The End of Certainty

The End of Certainty by Paul Kelly cover the politics of Australia from 1983 until Keating’s ascension to the ALP leadership in 1992. The book ends where Kelly’s The March of the Patriots starts. The two books together form an excellent summary of Australian politics from the end of Malcolm Fraser until 2003.

Kelly starts off by building the 1980s as extremely tumultuous decade in Australian politics where the Australian settlement of regulated wages, high tariffs and an almost managed economy broke. He overstates this, Australia’s economy changed radically in previous decades due to the mining boom, plummeting transportation costs and mass immigration, but it is true that the 1980s was the decade in which Australia responded to the failure of the Keynesian post WWII settlement in the 1970s.

In Part I: The Revolution Begins the book describes how the ALP came in with a leader who worked hard but was able to delegate and a very strong team. The young treasurer Paul Keating and Hawke changed the way the government worked. They first introduced the Accord which would constrain wages growth and stop a wages breakout as had happened in 1982 and 1983. They then went and floated the dollar, which was a huge step toward free markets that the Liberal Party had not made. The Liberal Party, meanwhile, had discarded the managed economics that it had supported for the last 40 years and became a free market party and supporting the ALP’s moves toward deregulation. Andrew Peacock, the Liberal leader at the time was not particularly convinced but was flexible enough to lead the party and perform well at the 1984 election.

Part II: The Economic Crisis described how the ALP responded to the plummeting of the newly floated dollar. The ALP would hold a tax summit where they would propose a GST, capital gains tax, fringe benefits tax and the lowering of income tax rates that led to the introduction of the capital gains tax but where the ALP would falter in the introduction of  a GST. At this time Andrew Peacock also inadvertently would up losing the leadership to John Howard in what would become a long, ongoing struggle for the Liberals between the two.

In Part III Conservatives in Crisis the book winds up giving light relief when describing the Joh for Canberra push and the cynical backing that Peacock gave the push that would cripple the Liberals and give Hawke an easy win in the 1987 election.

Part IV: Boom and Bust describes stock market crash of 1987 and the subsequent economic boom. The Kiribilli pact for the planned leadership change from Hawke to Keating is outlined in great detail in this section. The rise and fall of John Elliot as a Liberal leader is also described. Then the Peacock coup which due to Peacock and his backers sillyness result in a weakened Liberal Party and the slide towards the severe recession of the early 1990s is also outlined.

Part V : 1990 Why Labor Won described the smooth victory of the ALP in the 1990 election that made Bob Hawke the most successful ALP leader in history.

The Epilogue covers the rise of strongly pro-free market but politically inept John Hewson and the Keating challenge that would end Bob Hawke. The book ends before the amazing 1993 election.

The books and it’s successor provide an excellent overview of the economic reform period of the 1980s until the early 2000s. The insights into the major political leaders and the policy changes are legion. The book describes the curious nature of Australia’s free market reforms that were undertaken by the Left fairly slowly in comparison to the Reagan and Thatcher reforms but that did had peculiar industrial relations laws and no GST due to political considerations. The book also refers frequently to the views of senior public servants, particularly those in treasury and the Reserve Bank that would be of huge importance in the reform process.

For anyone who is interested  in Australian politics the books are really interesting and well worth reading if rather heavy going. The first book provides a more chronological view of the events while the second provides a more thematic approach. Both books could be supplemented by an overview of the economic data of their eras and perhaps electoral polls and results but overall there is nothing better for providing a view of recent Australian politics.

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