abeles chose to cover.
♦ Hawke’s business mates [implied: including Abeles] were also “his patrons and financial guarantors” (289).
♦ Hawke’s business friends, especially Abeles and Abeles’ transport partner, George Rockey, paid his hotel bills, picked up the tab at the Boulevard Hotel – “Hawke usually occupied the Lady Nelson suite, which had entrances onto different corridors” – and provided him with chauffeur-driven cars (289).
♦ During his Prime Ministership, his tight-knit relation with Abeles was so well-known to his staff that Hawke would use “visiting Abeles” as cover story when actually visiting women in Sydney (517).
♦ It was Abeles whom Hawke selected to witness his secret PM-handover promise to Paul Keating in 1988, along with unionist Bill Kelty.
Hawke turned to Abeles in an ultimate family crisis in the late 1970s involving Hawke’s teenage daughter with a heroin addiction. Abeles and Hawke searched the squats of Kings Cross looking for her, “and loaded her into Abeles’ Rolls-Royce, and had her cleaned up and brought home” (309).
Post-retirement, “Hawke had a million mates but few genuine friends other than Peter Abeles (who died in June 1999) and Col Cunningham, but saw a steady stream of business partners, union and party figures, former staff, and family” (697).
Who then was Sir Peter Abeles (1924-99), managing director of transporters TNT? Just ask Wikipedia.
See also, All in Bed with Bob
Abeles allegedly bought his 1972 knighthood by giving the corrupt NSW Premier Sir Robert Askin a TNT board seat and 110,000 shares. Abeles was allegedly an associate of crime boss Abe Saffron and allegedly involved in drug trafficking with the Nugan Hand Bank. He also admitted to having common business interests with US West Coast Mafia boss Jimmy “The Weasel” Fratianno, but claimed that he did not know Fratianno was a Mafioso. He did, however, admit to having given another mafioso, Venero Frank “Benny Eggs” Mangano, a ‘consultancy fee’ of $US300,000 for ‘advice’ on waterfront business.
Abeles was also connected to mafia associate Rudy Michael Tham. In the 1970s, TNT’s US operations were besieged by a number of “strikes, shootings and bombings.” These stopped when Tham intervened.
Abeles denied knowledge of mafia involvement in TNT businesses, a claim corroborated by Fratianno, who also described Abeles’ money handovers as legal corporate funding to ensure peace on the docks, with nothing “under the table.”
Call me old fashioned, but if Bob Hawke’s expenses, gambling debts, childrens’ school fees and mortgage were being bankrolled by Sir Peter Abeles, Hawke at the ACTU and in Cabinet should not have been doing favours and deals with him. I can’t imagine that Hawke admitted Abeles’ patronage and recused himself from such discussions. Au contraire, Hawke over-ruled Treasurer Keating to put Sir Peter on the Reserve Bank Board in 1984, Bramston writes (454). Abeles helped run the Reserve Bank for ten years.
It was not as though Hawke was oblivious to conflict-of-interest issues with Abeles. In 1990, after Hawke’s fourth election win, Labor apparatchik Graham Richardson thought he’d earned the federal transport and communications portfolio. Hawke refused, claiming some impropriety by Richardson towards Abeles, which Richardson denies. ‘Abeles hated me, so who knows what Abeles said,’ Richardson commented (576).
There was no National Anti-Corruption Commission at the time to rule on Hawke’s propriety in Parliament.
Hawke gambled furiously and was sometimes in debt to bookmakers. His scale of the gambling at casinos and on the race-track is suggested in two passages:
In August 1986, Prime Minister Hawke went with minder Robert Sorby to the private London casino Aspinall’s where Hawke, playing blackjack to 4am, lost heavily. Next night, despite Sorby’s warnings, Hawke insisted on returning to win back his money. This time he finished ahead by GBP25,000, which he took back to Australia and was confiscated by Hazel. Today’s value of that sum would be about $A114,000. “‘It was quite fucking extraordinary,” Sorby recalled (500).
