Australia’s Scandinavian welfare

When we moved from London to Australia in January 1975 little did we know of the political drama that had already been taking place over the Whitlam Government’s budget proposals. There was outrage over the dismissal of the Whitlam Government in November 1975 that was clear for any new immigrant to see, but the manoeuvres that had gone during the previous years were not known to us. So when The Great Australian Nightmare: a critique of the home-ownership ideology (Georgian House, Melbourne (1983) was published I did not take The Dismissal issue up.

All that happened 40 years ago. But while searching the internet on the Dismissal I found quite a lot of information on it. The most objective was the Wikipedia page on the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis. But besides that I came across much material that was highly critical of the entire process, and, moreover showed a degree of fury and resentment that still exists. The most important of these is The Dismissal, a website that was still being updated in 2012.

My own work on Australia ended long ago. I have not changed my view that in its housing policies Australia has been going down the neoliberal road for all the postwar period. Had the Dismissal not taken place it might have been a turning point but wasn’t: Australia’s wealth prevented it. Nor was Dedman’s Dictum in 1949 a turning point. Australia has always followed the home ownership route. I wrote about Dedman’s Dictum in a Centre for Urban and Regional Studies Occasional Paper No. 10 (Nov 1983) The Privatised City: critical studies in Australian housing and urban structure Ch. 7 “Dedman’s Dictum: the genesis of Australian Housing Policy” pp. 75-82.

Despite housing policy, then, Australia has always had wealth and natural resources. So reading in The Guardian of 26 May 2014:

Are we witnessing the emergence of the United States of Australia?

“Australia can have its cake and eat it too, because a healthy and materially secure population will repay enormous economic dividends. Instead, we’re going further down the US path.”

By this is meant down the neoliberal route of the USA rather than the Scandinavian route of keeping welfare at reasonable levels, something that Australia can well afford. In that The Guardian article is correct: Australia has always had a decent welfare state, because of its mineral wealth. Iron, copper, uranium, bauxite, gold, diamonds, opals, and many more. Francis Castles has written extensively about this, especially  comparative work on Scandinavian and Australian welfare (1998 ‘The Really Big Trade-Off: Home Ownership and the Welfare State in the New World and the Old’, Acta Politica, 33 (1): 5-19). Also See his CV for details of books and articles. See also From Home-Owership to ordoliberalism, and in the discussion following my Cambridge conference presentation of 2004 Frank Castles and I largely agreed that the link has weakened during the neoliberal era but had not lost its salience.

I think here critics are confusing “European” stagnation for EU stagnation. Europe is not stagnating for the two Scandinavian countries not in the Euro Zone (Norway and Sweden, nor is it stagnating for the two West European countries outside the EU altogether – Switzerland and Iceland). And in the Eurozone the German and Austrian economies are not stagnating either.


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