'A fight which you cannot lose’: The effect of economic reform during the Hawke era (1983-1991)

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Jed Hinds



This paper aims to analyse and evaluate the effects of the drastic economics reforms undertaken in Australia by the government of Bob Hawke between 1983 and 1991. The seismic nature of the Hawke Government policies have ensured that this era is of considerable interest to Australian economic historians. This paper aims to offer a sweeping, comprehensive assessment of the manner in which the Hawke Government transformed the progression of Australia’s economy. Reflecting the significance of this era in Australian history, a variety of perspectives have emerged in within the economic history literature. Particular scrutiny has been applied to the role of trade unions in Hawke-era reforms, and the increasing acceptance of ‘neoliberal’ policies within the Australian labour movement. After surveying the nature of Hawke’s economics reforms, I conclude that such policies laid the foundations for a prolonged period of economic growth. However, these achievements were qualified by the dismantling of institutions which protected vulnerable elements within the Australian economy. Finally, I employ a comparative approach to assess Australia’s economic progression in the 1980s with that of the US and the UK. Ultimately, Hawke Government reforms avoided the substantial growth in inequality experienced in these two countries. This outcome was a testament to the collaborative approach undertaken by the Hawke Government, which preserved a substantive role for trade unions in formulating economic policy.

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