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The Transformation of Australian Society: A Neoliberal Perspective

By Denis Hay

Introduction

In the mid-20th century, Australia was a society where full-time, secure employment was the norm, and the government supplied excellent training in trades and other professions for school leavers. However, over the past four decades, neoliberal ideology has transformed Australian society, leading to high unemployment, insecure jobs, homelessness, poverty, and elevated levels of inequality.

The Rise of Neoliberalism

Neoliberalism, a political and economic philosophy that combines governments and markets, entered the Australian political mainstream in the 1980s. It advocates for the creation and maintenance of functioning markets by an interventionist state. The Hawke-Keating government implemented key reforms using neoliberal logic, such as replacing the universal pension with a market-oriented system of private savings. This trend intensified under the Coalition government of John Howard, a member of the Mont Pelerin Society, which is considered the origin of neoliberalism.

The Impact of Neoliberalism

Neoliberal policies have led to a shift in the Australian welfare state policy agenda favouring the free market, small government, and reduced social expenditure. These policies have resulted in the retrenchment of the welfare state, with the introduction of forms of conditional welfare that require participants to conform to behavioural or attitudinal tests to keep eligibility for certain payments. Consequently, even individuals with a university degree now struggle to secure full-time employment.

The Current State of Society

Today, many young Australians face the prospect of part-time, casual work with no conditions and no security. The youth of today have been left with an expensive, broken system that is based on greed and jobs for corporations that support neoliberal politicians.

Strategies for a Fair Society

To put Australia on the path to a fair society for all citizens, several strategies can be implemented:

  1. Promote Full-Time Employment: Governments should actively pursue policies that promote full-time employment for anyone who wants it.
  2. Legislate Minimum Wages and Conditions: A set of minimum wages and conditions should be legislated to sustain a decent standard of living in line with rising prosperity.
  3. Balance of Bargaining Power in the Workplace: Policies should be implemented to ensure a balance of bargaining power in the workplace.
  4. Establish a Dignified Social Transfer Safety Net: A means-tested, community-based, and dignified social transfer safety net should be set up to cover short-term contingencies.
  5. Address Discrimination: Acknowledge the gravity of the problem of discrimination and implement strategies to build a more inclusive country with tolerance and respect for all Australians.

By implementing these strategies, Australia can move towards a fairer society where every citizen can thrive.

References:

How neoliberalism became an insult in Australian politics, The University of Sydney.

Ideology before evidence: How neoliberals have responded to recent Australian welfare reform measures, Monash University.

Equality of Opportunity in Australia Myth and Reality, The Australia Institute.

Strategies to address discrimination to build a more inclusive country, Australian Human Rights Commission.

How the Myths of “Progressive Neoliberalism” Hollowed Out Australia’s Left, Jacobin.

Neoliberalism and Changing Regional Policy in Australia, Dr Matthew Tonts and Dr Fiona Haslam-McKenzie.

Social Cohesion Insights 06: Inequality and the ‘Fair Go’ in Australia, Scanlon Foundation Research Institute.

Inequality and the ‘fair go’ in Australia, Scanlon Institute.

Denis Hay: At 82 years young, I stand as a testament to the enduring power of dedication and belief in social justice. My journey has been shaped by a deep conviction that every individual deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and that equal opportunities for thriving should be a universal right.

My beliefs are not just ideals; they are the driving force behind my active engagement in advocating for change. I am deeply concerned about the pressing issue of climate change, recognizing its urgency and the need for immediate, collective action. This is not just a matter of policy for me, but a moral imperative to safeguard our planet for the generations to come.

As an administrator of several Facebook pages, I use my platform to challenge the prevailing neoliberal ideology, which I see as a destructive force against our society and environment. My goal is to foster a political system that truly serves the people, ensuring access to essential needs like decent housing, secure and well-paid jobs, education, and healthcare for all.

In this chapter of my life, my mission is clear: to leave behind a world that is better and more just for my grandchildren and future generations. It is a commitment that guides my every action, a legacy of compassion and advocacy that I hope will inspire others to join the cause.

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22 comments

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  1. andyfiftysix

    look, to be fair, your not looking at the big picture.
    We are on paper extreemly rich. Look at the housing market and how much we have in super.
    Then look at what most people put up with. Our wealth is on paper, not in our hands. Certainly, its taken trillions out of our living economy.

