Monday, January 09, 2006

The Whitlam Legacy

The Australian editorial for 7-8 January, 2006 (" The Whitlam Myth") repeats the common criticism of the Whitlam government, that no matter how progressive its social record may have been it was an absolute failure in economic management. It further suggests that the social record is over-promoted, but it is the economic record I wish to defend.

Two major policy decision set up the Australian economy for the reforms and changes we had to wait for the Hawke-Keating era to conclude. The first was the 25% across-the-board tariff cut - the first dramatic step in opening the Australian economy. The second was the passing of the Trade Practices Act 1974, the first coherent step to make corporations more competitive.

A third but less significant step was the creation of Australia Post and Telecom Australia, the first major Australian step in the program of what became known as corporatisation and privatisation.

Yes, during the Whitlam Government both inflation and unemployment grew. This was the consequence of stagflation - a rise in the input costs of factors of production (in that case oil). The Keynesians who occupied all senior economic posts had no idea what to do.

Modern textbooks explain that you need to "free up the economy" - and reducing protection, improving competition policy and removing Government from the direct running of enterprises are pretty good starts.

Lord knows how the country would have faired under the Coalition as their record up to 1969 and from 1975 to 1983 was that they knew absolutely nothing about how to reshape the Australian economy.

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