Tag Archives: ALP

The larrikin as leader: how Bob Hawke came to be one of the best (and luckiest) prime ministers



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Prime Minister Bob Hawke celebrates the final cabinet meeting in Old Parliament House, 1988.
National Archives of Australia

Frank Bongiorno, Australian National University

The rise of Bob Hawke to the prime ministership now seems to have been so unstoppable, so inevitable, that it is hard to imagine Australian political history might have unfolded differently.

But what if, instead of entering the House of Representatives at the 1980 election, Hawke had retired from his leadership of the union movement into, say, a business career? What if he’d not had willpower to give up the booze? What if he’d lacked the inclination to tone down his image as a larrikin union leader?

In that event, we might perhaps recall Hawke as a gifted union leader – probably a bit of a “character” – but one who had lacked the personal discipline to fulfil his potential. Perhaps we would remember him as epitomising those olden days when mighty trade unions imagined they were a kind of fifth estate, and when their big bosses were giants whose power rivalled, and sometimes eclipsed, that of leading politicians and capitalists. Hawke might have justly been recalled as a symbol of the pride before the fall.

Instead, Hawke is recalled as one of our greatest prime ministers and certainly among the most influential. It is a strength of the ABC’s upcoming two-part documentary, Hawke: The Larrikin and the Leader, narrated by Richard Roxburgh, that it evokes the industrial world that gave Hawke both a long and rich apprenticeship in public life and a remarkable celebrity status. Some of the 1960s and 1970s footage is marvellous. You can almost smell the beer and Brylcreem.

Bob Hawke is still frequently called on to scull a beer – often at the cricket.
Reuters/David Gray

But we are also reminded of the personal transformation that was needed before Hawke could be seriously considered for national political leadership. As the pollster Rod Cameron comments in the program, the public might have been willing to tolerate, while frowning on, a womanising prime minister, but they would not take a drunkard.

The larrikin side of the Hawke personality is now a popular favourite at events, where the octogenarian acquiesces to the urgings of an adoring public by sculling a beer – a reprise of his record-breaking student effort at Oxford. But the beer-swilling larrikin, who would still be there at closing time in the bar of Melbourne’s John Curtin Hotel, had to be placed in the shade in the 1980s.

The reformed larrikin, of course, is a familiar type in Australian culture, most famously embodied in Bill, the protagonist of C.J. Dennis’s The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke. Bill gives up stoushing to become a properly domesticated husband and father, “Livin’ an’ lovin”. Hawke did a lot of both. The program’s discussion of his philandering is more coy than its handling of his drinking, but the expression on Hawke government minister Susan Ryan’s face when discussing Hawke’s relationship with women paints a thousand words.

The treatment of Hawke in this series is rather generous. Hawke was himself interviewed and all the talking heads clearly admire him to a greater or lesser extent – mainly greater. There are occasional hints of a darker side. Graham Richardson says he did some pretty appalling things under the influence of drink, but will not tell us what; only that Hawke would not have made it to the prime ministership in the age of the internet and the mobile phone.

Hawke’s 1971 Victorian Father of the Year award is treated ironically. The news footage has Hawke looking decidedly sheepish; the long-suffering Hazel privately wondered whether the judges had been on opium. Neal Blewett, a minister in Hawke’s government but a Bill Hayden supporter, thought Hawke and the party’s brutal treatment of Hayden on the eve of the 1983 election did long-term damage to the Labor Party’s morality.

The documentary does bring together many of the threads that help explain Hawke’s success as a politician. There was the sense of destiny, instilled in this Congregational minister’s son from childhood. His mother claimed that her Bible was forever marvellously opening at Isaiah 9:6: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder”.

We are reminded of Hawke’s love affair with the Australian people, the “almost mystical bond” with voters. During that golden period of about 18 months after the 1983 election – as the drought broke, the recession ended and Australia II triumphed in the America’s Cup – Hawke was lucky, but he also knew how to exploit the brightening national mood to the full. Hawke did not just ride the wave of national pride and optimism during what Jim Davidson has aptly called the “Age of the Winged Keel”. He embodied it.