In April 2000 (post-retirement), Hawke’s racehorse Belle Du Jour, co-owned with rich-lister John Singleton, won the $2.5m Golden Slipper. The two men had also backed it to win $1m (111).
As early as 1963, Hawke bought the family’s Sandringham house for what was nearly eight times his net salary, or 11 times if you include the adjacent tennis court. He paid it off partly through libel suits against newspapers. These suits earned him some $100,000 in the 1970s alone, equal to $500,000 today (290). While some of his lawsuits were legit, over accusations about being a Communist or taking Zionist bribes, Bramston also cites damages even for saying Hawke “us(ed) foul language in public.” Bramston says Hawke’s litigiousness scared off journalists from reporting on his infidelities (269). I imagine in-the-know journos were equally fearful of reporting on the Hawke/Abeles money nexus.
Hawke’s pose as a man of the people was only skin-deep. While ordinary folk rushed to shout Hawke beers, Hawke was mean and “of course, never shouted the bar” (261).
He had his trusted allies in the unions and Labor Party, and supporters and backers but no real friends, Bramston writes.
The people he really called his friends were business leaders such as Isi Leibler, Roderick Carnegie and Eddie Kornhauser. Hawke was especially close to Peter Abeles, and he regarded [Abeles’ business partner] George Rockey as like a father. Jockey Roy Higgins and Col Cunningham, a businessman, were also reliable friends (289).
It was with such men that he drank convivially, socialising at each others’ homes: “These corporate links led some in the party to question the strength of his fidelity to the Labor cause,” Bramston writes (289).
It’s a jolt to read of the Hawke-Abeles personal money nexus and then read about Hawke’s co-opting the Abeles empire into a commercial joint venture with the ACTU. Hawke was chairman and Abeles deputy-chairman of the ACTU-TNT’s New World Travel. The ACTU got 50 per cent free equity, and TNT underwrote all costs (191). These and other ACTU ventures were viewed sceptically by some ACTU factions and seldom made money, but Bramston says they involved multi-million fringe benefits like free rent for the ACTU.
Bramston notes that Abeles — from context it was in the 1970s — was paying Hawke’s Sandringham home mortgage and even covering private school fees for Hawke’s kids (289). But Bramston doesn’t clarify whether those payments were contemporaneous with the ACTU-Abeles joint venture. Bramston’s source, Pru Goward in the SMH, doesn’t specify the timing either. Hawke’s three children entered their fee-paying secondary private education in 1970, 1972 and 1973 respectively. The ACTU-TNT venture started in 1972-73 and was still running in 1978. Overlap looks probable.
In 1989 the Federation of Air Pilot’s struck against the TAA and Ansett Airlines duopoly. Ansett was co-owned by Abeles and Rupert Murdoch interests. The strike threatened Prime Minister Hawke’s Industrial Accord and Hawke led the government’s response against the pilots (562). He broke the strike in six months by using RAAF and RAN pilots and hiring overseas aircrews. Again, no-one mentions Hawke’s clear conflict of interest as patron of Abeles (or vice versa) and Abeles’ co-ownership of Ansett. Perhaps Hawke declared the conflict to cabinet?
On retirement, Hawke’s strategy was dash for cash. When he chose to quit Parliament as MHR for Wills in 1992, Jana Wendt’s A Current Affair paid him $10,000 (today, $20,000) to make the announcement on its program, to the annoyance of his Labor team (674). Labor then lost the Wills by-election.
He foresaw a lucrative career as media interviewer. Through agency IMG he successfully lined up a dozen world leaders such as John Major and Gorbachev for a TV chat series “Profiles of Power” but no TV network would come at his $100,000 fee per one-hour session, plus all expenses (676). One wonders how much of global VIPs’ time was wasted on Hawke’s money-making ambitions. He did make some good money from roles at 60 Minutes, interviewing the likes of Greg Norman at $35,000 a pop (676). The BBC paid him $30,000 plus expenses to interview his ex-colleagues Keating, Hayden and Whitlam about the republic notion. For the 1996 election, Channel Seven paid him $12,000 plus extras for commentary, and he got similar deals at later elections (678).
