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Former Australian PM Bob Hawke, 89, dies

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Mr Hawke served as Australian prime minister from 1983 to 1991.

Sydney

BOB Hawke, a transformative and charismatic left-wing lawmaker with a "larrikin' streak who served as Australian prime minister from 1983 to 1991, died on Thursday aged 89, his family said.

"Today we lost Bob Hawke, a great Australian - many would say the greatest Australian of the post-war era," his wife and former biographer Blanche d'Alpuget said in a statement.

While others may have struggled to dismiss a reputation for boisterous, if well-meaning, behaviour, silver-haired Hawke said it helped him win favour with working-class voters.

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Prime Minster Scott Morrison hailed Mr Hawke's ability to speak to all Australians. "Bob Hawke was a great Australian who led and served our country with passion, courage, and an intellectual horsepower that made our country stronger," he said on social media.

"The Australian people loved Bob Hawke because they knew Bob loved them, this was true to the very end," Labor party leader Bill Shorten said in a statement.

Mr Hawke earned his reputation as a "larrikin", or loveable rogue, in part due to his world record for drinking a "yard", or 1.4 litres, of beer in 11 seconds while at Oxford University.

Robert James Lee Hawke, a former trade union leader, was first elected to parliament in 1980 and was named leader of the centre-left Labor Party less than a month before a snap general election in 1983.

Voters embraced Mr Hawke and Labor won an unlikely landslide against a conservative government led by Malcolm Fraser, who had been in power for nearly a decade. Mr Hawke became Australia's 23rd prime minister.

Inheriting an economy languishing in recession and with double-digit unemployment and inflation,

Mr Hawke embraced economic deregulation that belied his connections with Australia's largest trade unions. Hewon support from the political left to float the Australian dollar, remove controls on foreign exchange and interest rates and lower tariffs on imports within months of his inauguration. The reforms triggered a wave of economic growth, allowing Mr Hawke to introduce universal healthcare, strengthen social security for poor families and enact stronger environmental legislation.

Mr Hawke was riding high in opinion polls by the mid-1980s and won re-election in 1987 despite an economic downturn. He won a fourth election in 1990 to become Australia's longest-serving Labor prime minister but his popularity began to wane amid a recession.

Paul Keating, Mr Hawke's treasurer and the architect of Labor's economic policies, pressured him to step aside as his position weakened. However, with no sign that Mr Hawke would retire, Mr Keating challenged him for the leadership in 1991. Mr Hawke saw off the first challenge but eventually lost to Mr Keating a few months later in a party-room coup. He quit politics three months later. REUTERS