For a time at least. The 1984 election, in which Labor lost ground, took off much of the shine. Then there was the “banana republic” crisis of 1986, but the documentary does not pause long over economic policy. It does recognise that Hawke was immensely lucky in the depth and breadth of talent in his ministries, but that he was also skilled in bringing out the best in those he worked with. His ego was colossal, but he had the wisdom to share power.

There would be more election victories – in 1987 and 1990 – but things were never the same once his relationship with his younger treasurer and natural successor, Paul Keating, degenerated into acrimony. Yet, to the very end, as his approval rating plunged during “the recession we had to have”, Hawke clung to the idea that his relationship with voters was special. Like so many others, he failed to grasp the opportunity to leave office on his own terms.

Hawke: The Larrikin and the Leader moves along rather breezily. The episodes in Hawke’s career that reveal his attachment to high moral principle, such as his hostility to racism, or those achievements that rhyme with the present preoccupations of progressive politics – environmental protection and Medicare – receive loving attention. Hawke’s failures are not ignored, but get more superficial treatment. An exception is the abandonment of national Aboriginal land rights legislation and the proposal for a treaty, which figures in a melancholy few minutes towards the end of the second episode. But Hawke always has good intentions.

This is a nostalgic program that begins by noting that Australians today “have never been so distrusting of politicians. But there was a time when things were different”. So, how did we get from there to here? On this question, Hawke: The Larrikin and the Leader is silent.

The ConversationBut it may be that for all of Hawke’s achievements, the era’s narrowing of political possibilities – the equation of economic efficiency with good government, and of national productivity and competitiveness with national achievement – planted the seeds of both later economic success and political decay.

Frank Bongiorno, Professor of History, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Australian politics explainer: the Prices and Incomes Accord



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The Hawke Labor government had a strong incentive to seek a new approach to industrial relations when it came to office.
National Archives of Australia

Anthony Forsyth, RMIT University and Carolyn Holbrook, Deakin University

The Conversation is running a series of explainers on key moments in Australian political history, looking at what happened, its impact then, and its relevance to politics today. The Conversation


During the Hawke-Keating years, the union movement – under the leadership of Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) secretary Bill Kelty – became a partner in Labor’s economic rationalist agenda.

Through Accord agreements, unions accepted a degree of responsibility for Australia’s broader economic health. This was often at the expense of their own members’ interests.

What happened?

The Hawke Labor government had a strong incentive to seek a new approach to industrial relations when it came to office.

The last time Labor held government was under Gough Whitlam, between 1972 and 1975. At that time, Hawke was ACTU president, and the front man for the industrial militancy and wages explosion that saw inflation peak at 18% and unemployment reach 5% for the first time since the early 1940s.

Hawke was a confrontational union leader. But Hawke 2.0, the self-possessed teetotaller who became prime minister in 1983, preferred consensus.

In opposition, Labor’s industrial relations spokesperson, Ralph Willis, developed the idea of a formalised agreement between the unions and Labor in government, which was adopted as policy at the Labor Party conference in 1979.

The Prices and Incomes Accord was a series of agreements between Labor and the ACTU where unions would moderate their wage demands in exchange for improvements in the “social wage”.

The first Accord was struck in February 1983, just before the election of the Hawke government. There were six subsequent accords, culminating in Accord Mark VII in October 1991, which ushered in the system of enterprise bargaining.

The Industrial Relations Commission developed a policy of “two-tier” wage fixation, in a shift from the “wage indexation” system of the past. Basic increases would be provided but additional wage rises were dependent on “efficiency offsets”.

By the early 1990s, this had developed into the dual system of basic annual wage increases for award-covered workers, and the opportunity to implement enterprise-based agreements to drive productivity at the workplace level.

The Accord’s social wage elements included better public health provision through Medicare, improvements to pensions and unemployment benefits, tax cuts, and – eventually – superannuation.

What was its impact?

The Accord was a key component of the Hawke-Keating governments’ economic reform program. Along with the floating of the Australian dollar, opening the door to international banks and the reduction of tariffs, the Accord signalled a turn toward a more globally engaged Australian economy.

Hawke’s consensus-oriented style brought the union movement inside the economic policy management tent. This was also a corporatist project: although business groups were not formally part of the Accord, Hawke brought big business into other institutions such as the Economic Planning Advisory Council.

