In his 1992 book The End of Certainty, journalist and Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia (ASSA) Paul Kelly described as ‘the Australian Settlement’ the post-Federation policies of: wage protection (arbitration), trade protection, state paternalism, imperial benevolence and immigration restriction (the White Australia policy). His thesis was that in the 1980s both the Labor and the two conservative parties turned against each of the five elements of the settlement. As a threat to the older institutional guarantees of Australians’ economic security, this unmaking has been deplored by some as heartless and dogmatic (and blamed for provoking ‘Hansonism’) and celebrated by others as an unavoidable leap from fearful insularity to robust cosmopolitanism.
In the second term of the Howard government there are signs that Australia’s political elite is undecided about which of these contrasting perspectives it should adhere to in rhetoric and in policies.
As well as the issues of political economy thrown up by the unmaking of the settlement, there is much debate about questions of national identity that have also become unsettled since the 1970s: the Republic, the meaning of reconciliation and the possibility of an Indigenous treaty, the entailments of multiculturalism in both domestic social policy and international policy (refugees). Sometimes these issues of identity politics seem to occupy a distinct zone of our public sphere. However, the affinities between rhetorics of cultural diversity and rhetorics of a more open and deregulated political economy are striking. To explore these affinities is one of the challenges of our joint symposium.
The timing for a discussion of these themes a few weeks either side of a Federal Election could hardly be better.