Memory lane – debating economic reform in the 1980s

This is a page of links to pdf files of press cuttings from the mid 1980s when the debate about economic reform started to get really vigorous. Some of these are slow to load, so be patient.

This is the list of links. It is pretty scary stuff. Have we progressed?

Alan Ashbolt, far left pioneer in the ABC, reviews a collection of papers rubbishing the New Right, notably citing dozens of their own publications but next to nothing from the actual people or think tanks of  the movement.

 A piece from The Bulletin documenting the “over the top” rhetoric of Bob Hawke and others attempting to discredit the reformers.

The national president of the ALP, calling the troops to rally and defeat the New Right.

Neville Wran, in the John Curtin Memorial Lecture, calls the NR “anti-Australian”.

A piece by (then) young Glenn Milne on “the politics of hate”.

A really silly piece by Phillip Adams.

Barry Unsworth, then Premier of NSW, preparing to “beat the issue of the NR to death” before the Greiner landslide. Sadly, much of the Greiner landslide was a reaction against Federal ALP reforms and they struggled to win a second term.

Employer representative labels the NR “fascists”!  Over the top attacks were bipartisan.

SMH commentary on the radicalism of the NR. Not too bad for the SMH! It has clearly gone backwards.

Strong language from the Labor left – nazis!

Gary Punch (ALP) on the IR landscape after an epic win for the good guys at the Mudginberri meatworks.

Senator Walsh warns that the bad guys are taking over the Libs. If only!

Good profile of some important movers in Western  Mining, Hugh Morgan and Arvo Parbi.

John Hyde on the capture of the intellectual high ground!

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15 Responses to Memory lane – debating economic reform in the 1980s

  1. Nicholas Gruen says:

    ahh – people who go from the self-righteously left to the self-righteously right – my favourite!

  2. Rafe says:

    Currently we have media people and politicians pointing fingers at each other in accusation of dumbing down public debate. What about just blaming intellectuals generally?

  3. Pedro says:

    What is important is to never give up on being self-rightous.

  4. Tom N. says:

    Thankfully, most of the reforms actually implemented stopped near the economically rational point, just before the cliff, rather than hurtling over it as many of the New Right nutters wanted.

  5. Nicholas Gruen says:

    And still want.

  6. Rafe says:

    Tom, would you like to name the people who you regard as “New Right nutters” and would you Nicholas like to nominate the unreasonable reforms that the so-called New Right nutters are still pushing?

    I appreciate that there are all kinds of nutters out there but I want to know whether you are jousting with windmills or actually coming to grips with a defensible classical liberal agenda.

  7. Tom N. says:

    A fair call, Rafe. I’m just going on an admittedly hazy memory so, without a bit of research, I am unable to readily justify the statement. My recollection is that there were some who were given the New Right label who probably wanted more severe deregulation than would be economically rational, but apart from my own case* I can’t at this moment point to any specifics, so feel free to not need to respond to historical point if you want. For present examples of what could be taken to be economically irrational New Right nutterisms, there’s plenty of material over at Catallaxy, as you know.

    cheers, T.

    * I actually led an impromptu campus protest during the 1980s as part of a group we dubbed the E$M – the “Elitist Students’ Movement: the student arm of the New Right”. Our placards included “Full fees; no TEAS”, “No racists; no blacks”, “Subsidise farmers’ IQs”, “Hang Norm”, “Socialism is for losers”, “Export Uranium to Libya” and “Land Rights for Gay Whales”! We were supporting Bob Hawke! Perhaps not surprisingly, nation-wide press coverage ensued.

  8. Nicholas Gruen says:

    I have it on good authority that some people want to abolish the welfare state Rafe. (I think you’re one such). Whether they’re nutters or not, I don’t speculate.

    Then there are the climate denialists, and the gold bugs. And just people who paint the fiscal stimulus as another exercise in big government (perpetrated by those big government types in Treasury), rather than a demonstration that we have learned something since the Great Depression.

    Really, the way the right carry on about the stimulus is a disgrace. I am not speaking of the party political right – who are only getting away with what they can – as party political operatives (of both sides) are wont to do. I’m talking about those who aspire to be thought of as thoughtful contributors to the debate. Do they go to the labour of actually treating the arguments on their merits? They’re quite difficult arguments – a bit like the argument for free trade. You have to take things slowly and follow the logic. I’ve not seen it. Instead we get slogans passed off as thought.

  9. Rafe says:

    Thanks for a glimpse into your mis-spent youth Tom! We could certainly do with a bit more good natured humour directed at politics and politicians, like the university reviews before the rise of radical student politics and political correctness. The reason why I asked for names is that I was especially irritated by a piece, passibly by Phillip Adams, which made outrageous allegations about the horrible uncaring people in the New Right, as though they were prepared to cast the poor and the weak adrift without a care. I was not aware of anyone who had that attitude, so it was just a figment of a deranged imagination.

    There are people who think that the welfare state has failed beause it produces so many perverse outcomes, and policies to help the poor and chronically disabled need to be different. That may or may not mean eliminating the welfare state and it would certainly not mean the elimination of welfare. However as Hayek pointed out in The Constitution of Liberty, practically everone involved in research, planning and policy is committed to the welfare state, so it is hard to get a critical mass of thinkers looking at the options, before even starting to work on tackling the political reforms required.

    The first thing is to establish some common ground in the desire to help people in need, and then to think laterally about the range of possible things that could be done to help. For example circa 1986 I delivered a short paper at a public health conference on the theme that econonomic rationalism (deregulation) could be seen as a contribution to public health by making people less poor (given that there is a correlation between povery and illness).

  10. Victor Trumper says:


    If I were you I wouldn’t highlight Hugh Morgan.

    His integrity was found to be in question by both an Australian and Canadian court and rather than doing the honorable thing and resigning he merely had his bonus stopped. I am told his comments on policy matters was very superficial and usualy made to friendly audiences. On the odd occasion he got a question he struggled.

    I could go on.

    My friend tells me for example Des Moore made numerous silly statements such as having no regulations at all.


    one fascinating matter on the ‘stimlus’ debate is how almost all ‘right wing’ types ascribe success to monetary policy but cannot tell you when said policy went from contractionary to neutral to expansionary.

  11. Rafe says:

    Victor, did Hugh Morgan want to throw poor people on the rubbish tip? That is the kind of inflamatory rhetoric from the likes of Phillip Adans that I am concerned about. I am not aware of any problem with Hugh Morgan’s integrity, but that is not relevant to the point, which is the way the critics savaged the policies and the alleged inhumanity of the NR. I am concerned with the malicious and economically illiterate attacks on the early advocates of deregulation – the Liberal back bench dries and others, especially the Centre for Independent Studies (supported by Hugh Morgan and Western Mining) – which were eventually taken up with almost bipartisan support and yielded good results for everyone, rich and poor alike.

  12. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Many years later I return to this page with the hindsight to see in the comments thread a lovely example of Rafe’s debating style. Ask lots of questions of those you’re commenting on, and when they go to the trouble of responding to your questions . . . ignore them.

  13. Rafe says:

    Nice to hear from you again Nicholas. I have scanned the comments again, as I did at the time, and I don’t see anything that really called for a comment from me in reply.
    Maybe I was distracted by other things as I am at present, touring the middle east, currently in Ankara, at a conference on Karl Popper and the Problems of Change, tomorrow in Tel Aviv.

  14. Nicholas Gruen says:

    I hope you get to Jerusalem – what a place!

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