Generally, business groups became critical of the influence the ACTU exerted over Labor through the Accord years. From the mid-1980s, arguments for radical reform of the industrial relations system grew stronger.

Elements in the Coalition and the New Right pushed for individual workplace bargaining and a reduction of union power. They saw the Accord as symbolic of the much-reviled “industrial relations club”.

Within the union movement itself, the Accord was always controversial. Critics argued it transferred power from the grassroots network of delegates and shop stewards to an elite group of senior officials sitting around the table with business and government.

The Accord evolved over the 1980s to focus mainly on managing wages outcomes while ignoring accompanying increases in the social wage. In response, left-wing officials like Laurie Carmichael of the Metalworkers Union became increasingly critical of the Accord. For many, the union movement had simply given up too much for too little.

What are its contemporary implications?

On the 30th anniversary of the Accord in 2013, ACTU president Ged Kearney said the Accord’s spirit should be revived to meet the challenges of job insecurity and wage inequality.

Rising inequality is behind the backlash now underway against neoliberalism and the mantra of prosperity through free trade and globalisation.

The ACTU’s new secretary, Sally McManus, has been in the headlines since assuming her position in March this year. McManus said she believed workers were justified in breaking laws that they judged to be unfair.

She later declared neoliberalism had “run its course”, and:

The Keating years created vast wealth for Australia, but it has not been shared, and too much has ended up in offshore bank accounts or in CEO’s back pockets.

McManus’ combative style recalls an era before market economics gained bipartisan support, when the lines between labour and capital were more sharply drawn. Her approach also raises important questions about the future of the relationship between the industrial and political wings of the Australian labour movement.

McManus appears to be positioning the union movement as the bulwark against unfairness, and the vigorous defender of long-held conditions. There is none of the Kelty “pinstriped proletarian” in her approach. It is unknown whether the McManus-led ACTU will entertain a similar kind of compact with a Shorten Labor government, or take a more conflict-oriented approach.

Bill Shorten is by nature a consensus Labor leader, who is inclined to seek common ground between business and labour. At present, though, he is riding the turn against neoliberalism, adopting a pro-union position and populist rhetoric on issues such as corporate tax cuts and penalty rates.

There is some prospect therefore of a new Labor-ACTU compact for the 2020s. This would not focus so much on the Accord’s economic objectives, but on the protection of workers’ rights in the fast-changing world of automation and new platforms of service delivery.

Anthony Forsyth, Professor of Workplace Law, RMIT University and Carolyn Holbrook, Alfred Deakin Research Fellow, Deakin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Australian politics explainer: Gough Whitlam’s dismissal as prime minister



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Gough Whitlam speaks to reporters after being dismissed as prime minister.
National Archives of Australia

Anne Twomey, University of Sydney

The Conversation is running a series of explainers on key moments in Australian political history, looking at what happened, its impact then, and its relevance to politics today. The Conversation


The dismissal of the Whitlam government provided one of the biggest political shocks in Australian history. It put on open display vice-regal powers that most did not know existed, and tested Australians’ understanding of their own Constitution and political system.

What happened?

On October 16, 1975, the Senate resolved that it would not pass supply until the Whitlam government agreed to call a general election. This meant the Commonwealth would soon run out of money to pay public servants, provide pensions, pay its contractors, and provide services. The Whitlam government decided to tough it out in the hope the Coalition opposition would collapse.

Because the Christmas holidays were approaching, the last day to initiate a pre-Christmas election was November 13, 1975. If that deadline was missed, there would potentially be months of economic chaos with no money to run the government and pay salaries or pensions until February.

On the morning of November 11, Opposition Leader Malcolm Fraser told Gough Whitlam the Opposition would pass supply if Whitlam agreed to hold an election for both houses in May or June 1976. Whitlam refused.

Instead, Whitlam went to the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, to seek a half-Senate election in December. This would not have been likely to resolve the impasse, because any new Senate would not have taken office until July 1 the following year (apart from the territory senators).

When Whitlam declined to request a general election, Kerr exercised his reserve powers by dismissing Whitlam and his government from office. He then appointed Fraser as prime minister on the condition that he secure the passage of supply, advise the dissolution of both houses of parliament, and call an election in December.