    All the points set out are worthwhile sure but non has happened because the real economy has shrunk while the paper economy shows a massive growth spurt…………. Because there is no money in the “bank” and the economy cant support it.
    First we let the system grow into an uncontrolable monster that needs to be fed, ie compliant workforce, then we complain it cant do basics.

    In my opinion, fix the basics and the rest will be a lot easier to get to.

  2. Phil Pryor

    Well said, short and strong, clear, accurate, relevant.., and as Australian “life” has declined in so many ways in my time, I support the message and outlines here. My old classmate, Jack Howard, was a selfcentred, egofixated, swollen mediocrity, but in a “good” school with talented lads, a walking show, basically friendless except for a gawking few who awaited some outburst for amusement. Apparently resenting his actual, obvious, mediocre self, he invented an inner magnificent personage who would, one day, be heard and observed. Knowing nothing, then as now, he drove on, exploiting any opening, rails run, battery whip or opportunity to avoid the obvious, of being a nothing suburban solicitor. Politics to him came after debating success, which had allowed him to achieve a way of winning without bending to truth of accurate information. Polished bullshit wins debates by “convincing” and so politics has followed on there. Jack would do anything to get noticed, heard, admired (hah) and such a life has got him ahead of all of us and in the books, history in a coup. Never mind the vacuuminous lies, stupidities galore, pandering to interests or utter hypocrisy needed for personal advancement. Neoliberalism was a wave with other players of size and weight, who pushed such as Jack Howard, forward, onward, downward, well below decency or sense, But it doesn’t matter now, much, does it?

  3. andyfiftysix

    to support my case……if property prices dropped 50%. On an average house , that could equate to $375,000 less debt. Or as us mortgagees look at it, $22,000 less in mortgage repayments per year. Thats after tax ! What are the chances of getting a $22,000 after tax wage increase? Compare that to paying $44,000 after tax dollars to support a mortgage now. You dont have to be a genius to see how our economy is distorted away from affordability. If prices were halved and only 10% of the savings reinvested , there would be no shortage of money to do the things that make society fairer. And people would feel they had some control over their life. A win win.
    In the context of the 5 wishes, what has been the liberal battle cry? We cant afford it as a nation…………..give me a break. First you plan it so we can never have enough money and then make us play your game. Stockholm syndrome.

  4. Win Jeavons

    Now 88, l have clear memories of the era of changes . Remember wartime and post war austerity , which seemed good to my parents who told me of WW1 , Spanish flu ( no internet education for kids then, just stayed home ) depression hardships .
    I can’t decide if the dreadful life we are inflicting on our younger ones is deliberately callous and unfeeling or just what results from blinkered selfish pursuit of unlimited financial reward and the status it accords . l was lucky enough to experience the choice to pursue a career as well as raising a family, with security, but without the pressure my grandchildren live with .
    Whatever the reason, l loathe the way we choose our priorities now, and the price paid by the young financially and the old trying to cope with computerisation and impersonal ” if you want this press that button “, endless terrifying litany , which can reduce me to tears , trying to correct the mistakes of big business and heartless public service ( that last word a very sick jest!)

  5. Bob

    andyfiftysix, correct. However, we have 3 problems: politicians, media, banks (the biggest problem child).
    From a 2019 article Labor and Housing ‘www.noelwhittaker.com.au/essential_grid/labor-and-housing/finance’ – where finance adviser Noel Whitaker joined a roundtable conference in Canberra chaired by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to discuss the housing market “When I was in the building business in 1975 the average suburban low set brick home in Brisbane was around $30,000 and average weekly earnings were about $15,000 a year.”
    Average income now = $90k, double that = $180k for a home.
    We have a RE market that makes slaves of average workers for the benefit of the banks.
    Anyone know a sane & safe country to retire to?

  6. Douglas Pritchard

    Money is not my thing, BUT.
    I did some reading on the whole concept of interest, introduced by the old time “moneylenders”.(you know who I am talking about).
    Other types of borrowing do exist, and does not contribute too much toward the huge divide between rich and poor.
    The way things are going is simply not sustainable.
    The take away message was that interest is “evil”, and only benefits those financially controlling our life.

