Bill Hayden state funeral
Dignitaries have paid their respects to former Labor leader Bill Hayden at a state funeral. Image by Jono Searle/AAP PHOTOS
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Bill Hayden remembered for ‘giving Labor a future’

Kat Wong November 3, 2023

Former governor-general, Labor leader and architect of universal healthcare Bill Hayden has been remembered as a humble giant in a field rich with ego.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Governor-General David Hurley were among the dignitaries, diplomats and political figures for his farewell at St Mary’s Catholic Church in Ipswich on Friday.

Members of the public including the ceremonial unit of the Australian Federation Guard, retired members of police and children from St Mary’s Primary School also gathered to honour Mr Hayden.

Anthony Albanese speaks at Bill Hayden state funeral
 Bill Hayden gave Labor “the chance of a future”, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said. Image by Jono Searle/AAP PHOTOS 

The prime minister remembered Mr Hayden as a luminary of the political landscape.

“With his quiet strength of character, this legend of the Labor movement shone the light that let us see the road ahead,” Mr Albanese said. 

“Bill Hayden gave the Australian Labor Party the chance of a future.”

Former prime minister Paul Keating said his late cabinet colleague had “managed to affect a composure which would remain an asset within all of his life in the topsy-turvy world of federal parliamentary life”.

“Unburdened by a higher sense of self or driven by some innate sense of destiny, Bill got about his long and effective business – notwithstanding intermittent self-doubt and occasionally thwarted inner confidence – but his momentum persisted,” Mr Keating said.

Born in 1933, Mr Hayden grew up in Queensland where he worked in the public service and police force.

He was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1961 for the seat of Oxley, before being appointed as social security minister and treasurer under former prime minister Gough Whitlam.

Bill Hayden
 Bill Hayden built the foundations for Medibank, the precursor to Medicare. Image by Tony Phillips/AAP PHOTOS 

When Labor came to power in 1972, Mr Hayden championed and built the foundations for Medibank, the precursor to Medicare.

Although most Australians will remember him for this, Mr Keating said Mr Hayden’s crowning achievement was his re-establishment of the federal Labor party.

After the infamous 1975 dismissal, Mr Hayden was the last Queensland Labor MP left standing in the House of Representatives.

Though Labor at the time was still driven by aspiration and altruism, it was plagued by confusion between objectives and means, Mr Keating said.

It was against this backdrop that Mr Hayden stepped up as Labor leader.

“Out of the mayhem of earlier years he brought order, focus and policy consistency to the shadow cabinet and put together a talented frontbench committed to principles of rationality and accountability,” Mr Keating said. 

“Bill Hayden rescued and resuscitated the Labor party as a national force.”

In 1983, he became foreign affairs minister under Bob Hawke before retiring from parliamentary service in 1988.

Paul Keating at Bill Hayden state funeral
 Bill Hayden “rescued and resuscitated the Labor party as a national force”, Paul Keating said. Image by Jono Searle/AAP PHOTOS 

He went on to become Australia’s 21st governor-general, holding the office from 1989 until 1996.

Mr Hayden died aged 90 in late-October, exactly nine years after the death of Mr Whitlam.

He is survived by his wife of 63 years Dallas and his children Georgina, Ingrid and Kirk.

“He is our father, he is our dad and we love him still,” Georgina said in her tribute.

Mr Hayden left the church to the bittersweet melody of Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again, one of his favourite songs.