Kerr also stipulated that Fraser’s government must only be a caretaker government that would not make any major appointments or undertake any inquiries or investigations into the Whitlam government. The Senate passed supply, and both houses were immediately dissolved.

It was then left to voters in the election to decide who should govern. The Whitlam government was comprehensively defeated, and the Fraser government was elected to office.

Footage from the day of the Dismissal.

What was its impact?

The reaction was relief for some, and outrage for others. The public and the media, being unfamiliar with constitutional history and the role and powers of vice-regal representatives, saw the Dismissal as unprecedented and shocking.

A martyrdom narrative was constructed – that it was only ever Labor leaders who were dismissed (Whitlam and former NSW premier Jack Lang in 1932), and it was always done by the conservative establishment through undemocratic upper houses. Conspiracy theories flourished, with fingers being pointed at the CIA, the Queen, and the banks, amongst others.

That Kerr had sought advice from the High Court’s chief justice, Sir Garfield Barwick, albeit after Kerr had already made up his mind to dismiss Whitlam, was seen as adding to a conspiracy, because Barwick had previously been a Liberal minister.

Collective amnesia was applied to the fact that such things had happened before. Chief justices had advised governors-general and governors on almost every constitutional controversy since Federation.

Labor had blocked supply in state upper houses before, resulting in the governor, after consulting the chief justice, requiring the resignation of the conservative premier – even when he held a majority in the lower house. It had long been the case that if supply could not be obtained, the only options were resignation, an election, or dismissal (sometimes disguised as a forced resignation).

In 1975, the Speaker asked the Queen to intervene and restore the Whitlam government. In response, the Queen’s private secretary pointed out that the power to appoint and remove the prime minister and dissolve parliament was held by the governor-general, so she could not act.

Many people were influenced by the events of 1975 to support a republic, due to their objection to an unelected representative of the Queen dismissing an elected government that had majority support in the lower house.

Others saw 1975 as revealing the importance of the Senate’s power to block supply, and the need for the reserve powers of the governor-general to resolve a crisis.

All the major participants in the 1975 dismissal were damaged by it. Whitlam was never able to form a government again. Kerr was publicly vilified and led much of his later life outside Australia.

Although he became prime minister, Fraser found his government’s legitimacy undermined by the way it had obtained office, resulting in it being more timid and ineffective than it might otherwise have been.

A lunchtime rally outside Parliament House protests the dismissal of the Whitlam government.
National Archive of Australia

What are its contemporary implications?

One salutary consequence has been that both governments and oppositions have been more wary about taking matters to extremes, preferring to let conflicts be resolved in the ordinary course by elections.

The Dismissal soured politicians’ taste for brinkmanship. It revealed the likely consequence of a loss of political legitimacy.

Another somewhat ironic consequence is that while the Dismissal fuelled the republican movement, it has also undermined it. The republican model with most public support in Australia is that of a head of state directly elected by the people.

To avert the prospect of a directly elected head of state undermining the indirectly elected prime minister and destabilising the system of government, many consider it would be necessary to remove or codify the powers of the head of state. Yet the ghosts of 1975 have stymied attempts to do so, frustrating any consensus towards a republic.

Harking back to Whitlam’s famous words on the steps of Parliament House, nothing might have saved the governor-general – but the Dismissal appears to have saved the Queen, at least for now.

Anne Twomey, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Australian politics explainer: the Labor Party split



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B.A. Santamaria (left) played a significant role in the Labor split and the formation of the Democratic Labor Party.
Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Paul Strangio, Monash University

The Conversation is running a series of explainers on key moments in Australian political history, looking at what happened, its impact then, and its relevance to politics today. The Conversation


The Labor split started in earnest in October 1954, when federal leader H.V. Evatt denounced the “disloyal” activities of a militant anti-communist faction operating predominantly in the party’s Victorian branch. Tumult followed.

In March 1955, rival Victorian Labor delegations competed for admission to the party’s federal conference in Hobart, further crystallising the split. A month later, the Victorian Labor government was sacrificed as anti-communist breakaways crossed the floor to support an opposition-initiated no-confidence motion.

