In the Wilderness: Federal Labor in Opposition
MetadataShow full item record
This thesis is a study of the federal Australian Labor Party (ALP) in Opposition. It seeks to identify the various factors that shape the political direction of the party when it is out of office by examining three important periods of Labor Opposition. It is argued in the first period (1967-72) that the main factor in the party’s move to the left was the radicalisation that occurred in Australian (and global) politics. Labor in Opposition is potentially more subject to influence by extra-parliamentary forces such as trade unions and social movements. This was true for this period in the case of the reinvigorated trade union movement and the Anti-Vietnam War Movement, whose policy impacts on the ALP under Gough Whitlam are examined in detail. While every one of the party's policies cannot be attributed to the tumult of the period, it is argued that Labor's Program embodied the mood for social change. The second period (1975-83) records a much different experience. After Labor's Dismissal from office in November 1975, the enduring conclusion drawn by the party was that it had failed in government as economic managers, and that in future it would need to embrace responsible economic management and to jettison programmatic-style reform. This conclusion was accepted and argued by both federal leaders during this time, Gough Whitlam (1975-77) and Bill Hayden (1977-83). The thesis argues that the key reason for Labor's abandonment of reformist politics was the dramatic shift in the economic context wrought by the collapse of the post-war boom in 1974, which undermined the economic basis of the Program. The degree to which 'economic responsibility' governed Labor's approach to policy-making is highlighted through case studies of uranium mining and the Prices-Incomes Accord. The final period of Opposition (1996-2001) commences with the party’s landslide defeat at the 1996 Federal Election. Under the leadership of Kim Beazley, the party continued in the pro-free market policy tradition of Labor Prime Ministers Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. In conjunction with this, it employed a 'small-target' strategy that pitched its electoral success on community anger towards the government, rather than any alternative policies of the Opposition. The free-market policy continuity is set in the context of the ideological effects of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, in the aftermath of which all political players accepted that there was no real alternative to the market. Furthermore, the overall state of the Australian and world economies was not conducive to a return to 'tax and spend' policies. The party’s bipartisanship on globalisation and economic rationalism effectively robbed it of an alternative political approach to that of the Coalition. Thus, in a sense it was hemmed into the 'small-target' strategy. The thesis concludes by comparing and contrasting the three periods, and assigning weight to the various factors that shape Labor in Opposition.
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
School of Politics and Public Policy
Item Access Status
Australian Labor Party