  7. Kathryn

    The following report (click on the link below) exposes the most corrupt and malignantly undemocratic nations on the planet! It discloses that even though Australia managed to “turn a corner” and improve its ratings ever since the ALP won the last federal election, we STILL have a long way to go! It provides some comfort knowing that the LNP’s dramatic loss at the last federal election saved our nation from the diabolical neoliberal capitalists in their appalling cabinet – truly the worst, most depraved, self-serving and elitist KLEPTOCRACY in our nation’s history, however, we must ensure that the plutocratic sociopaths in the LNP REMAIN in Opposition indefinitely if we are to redeem ourselves in any way!

    The tragic fact is that it will take the ALP – and our nation – decades to recover from the horrific $1 TRILLION debt the LNP bequeated the ALP after almost 10 long years of non-stop corruption which includes, but is not necessarily confined, to the following:

    ‘- the LNP’s non-stop reckless waste of hard-earned taxpayer funds;

    ‘- their unspeakable obliteration of transparency with Morrison even resorting to surreptitiously taking over at least FIVE political portfolios in order to rule over us like some pathetic third-world autocrat!

    ‘- the relentless incidences of remorseless callous inhumanity (especially the cruel, now-notorious and ILLEGAL Witch Hunt known as ROBODEBT) and the non-stop attacks instigated by just about every member of the LNP against the poorest, most vulnerable people in our nation, especially anyone receiving any type of welfare DESPITE the fact that the grasping LNP cabinet are overflowing with the worst, most unconscionable parasites in our political history!

    ‘- the appalling environmental vandalism undertaken to benefit the LNP’s avaricious, non-taxpaying multi-billionaire “mates” in the coal, gas and mining industries (Twiggy Forrest, Gina Rinehart et al ALL of whom are rampant supporters of the LNP, the plutocratic Australian version of the elitist Tories in the UK)!

    ‘- the continual privatisation of taxpayer-owned assets, utilities and services at State and Federal levels – selling off everything we own and often to greedy, foreign-owned corporate predators;

    ‘- the savage defundment of everything Australians value (including Medicare and the ruthless defundment of our taxpayer-funded ABC which has been infiltrated, muzzled and corrupted by the LNP who have parachuted right-wing extremists such as Ita Buttrose, David Speers et al into powerful positions in order to spread the same nauseating right-wing propaganda as seen in the Murdoch press and heard on that MEGAPHONE to right-wing extremism: Sky (Lie) News;

    ‘- the LNP’s open favouritism of the avaricious, non-taxpaying, extremely wealthy Top 1%;

    ‘- the LNP’s unholy, corrupt alliance with their appalling Propaganda Minister, the Monster of the Media: Rupert Murdoch – who is now a 100% American citizen who couldn’t give a flying fart about Australia or Australians and let’s not forget that haven for self-serving neoliberal capitalists = the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) which was initiated by none other than Rupert’s father, Keith Murdoch; and

    ‘- the destruction of our (once) fine international reputation by the LNP which, ever since that war criminal, John Howard rose to despotic power, has deteriorated to the point where it is overflowing with a reprehensible collection of secretive undemocratic fascists, misogynistic predators, pathological liars and appalling, unconscionable political psychopaths in the LNP!

    Global corruption index reveals Australia may have turned the corner but still lags on international scale

  8. Patricia

    I find this interesting. “Neoliberal policies have led to a shift in the Australian welfare state policy agenda favouring the free market, small government, and reduced social expenditure.”

    Am I right in thinking that as government has reduced social expenditure that taxes on the majority have not been reduced but taxes on the wealthy have.

    That corporate welfare has bloomed while welfare for those who are in need has been made so onerous that many choose not to walk that path which is strewn with broken glass and promises.

    That the “free market” is a misnomer, as seen whenever we have some kind of economic panic where the “market” is propped up with taxpayer funds and the taxpayer is left to figure it out for themselves with little to no support from government.

    The period of an equitable welfare state policy agenda was short, before the welfare state the majority of people were left to fend for themselves, for hundreds of years, and since the introduction of neoliberalism it has become the same for those same people.

    One could say that the period after the wars where government governed for the people was the aberration and that what happens now is the norm.

