Twenty-three years after John Howard and Bob Hawke faced off for a Federal Election, the two former Prime Ministers have come head to head for the first time in Sydney.

But the debate was a bit more of a chat between old friends than a political contest.

Ashleigh Elliott reports.

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Two decades on from facing off at the ballot boxes, and time has certainly mellowed the former Prime Ministers.

As the second and third longest serving Prime Ministers, Bob Hawke and John Howard came together for a formal debate on current issues last night.

“Can I please welcome our two former Prime Ministers, John Howard and Bob Hawke.”

But as the old rivals took to the stage, it was more like two old friends than political foes.

Bob Hawke, Former Prime Minister: “It is genuinely a great pleasure to be here with John.”

John Howard, Former Prime Minister: “He was the best Prime Minister the Labor party’s ever produced.”

They shared a laugh with one another and were even flattered by an audience comment.

“Both of you have aged very well and become more charming.”

But as they got down to the nitty-gritty issues for the evening, the once rivals found they shared a lot more in common.

They agreed on many topics such as the need for high immigration and that state governments should be abolished.

And like everyone else, they shared their thoughts on Kevin Rudd’s ambitious policy for national health reform.

John Howard, Former Prime Minister: “I’m frankly quite confused about what the administrative arrangements are. I find it hard to believe that out of this arrangement we’re going to have fewer bureaucrats.”

Bob Hawke, Former Prime Minister: “I genuinely think it’s too early to answer the question.”

And as for the reason that they never had a formal debate two decades ago.

Bob Hawke, Former Prime Minister: “Oh I think John was so taken up with a bloke called Joh Bjelke-Petersen and that was the fella he needed to debate with.”

The former Prime Ministers’ last bid was to eventually see Australia become a republic.

Ashleigh Elliott QUT News