In the federal sphere, Liberal Prime Minister Robert Menzies called an early poll to capitalise on Labor’s chaos. The result was an emphatic victory for the Coalition, which benefited from preferences from the Australia Labor Party (Anti-Communist), later renamed the Democratic Labor Party (DLP).

Influenced by distinctive local factors, the split also engulfed Queensland Labor in 1957. Premier Vince Gair was expelled from the party. This precipitated an election that delivered power to the Coalition in Queensland.

But the seeds of this political calamity predated Evatt’s combustible statement. For complex socioeconomic and other reasons, a majority of Irish Catholics had historically voted for Labor, and the schism during the first world war over conscription further strengthened this ethno-sectarian alignment. In turn, there had always been a tension between socialist impulses within the labour movement and Catholicism.

The risk of conflict escalated in the 1930s, as the small but resolute local Communist Party made inroads into the labour movement.

By the 1940s, communists controlled key trade unions. This prompted Labor state branch organisations to establish “industrial groups” to combat that influence. These groups proved effective, but became closely entwined – especially in Victoria – with the Catholic Social Studies Movement.

“The Movement” had been set up by the bishops and was directed by B. A. Santamaria to exploit the position of Catholics within the labour movement to fight atheistic communism.

Santamaria’s ambition for The Movement expanded from it stiffening anti-communist resolve in the trade unions to it becoming a trojan horse for transforming the Labor’s personnel and policies. Those dreams were fanciful, but Santamaria’s zealotry and Evatt’s intemperance were crucial to the split.

Trade union powerbrokers who were determined to subjugate Labor’s parliamentary wing – even at the price of political oblivion – were also responsible.

Labor leader Doc Evatt (right) meets British Prime Minister Clement Attlee in 1954.
W. Brindle, CC BY

What was its impact?

The split destroyed Labor governments in Victoria and Queensland. The party was relegated to opposition for a generation. It did not regain office in these states until 1982 and 1989 respectively.

Better sense prevailed within the ALP’s top counsels and Catholic hierarchy elsewhere, enabling Labor governments to ride out the storm in New South Wales, Tasmania and Western Australia.

Federally, however, the consequences were also devastating for the ALP. Becoming prime minister for the second time in 1949, Menzies’ hold on office was initially far from secure; the elections of 1951 and 1954 were close run. But the Labor split gifted him political dominance.

In contrast, despite remaining at the ALP’s helm until 1960, the brilliant but mercurial Evatt never recovered politically or psychologically.

Another legacy was the DLP, which at its zenith held the balance of power in the Senate and buttressed non-Labor governments, federal and state, through watertight preference flows.

The split dramatically realigned Catholic voting. Tribal Labor supporters were torn between their religious and political faiths. The upward social mobility of Catholics in post-war Australia was destined to diversify their voting behaviour, but in one stroke a sizeable chunk hived off to the DLP.

It has also been suggested that, over time, the DLP acted as a bridge for Catholics to transfer loyalty to the Liberal Party: a side of politics where they had been traditionally unwelcome.

The anti-communist Victorian state Labor executive was locked out of the party’s federal conference in Hobart.
National Library of Australia

What are its contemporary implications?

The effects of the split washed out of the political system during the 1970s.

Federal intervention in the Victorian Labor Party in 1970 to correct its post-split deformities was an important prerequisite for the party winning office federally in 1972, and a decade later in Victoria.

The first of these victories undermined the DLP’s fundamental rationale – to deny Labor power nationally. In 1974, it lost its representation in the Senate. A few years later it expired.

Viewed from today’s post-Cold War and secularised society, the conflicts at heart of the split appear curiously arcane. Yet the ghosts of those events linger.

In 1985, four trade unions – including the powerful and conservative Shop Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association – that had affiliated with the DLP in the 1950s were controversially readmitted to the ALP. Their presence continues to influence Labor’s contemporary factional power balance.

The DLP – or its bastard child – resurrected in the 2000s and has since had members elected to the Senate and the Victorian Legislative Council.

We are also reminded of how much the presence in the modern Liberal Party of a high-profile conservative Catholic grouping recast religious political allegiances following the split. Among them is former prime minister Tony Abbott – an unashamed Santamaria protégé.

Paul Strangio, Associate Professor of Politics, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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