His big winner, with help from the IMG agency, was The Hawke Memoirs, with Heinemann paying an advance of $350,000 in 1992 and Hawke making $650,000-plus in Australia alone from sales of more than 80,000 copies. Interviews and serialisations boosted the tally to $1m plus (683).
The Bob and Blanche wedding soapie generated $200,000 from Woman’s Day and 60 Minutes (685). The somewhat tacky shoot involved swimming togs and white bathrobes plus the applying of suntan oil. Given the public’s fondness for Hazel, this PR exercise backfired.
Bramston writes that Hawke made a lot of money in the 1990s and 2000s from speeches, appearances, property and business consulting, including a business partnership with Abeles. But the media exaggerated his wealth, he adds. His lump sum payout from Parliament was $488,250 and his initial pension was $48,825pa (today $99,000). Hawke described his exit as “a considerably poorer man”, with a low income stream and big debts to service. IMG’s Australian head James Erskine claimed, improbably, that Hawke had left office “really, with nothing. He did not even own a cutlery set” (675).
Hawke’s housing is actually well detailed. They sold their Sandringham home in 1986 for $430,000, and bought a four-bedroom home in Deakin next year. The proceeds of both houses post-retirement in 1991 helped finance a harbour-view home at Northbridge, Sydney, for $1.23m (591). This required two years of renovating. The homeless couple were put up initially by John Singleton in his Birchgrove manor, and then they moved into a freebie suite in Double Bay’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel, which IMG had negotiated for them. Hawke was said to have initially sought a free suite at the Boulevard Hotel for six months in exchange for doing some hotel PR exercises. The Northbridge home, with five storeys, sold for $9.2m in 2019.
Hawke’s reputation tumbled after he divorced Hazel, married Blanche, resumed drinking and reckless gambling and delivered sour views on his Labor colleagues.
The retired Hawke was back and forth to China, matching up Australian execs with China entrepreneurs in both north and south directions. He made close to 100 trips schmoozing political, business and cultural leaders.
In the first 30 months he grossed almost $2 million pre-tax. But Hawke, says Bramston, was “easily attracted to riches and some people took advantage of this.” Labor premiers, for example, would have to fend off Hawke and his shadowy Chinese cronies seeking tawdry favours. The China lobbying and deal-making “often skirted the bounds of propriety” (696) to the annoyance of parties like Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Hawke even dabbled for an offshore betting agency deal in Vanuatu, ventures in the Myanmar dictatorship and a casino in Pakistan. I can’t help seeing parallels with Hunter Biden peddling influence with dubious and sinister Chinese actors.
When Hawke died in 2019, his estate was reportedly valued at $18 million, though Blanche disagreed. He had provided his three children and a step-son with $750,000 each and Blanche got the rest. Daughter Rosslyn sued for more — $4.2m – and Blanche settled out of court to give her only an extra $150,000 including $100,000 in legal fees (706).
Hawke wanted to be remembered as ‘a bloke who loved his country’, ‘loves Australians’ and was not changed by the prime ministership…who in the end is essentially a dinky-di Australian’ (663). As if.
Tony Thomas’ essay collection “Foot Soldier in the Culture Wars” ($29.95) is available from publisher ConnorCourt. A new title, “Anthem of the Unwoke —Yep! the other lot’s gone bonkers”, is in production
 Coventry, C. J. (2021). “The ‘Eloquence’ of Robert J. Hawke: United States informer, 1973–79”. Australian Journal of Politics & History. 67 (1): 67–87. .
Tony Reeves, “Mr Sin”, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2007, p. 87.
 Ibid, p 82-85
 Bramston suggests Hawke had another mysterious slush fund or ‘nest-egg’ from Melbourne’s Jewish community to finance any costs of transitioning from the ACTU to Parliament. He could use it for travel, accommodation and meeting policy experts. Again, one wonders if he “declared” such aid during policy discussions involving prominent Jewish businessmen.
 Hawke donated his $35,000 fee for the Somalia program to World Vision. This is the only reference I could note of Hawke being philanthropic.
 Hazel’s estate was worth only $987,034.83 (705).