Video by Tom Compagnoni
Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke is still pushing for Australia to become the world's nuclear waste dump, calling the plan "a win-win" that could "transform our own fiscal situation."
Hawke was an advocate for nuclear waste to be stored securely in Australia's remote regions from the time of his Prime Ministership which ended in 1991; now, a quarter of a century later, the Labor Party elder statesman said he still wanted to see the idea come to fruition.
Speaking at the embargoed launch of cabinet papers from 1990 and 1991 -- the turbulent period which saw him elected to an unlikely and record fourth term as PM, then quickly dumped from the top job as Paul Keating's second leadership spill saw him seize power in December '91 -- Hawke spoke widely on both historical and contemporary issues.
He defended his administration against criticisms it was a "do nothing" government; detailed what he saw as the "stupidity" of Australia's federal system of government; lamented he wasn't able to do more for indigenous people; detailed the behind-the-scenes negotiations in the leadup to the Gulf War, and gave musings on the 2001 invasion of Iraq and the current situation in the Middle East; and, despite his still-obvious acrimony toward his successor, said there was one thing for which he was "extraordinarily grateful" for Keating's leadership challenge.
Speaking to The Huffington Post Australia after the launch of the documents, Hawke said he was still an ardent supporter of bringing nuclear waste to Australia for storage, saying the country would benefit greatly from payments made by other nations looking to offload such waste material.
"In my last final period as prime minister, I had a world economic group of geologists and experts commissioned to find out where are the world’s safest remote sites for storage of waste, and all the sites were in Australia," he said.
"We would negotiate with the countries to take the waste and we’d make the world a safer place by having all this unsafe stuff around the world stored safely, and at the same time we’d transform our own fiscal situation. This is what my Chinese friends call a win-win situation."
As prime minister during the first Gulf War in 1990, and with clear lines traced between that Iraq operation, the Iraq War which began in 2003 and the current situation in the Middle East including the tyranny of ISIS, Hawke gave several observations on Australia's responsibility in the ongoing conflict.
"The [Iraq] War, the invasion by George [W] Bush, was the greatest strategic blunder made ever by the U.S... the whole terror situation has been exacerbated by that Iraqi invasion back then. You’ve got a very difficult situation. I think it's right for Australia to be involved in helping to meet that threat," he said.
"I don't know we should extend our involvement any further than where we already are, but we need steadfastness on the part of all nations to deal with this very fundamental threat."
During the briefing, Hawke spoke proudly of his fourth government's legislative achievements, passing more than 340 pieces of legislation between 1990 and 1991 -- more than any administration since Federation in 1901.
"[I want to] destroy the myth that has been peddled in some quarters that this was a period of do nothing government. This myth was essentially the creation of Paul [Keating] and his acolytes to advance that proposition as an argument to change leadership -- that this government was doing nothing, we needed a change," he said.
Despite the sheer number of bills passed, Hawke said he still regretted not doing more for Australia's indigenous people. He claimed he met "abhorrent," "discriminating" behaviour against aboriginals during his leadership, especially around the issue of mining uranium at Coronation Hill, near the Kakadu National Park, which he said his colleages showed behaviour that was "discriminating in this monstrously hypocritical way."
"One of the great regrets I had as prime minister was that I or my colleagues hadn't been able to do as much as I would have liked to have done about the situation of our aboriginal people. There is still so much to be done and I wish I could have done more," he said.
"One of the things I hope I was able to do in this period was to address head on and brutally the innate prejudice that existed, unconsciously in some cases, in the minds of my colleagues."
"There is no doubt this [the Coronation Hill dispute] was one element in my loss of the leadership. There was a great deal of antagonism among my colleagues as to the intensity of the remarks I made. This was something I felt very deeply about."
And as strange as it seems, Hawke finished his remarks by expressing his gratitude to Keating for overthrowing him from the prime ministership, saying it gave him time to focus on matters closer to his heart -- Blanche d'Alpuget, with whom Hawke had carried on a long affair while in the top job and married to his wife Hazel.
"I really basically am extraordinarily grateful for Paul, because if I hadn't been thrown out, I wouldn't have had the opportunity of marrying the woman with whom I'd fallen in love," he said.