Labor and ‘neoliberal’ policy

One of the most difficult problems Kevin Rudd faced in writing his Monthly essay was the extensive, and indeed dominant, role of the Hawke and Keating Labor governments in implementing ‘neoliberal’ policies.

When he says that the political home of neoliberalism in Australia is the Liberal Party he is giving the Howard government more credit (from a reformist perspective) than is warranted by the historical evidence. While the Coalition moved further ahead on labour market deregulation, waterfront reform and the privatisation of Telstra than was likely under Labor, most of the major reforms had already taken place by the time Howard took office in 1996, and what the Coalition did was incrementally advancing or fine-tuning reform processes initiated by the previous government.

Apparently when the Coalition introduces a market reform it is ‘economic fundamentalism’, but when Labor implements a market reform it is ‘economic modernisation’.

The differences between social democratic market reformers and ‘neoliberal’ reformers are larger in their underlying philosophical perspectives than in their substantive policies. In The Australian this morning, Dennis Glover put it this way:

Rudd does not believe the free market is an end in itself; it exists to serve society. For Rudd greater social equality is a moral good.

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