Affect of the Ideology of the Hawke Labor Government on Interactions with Business and Society


Since the Second World War, the Australian state has adopted a distinct approach in its dealings with society and business. This approach has been characterised by government intervention in the activities of business and a comprehensive welfare system serving the vulnerable segments of society. Often, government intervenes in the activities of business to force industries to assume a social welfare capacity. Successive governmental actions have been influenced by the ideologies of the incumbent party. These ideologies have not merely made sense of social or economic realities, they acted as guides for government policy. Through the critical use of supporting evidence, the affect of the Hawke Labor government upon relations with business and society will be examined.

The Hawke and later Keating governments were often accused by the Socialist left of subverting or ignoring Labor’s traditional egalitarian ideology. While its ideology may be the filter through which Labor saw social and economic realities, it was constrained by international competition and lagging economic growth to adopt a more pragmatic approach under some circumstances. Economic contraction coupled with high unemployment and interest rates meant Labor needed to adopt a measure of economic liberalism, in the same way as Social Democrat European governments are compelled to presently.

Hawke’s Labor championed the ‘disadvantaged’, however defined, and altered Australian society by acting upon its ideology of egalitarianism. Socialism has consistently been associated with the welfare of an oppressed class (Heywood 1997, p. 50). Following the second world war, the Labor movement had been at the forefront of the campaign for granting aboriginal Australia voting rights. Consistent with that association, the Hawke government continued Labor’s special protection of aborigines with the ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act’ of 1990.


That special protection was granted upon the aboriginal is in keeping with Labor’s Socialist ethos - that of equal outcomes, not necessarily equal opportunity, and the belief that economic differences are due to differing social environments. Bauman explains the intention of the ‘inventors of the welfare state’, and the theory that previous deprivation made special protection necessary:



What they had in mind was getting rid of the deprivation which made collective care or positive discrimination necessary in the first place: to compensate for the inequality of chances and thus make chance equal. (Bauman 1998, p. 61)


Upon critical assessment, Labor’s recent treatment of aboriginal Australia could be interpreted as being in contradiction with its ideology. The collective care sought by the Labor movement infers that every aboriginal by virtue of sometimes dubious ethnic ties is a victim of past deprivation. Socialism in theory seeks to award resources on the basis of need, not necessarily merit. Aboriginality is not an indicator of economic need, for there are thousands of aborigines among the professional classes. But aboriginality singularly merits an individual with resources under Labor’s legislation. Furthermore, as Jaensch (1997, p. 16) explains, the Hawke government abandoned its proposal for national Land Rights legislation only after the Western Australian state government rejected the proposal.


However, a key concern of socialism is the extension of collective responsibility (Ryan, Parker & Brown 2003, p. 40), and that sense of responsibility may extend towards aboriginals as an entity. Socialism holds the collective interest paramount and does not emphasise the importance of individual rights. Labor’s interaction with the aboriginal community during the Hawke years may have been borne of a sense of empathy for an identifiable group which had been victimised by the Australian government in the past.




The Labor-instituted Social Security Act (1991) sought to provide more comprehensive care to those most vulnerable, including children and the disabled. Socialists ‘support the welfare state and other social policies which are aimed at achieving happiness and equality for society overall’ (Ryan, Parker & Brown 2003, p. 40). Labor at that time was clearly fulfilling its ideological commitment to equality, and its actions were reflected in Australian society overall.

Their ideology, exercised in practise, extended to the realm of health-care. Under Hawke, universal heath care (previously dismantled by the Liberal Party) was reintroduced under the name ‘Medicare’. The universal system of health care implemented by Hawke in is stark contrast with the corporatised system of public health prevalent in the United States. Schroeder (2003, p. 174) laments that those in the United