Academic journal article The Economic and Labour Relations Review : ELRR

The Contemporary Growth Regime Has Been Ensured by the Australian State's Mutations (at Least until Now)

Academic journal article The Economic and Labour Relations Review : ELRR

The Contemporary Growth Regime Has Been Ensured by the Australian State's Mutations (at Least until Now)

Article excerpt


The notion of different 'varieties', or forms, of capitalism has gained considerable support in the last decade or so, although all forms of capitalism share certain common features of production and consumption (for example, see: Hollingsworth and Boyer 1997; Amable 2003; Hall and Soskice 2003; Hodgson, Itoh and Yokokawa 2003; Boyer 2005). Capitalism's diversity is apparent through four configurations of its institutional architecture or mode of regulation (Boyer 2000, 2003, 2005). Nevertheless, sustained but irregular growth continues to be one of capitalism's defining features (Keen 2003). Australia is no exception, having shown exceptionally fast and stable growth during the twenty years following the Second World War, followed by a more erratic pattern in the 1970s and 1980s. The period since the early 1990s has exhibited far less volatility with annual economic growth rates persisting within a band of around 5 per cent or less.

This latter period coincides with the ascendancy of neoliberalism which, as a hegemonic discourse, became progressively embedded in Australian policy from the mid-1980s. Market discipline, competition and commodification are hallmarks of neoliberalism, although some acolytes have acknowledged that 'market order requires a particular kind of state to secure it' (Gamble 2006: 22). There is a paramount requirement for a strong state in order to ensure a 'free' market. This article examines the configuration and actions of the state, particularly during the last decade and half, which have secured and sustained Australia's contemporary growth regime.

The Changing Form of the Australian State

Historically the state has been quite pervasive in promoting the development of Australian capitalism since the nation's genesis as a British colonial penal settlement. The colonial state established a local economy and was seen as responsible for economic development by landowners and commercial interests. By the mid-nineteenth century the state was regarded as the vehicle for infrastructure provision (roads, railways, ports, urban services and communications) necessary to overcome economic development barriers in a vast and sparsely populated continent. Federation in 1901 resulted in a Constitution which specified a limited but important set of powers for the state apparatus of the Federal government and allowed State governments considerable scope to pursue their own policies. The turn of the twentieth century also witnessed the historic 'class compromise' engineered and subsequently regulated by the state, based on a policy framework of tariff protection against imports, a guaranteed minimum wage and restricted non-European immigration to Australia. This was also the period in which the Australian state began providing limited social welfare support (Hancock 1961; Butlin, Barnard and Pincus 1982; Davis, Wanna, Warhurst and Weller 1990; Bell and Head 1994a).

The embryonic Australian welfare state expanded between 1940 and 1970 with a considerable boost in expenditure on income security and new education, hospital, medical and housing programs. This expansion coincided with the Federal government's retention of power to levy income taxes which it had assumed from the State governments during World War II. Throughout this thirty-year span, the state steadily became the dominant owner of key infrastructure monopolies such as electricity, water, telecommunications, postal services, shipping, railways as well as banking, insurance and airline services competing with the private sector. This was also a period when a wide range of regulation was progressively introduced by the Australian state. Housing affordability was promoted by interest rate ceilings, higher and higher tariffs on imported goods became more embedded, and there was a marked upsurge in social regulation during the 1960s and 1970s such as controls over tobacco, alcohol and prostitution (Beresford 2000; Fenna 2004). …

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