  9. Terence Mills

    bob

    You said : “When I was in the building business in 1975 the average suburban low set brick home in Brisbane was around $30,000 and average weekly earnings were about $15,000 a year.”

    I have to question your numbers, I was earning an average annual wage in 1975 of around $6500 and we bought our first house, weatherboard built in 1946, which was around $28000.

    But you’re right, wages have not kept pace with housing costs in the cities.

  10. Bob

    Terence, that was Noel W words. Still, using your numbers, you bought a home for about x4 salary. Considering Noel’s home was likely in a desirable location in today’s terms vs a far-flung outer suburb most new home buyers are forced to buy into, the whole RE scam has been a 50 yr downward spiral with banks the winners. It looks very much like a plan.

  11. Andrew Smith

    Locally past generation, preceding Howard a bit, but more another ideological long game far more disturbing behind whatever one wants to describe ‘neo liberalism’.

    The lines in the sand were ’80s US when now Atlas or Koch Network types got together with support of fossil fuel and related WASP Christians esp. Evangelicals, Baptists and Pentecostals (see CNP Council for National Policy) and spreading their influence globally, but especially Australia and UK under the guise of ‘(Christian) conservative values’.

    Jane Mayer (Dark Money) and Nancy MacLean (Democracy in Chains) say of radical right libertarian fronts like Friedman, Rand et al. being used to mask Buchanan’s policy ideas as they were so unpalatable, made unsaleable being based on hard right ‘planter’ or ‘deep south’ socio-economics joined at the hip with Christianity and Atlas or Koch Network (with FoxNews & RW MSM doing comms).

    In a parallel universe it’s much more extreme i.e. network that shares donors with Koch’s, that of dec. white nationalist John ‘passive eugenics’ Tanton, his name is never uttered and described by former Reagan aide Linda Chavez in NYT as ‘The most influential unknown man in America’, modern day manifestations are ZPG Zero Population Growth (inc. locally), ‘great replacement’, alt right, Steve Bannon, Nigel Farage et al. and locally, bipartisan border security obsessions, UK too; again -ve messaging by RW MSM.

    No matter which party is in power, these are external forces or influencers endeavouring to ‘wedge’ or guide policy whether family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business, or government (Seven Mountains of Dominionism); imported corrupt Christian nationalist authoritarianism.

    While US media now cites and headlines ‘Koch Network’, Tanton is still the dirty little secret kept in the background for a good reason, why?

    It would blow up GOP’s supposed ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-Christian’ policies cooked up generations ago by Paul Weyrich, Jerry Falwell et al. via Heritage Foundation for pro-life, Evangelical and Catholic votes; Tanton had been member of Planned Parenthood, ZPG etc. was quoted for his pro-abortion, pro-sterilisation, pro-euthanasia and pro-eugenics stances…..

    While there is clear evidence of local migration policies of identity are being influenced by the same, then LNP Catholic MPs, Ministers or PMs demand more border security, immigration restrictions, population control, claim to be ‘pro-life’ and uphold ‘family values’, take it with a big grain of salt, even better if media interrogated the usual suspects more inc. Abbott, Sheridan, Joyce et al. and several around ALP too….. neo ‘eugenics’ for <1%.

  12. andyfiftysix

    bob, tone owner three problems.

    The media is the result of the capitalist system where consolidation and diminishing returns due to technology have carved a path called populism through its pages. Should never been allowed to consolidate, better to have non than one ugly lying rag.

    Banks, yes the facilitators of capitalism are now the face of capitalism. Banks now determine economic outcomes and policies.

    Politicians, yes we have been pulled along by the nose into neolib economics, and boy does it stink.
    Hubris after menzies time has delivered all sorts of unsatisfactory outcomes. Why we were doing so well, lets see how we can make it better by fucking it up. Policies that in theory were going to deliver all these benefits . Now we can all see its done the complete opposite. Services are worse than ever and cost far more to use. But you know, the warnings came from “rat bag socialists and what the fuck would they know”…. Mostly i blame the sheep for just bleeting and voting for the same shits over and over.

