Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Globalisation and the Politics of Persuasion and Coercion

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Globalisation and the Politics of Persuasion and Coercion

Article excerpt

Introduction

   We must let Australians know truthfully, honestly, earnestly, just
   what sort of international hole Australia is in. It's the price of
   our commodities--they are as bad in real terms since the Depression
   ... and if we don't make it this time we never will make it. If
   this government cannot get the adjustment, get manufacturing going
   again and keep moderate wage outcomes and a sensible economic
   policy, then Australia is basically done for. We will just end up
   being a third-rate economy ... If in the final analysis Australia
   is so undisciplined, so disinterested in its salvation and its
   economic well being, that it doesn't deal with these fundamental
   problems, then the fallback solution is inevitable because you
   can't fund $12 billion a year in perpetuity every, year ... the
   only thing to do is to slow the growth down to a canter. Once you
   slow the growth under 3 per cent, unemployment starts to rise ...
   Then you are gone. You are a banana republic. (Paul Keating in 1986
   cited in Kelly 1994: 212)

In a National Press Club Speech in the lead up to the 1996 election, Paul Keating argued that Australians did not want another salesman as their Prime Minister. The irony was overwhelming. Here was one of Australia's greatest-ever political salesmen, responsible for selling Labor's enormous policy changes of the 1980s and 1990s, suggesting that an ability to sell policy was neither necessary nor desirable. The ability to sell changes--to persuade--is vital to the making of policy, especially during a period of economic turmoil and restructuring. Economic matters have dominated public policy debates in Australia over the last two decades. Management of the economy, however, is only one of the tasks faced by a government. Just as important is the maintenance of an electoral coalition sufficient to ensure re-election. Whilst effective economic management is an important part of maintaining electoral support, economic liberal policy changes deemed essential to cope with globalisation have had negative consequences for large sections of the population (Pusey 2003; Saunders 2003; Smeeding 2002, Krugman 2002; Harding, Lloyd and Greenwell 2001). Efforts to sell policy change, therefore, have involved both preparation and justification.

The shift to economic liberalism in Australia has been seen variously: as the dominance of a particular set of ideas (Whitwell 1994; Pusey 1991; Stretton 1987: 202-207), as in the longer-term interests of capital (McEachern 1991), as signalling changes in Australian society (Muetzelfeldt 1992), as a result of particular state responses to contingent crises (Walsh 1991), and as an international imperative, forcing domestic adjustment (Kelly 1994, Catley 1996, Bryan and Rafferty 1999). This last explanation has become the dominant interpretation of, and justification for, the shift to economic liberalism. Policy-makers have used globalisation to sell economic liberal policies to an often sceptical and concerned public. Both Labor and Coalition Governments have aimed to restrict the electoral fall-out from the process of restructuring by persuading Australians that the world economy has forced particular policy' changes and made alternative economic policy choices unviable. With support and assistance from a loose coalition of supporters of globalisation and economic liberalism in business, the bureaucracy, the academy and the media, policy-makers have continually sold the message that globalisation limits what the political process can achieve. Increasing resort to market mechanisms and a limited role for government have been argued to be both integral to the reinvigoration of economic growth and unavoidable because of globalisation.

In a liberal democracy, authority and legitimacy are passed from an electorate to a government, which then must deal with governing an economy and society. How the governing process is normalised is vital: the expectations that populations have of the state will affect the ease or difficulty of governing and the extent to which governments are held responsible for economic developments and outcomes. …

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