Dissertation Abstracts

Destabilising the Origin Story: The Australian Accord and the corporatist roots of neoliberalism (1983-1996)

Author: Humphrys, Elizabeth , elizabeth.humphrys@sydney.edu.au
Department: Department of Political Economy
University: University of Sydney, Australia
Supervisor: Damien Cahill
Year of completion: In progress
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Neoliberalism , Australia , Corporatism , Labour
Areas of Research: Economy and Society , Labor Movements , Political Sociology


Paradigmatic cases have emphasised neoliberalism’s trajectory as one beginning with the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, evolving on a democratic footing in the 1975 New York City Council fiscal crisis and through the governments of Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom and Ronald Regan in the United States of America. Conclusions as to the nature of neoliberalism have been drawn from those locations, and this has placed the New Right at the centre of its development — most particularly in the Global North. Equally, this has also demarcated the role of social democratic parties and labour movements, in the case of the former they become the followers of hegemonic neoliberalism and in the case of the latter the victims of it. This origin account has narrowed our understanding of how neoliberalism developed and was implemented in its vanguard phase of the late 1970s and early to mid-1980s, in particular the role of labour in the transformation.

The trajectory of vanguard neoliberalism in Australia runs counter to this narrative. In Australia, vanguard neoliberalism was implemented by a social democratic government and at the same time the guiding national economic policy was centred on a long-term corporatist arrangement —the Statement of Accord by the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Council of Trade Unions Regarding Economic Policy (1983-1996). This thirteen year social contract resulted in a simultaneous deepening of corporatism and advance of neoliberalism, within a highly structured economic framework. As an active partner in the corporatist process, the labour movement’s role was as an active constructor of hegemonic neoliberalism — rather than being only its object and victim, as the dominant narrative would suggest.

The thesis uses a Gramscian framework to examine the development of neoliberalism in Australia, and focuses on how the state actively and consensually incorporated civil society (through the trade union Accord) in to the neoliberal political project. The thesis explores how corporatism and neoliberalism were coterminal moments of state rule in the case of Australia. The thesis destabilises the prevailing account of its global advance of neoliberalism, and argues that the Australian experience points to how alternative origin stories can usefully ‘write in’ the ways that social democratic parties and labour movements were active agents in the construction of vanguard neoliberalism. Such a process of ‘writing in’ may provide a more satisfactory account of the multi-faceted and diverse trajectories of neoliberalism in its early years — how it developed 'among its others' — and provide a better context for its longevity and adaptability over time.