  13. Bob

    Andy, the media, what a waste of resources. Remind me anyone, who do they represent?
    The working class or their lobby group buddies?
    Next problem, politicians, who do they represent? Again, not the working class. Once upon a time, Labor tried to get negative feedback into the tax system by moderating tax breaks in the treatment of investor loans. The media went feral and Keating dropped the idea. Labor & Libs, are both captured by lobby groups and cave to media brow-beating.
    Banks favor both Labor & LNP and vice versa. Labors recent ‘Rent to Buy’ scheme, where the gov co-owns up to 40% of the home, is an example of Labor exacerbating the problem of inflation.

  14. andyfiftysix

    Another piece written by Parnell palme Mcguiness in todays paper.

    Another bit of media play. The go to liberal commentator that has built a career out of seeming to be reasonable. Seems to be making a play for populism. Equating left and right wing populism. But emphasising that left wing populism is counter productive and doesnt work. Look here, you dim wit, its right wing populism running the neo lib agenda that got us here.

    Its a ploy to sound reasonable…both sides do it…..then lay into the other side.
    Then she creates the liberal straw man…the elites ……to draw a war game. Another popular right wing mantra.

    Just another self assured “highly decorated” BS talker. Works for the liberals i am told…….as if I couldnt read between the lines.

    So what she is saying is that if you hold a contrarian view, your a populist with a conspiracy theory in your back pocket. Another IPA apologist running around feeling important.

  15. andyfiftysix

    following on from my last comment. Just to show you how she frames the story, she picks up on an extreem populist idea, from the greens, to emphasise its a left wing idea. Freezing rents. Then goes on to assert that it doesnt work.
    No nuance about how it could be introduced or why staying the coarse is just as stupid.

    Parnell, how about demonstrating that the neolibs got us here with their form of populism? Snowy Mountains 2 is a good place to start. Liberal idea because it was renewable neutral, it was easy to make popular, wasnt well planned and a way to say we are doing our bit without actually doing anything. Off shore detention, robodebt and auskus are all attempts by the liberals to harness populism. Lets not forget Howards plays with rising house prices and ” we decide…” And they all worked wonderfully well, fuck no. Thats why we are in a mess.

  16. GL

    Palaszczuk is quitting politics.

  17. Andyfiftysix

    Further on into my thread…..
    The libs are at cop28 pedalling nuclear. They are against renewables. So , again trying it on. A fake response to the climate crisis with a fake populist attempt. Attempting a fake populist policy. Where is Parnell?

  18. Graham Fisher

    What no one wants to talk about is that is that in the 1970s the wage to buy a house was based generally on single income. Once Hawke,Keating etc managed to get the other half of the population into workforce to fuel consumer demand then of course the ratio of housing to wage earnt changed. I think if you use combined household income to housing prices then it is a better comparison.

  19. Liam

    Another factor in neoliberalism, every decision a person makes comes at a cost. both in time and in mental capacity. The latter is known as decision fatigue.

    Interventions aimed at forcing Interaction with markets and “freedom of choice” impose a mental tax on the population at large. Even the decision to ignore an advert that demands attention contributes to this fatigue.

    For example, the mutual obligations and private “job provider network” is in itself jeopardising the ability of candidates to successfully interview for a job.

    Corporations know this and charge what amounts to a loyalty fee. Pay the mental cost of switching to another insurance or electricity provider, or pay the financial cost of increasing charges vs “new customers”.

    Because the poor must make a lot of compromises to stay within budget, they often have the lowest decision making capacity, and this decision tax of “free markets” falls hardest on them.

    This also has consequenses for democracy, as fatigued voters are less likely to turn out at all, and when they do, have less capacity to put a lot of thought into their choice.

  20. Liam

    “I think if you use combined household income to housing prices then it is a better comparison.” I don’t find that reasonable at all. Forcing households to work more hours to live in the same house is a significant decrease in welfare.

  21. andyfiftysix

    Graham, i think you missed the point big time.

    As incomes rose because of two income families, the government agenda was for people to invest the extra money in housing speculation. Under the guise of saving for your retirement. And so we had all sorts of goodies thrown at us by howard and costello. It won them a couple of elections but we are reaping the real rewards now.
    So here we are today. You need three incomes where one was enough back in the day. I call that going backwards.

    Keating then added super as a retirement vehicle all the while, housing had its own momentum. How much money has that taken out of the real economy? Well real economy ….what a misnomer…..its a shrinking economy by any measure, decade on decade.
    Some are no doubt doing fine, but thats an ever decreasing demographic.

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