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Nuclear waste a win for Australia: Hawke

AAP logoAAP 9/12/2016 Andrew Leeson

He's just hit 87 but former prime minister Bob Hawke is still pushing for change, using a speech at the University of Sydney to call for a new approach to nuclear waste.

Mr Hawke rang in his birthday by receiving an honorary degree on Friday for his leadership in economic reforms, environmental protection and introducing several initiatives including Medicare.

Speaking after he was granted the award by the university's chancellor, the longest-serving Labor PM said the world was at a tipping point.

"We now have the capacity either, on the one hand, to improve the standards and quality of life of all of mankind or, on the other, to destroy life as we know it," he said.

"Let me assure you that's not the fanciful imaginations of an old man. The fact of global warming will not go away whether you are president elect of the United States or a humble citizen of Australia."

He believes nuclear energy will need to be included in a mix of sources to combat climate change and that Australia could use money generated by disposing of the world's nuclear waste to close the gap between the living standards of indigenous Australians and the rest of the population.

"The greatest stain on the character of this great Australian nation is the large gap, yawning gap, between our aboriginal citizens and the rest of us in regard to health, education, living conditions, incarceration rates and life expectancy."

The 23rd prime minister received his doctorate alongside graduating students at ceremony in the Great Hall, with his wife Blanche d'Alpuget and his three children from his first marriage in the audience.

"He is a truly great Australian whose contribution to our nation has been extraordinary and indeed genuinely legendary," University of Sydney Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson said on Friday.

The doctor of letters adds to a long list of the former leader's honours including an Order of Australia.

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