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The Hawke-Keating agenda was Laborism, not neoliberalism, and is still a guiding light

Former federal treasurer, Wayne Swan, suggests in The Guardian (14.5.17) that, if centre-left parties wish to escape the poison of trickle-down economic policies, they should look to the real outcomes of policies implemented from 1983 onwards.

‘Language in politics is a fraught business. Certain terms and words are thrown around so often and so easily that they can lose their punch, if not their meaning.

‘Guardian Australia’s recent article “Australian Labor led centre-left parties into neoliberalism. Can they lead it out?” had at its core a grossly erroneous claim – that the Hawke-Keating governments were the tip of the arrow for neoliberalism, globally and at home.

‘In recent times “neoliberalism” has re-emerged as a catch-all term for the economic policies of free trade, deregulation and privatisation implemented primarily in the US and UK, but also to varying degrees in other western democracies, during the 1980s and 1990s.

‘A lot of economists would chide anyone using the term for imprecision, and in truth it applies only to varying degrees in different countries, and to none of them in its entirety. It’s a notably poor fit with Australia under Bob Hawke and Paul Keating.

‘Over this period, the Hawke and Keating Labor governments certainly undertook a series of economic reforms designed to open Australia’s trade with Asia and reinvigorate our domestic economy. But to call the entirety of the Hawke/Keating agenda “neoliberal” is to look at it squinting through one eye.’

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