AUSTRALIAN Prime Minister Bob Hawke's politics are hardly a down-under version of Maggie Thatcher's. Mr. Hawke is a Laborite. Britain's Mrs. Thatcher, of course, is a Conservative. But Hawke and Thatcher are two members of the Commonwealth that have more in common than might be expected: Both are nationalists who share the distinction of having been elected prime minister of their respective nations three times. It was expected that Thatcher's reelection would win plaudits from London financial circles, as happened. But so too did Hawke's win score points in Australian financial markets - a factor that might not have been expected for a politician from the left side of the Australian political equation. Hawke was first elected in 1983, then reelected in 1984.
For Hawke, Labor's win was particularly sweet - coming against the backdrop of difficult economic issues facing his nation. These include falling global commodity prices, a rising foreign debt, and high interest rates. But Hawke had deliberately called early elections, reckoning, correctly as it turned out, that disarray within the opposition conservative Liberal Party would work to his advantage.
The Labor win ensures continuity in Australia's foreign policy. The strongly pro-US Hawke is a no-nonsense supporter of the ANZUS Pact involving New Zealand and the United States. And Hawke, a political pragmatist, has not criticized visits of US nuclear-powered ships to Australia, as has New Zealand's prime minister, David Lange.
As a society, Australia faces many changes. New immigrants over the last decade have given the nation of 16 million people a more diverse face than was the case with the essentially British-based Australian society at the end of World War II. Foreigners, including the Japanese, are active in the economy, which, for all its problems, must be considered highly affluent.
Hawke has announced that his government will be restructured to encourage competitiveness. Some 3,000 workers will be cut from the federal payroll, and the number of departments will be reduced by about half. Such steps, if taken along with firm action to reduce the nation's growing foreign debt and trading difficulties, can be useful. Australia's immediate challenge, as Hawke reminded voters, is to maintain its unique identity - yet forge creative new links with the world economic and political community.