Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Was a lotta fun coulda been a lot better

Some rays pass right through

Don't think I can fit it on the paper

Expose yourself up there for a minute

Take a little time off

Even though it was never, it was never in doubt, still might be chance that it might work out.

talking heads

Completion was like a manic episode. Some mistakes went through. Basic ones, but hopefully there's enough interesting, original argument and theoretical insight in the thesis to distract from these formatting and taxonomic problems.

Here's a slice from a sub-chapter on Paul Kelly's The End of Certainty.

Two trends coalesced during the 1980s – the internationalisation of the world economy in which success became the survival of the fittest; and the gradual but inexorable weakening of Australia’s ‘imperial’ links with its two patrons, Britain and America. The message was manifest – Australia must stand on its own ability. Australians, in fact, had waited longer than most nations to address the true definitions of nationhood – the acceptance of responsibility for their own fate. (Kelly, 1994: 13)

In Kelly’s The End of Certainty the Australian nation is personified and emplotted through the narrative model, and using the narrative techniques of, the classical Bildungsroman. In this narrative of nation a youthful Australian economic self is presented as being pulled into an uncertain future by irresistible, modernising global forces. The combination of the twin forces of economic globalisation and post-colonial de-coupling from Great Britain and America present Australian political culture with an opportunity to come-of-age: to be independent. For Kelly this opportunity for independence is to be understood by acknowledging why the long Labor decade had been such a period of transformation, and indeed loss. The long Labor decade needed to be understood as the exhaustion of what he calls the ninety-year-old Australian Settlement:

The story of the 1980s is the attempt to remake the Australian political tradition. This decade saw the collapse of the ideas which Australia had embraced nearly a century before and which had shaped the condition of its people. The 1980s was a time of both exhilaration and pessimism, but the central message shining through its convulsions was the obsolescence of the old order and the promotion of new political idea as the basis for a new Australia. The generation after Federation in 1901 turned an emerging national consensus into new laws and institutions. This was the Australian Settlement.

Kelly’s Australian Settlement is comprised of five pillars or five institutional commitments which gained consent from a dominant bloc in the political class in the immediate post-Federation period, and which he groups “under five headings – White Australia, Industry Protection, Wage Arbitration, State Paternalism, and Imperial Benevolence” (1-2). More specifically Kelly characterises these foundations of Australia as:

faith in government authority; belief in egalitarianism; a method of judicial determination in centralised wage fixation; protection of its industry and its jobs; dependence upon a great power (first Britain, then America) for its security and its finance; and, above all, hostility to its geographical location, exhibited in fear of external domination and internal contamination from the peoples of the Asia/ Pacific. Its bedrock ideology was protection; its solution, a Fortress Australia, guaranteed as part of an impregnable Empire spanning the globe. This framework – introspective, defensive, dependent – is undergoing an irresistible demolition. (2)

Kelly’s essential argument here is that Australian political culture is both reacting to exogenous economic and post-imperial shocks and to an endogenous institutional and cultural agreement that is exhausted. For Kelly

the 1980s saw the Labor-Liberal paradigm being eroded as the major battleground of ideas [as t]he real division is between the internationalist rationalists and the sentimental traditionalists; it is between those who know the Australian Settlement is unsustainable and those who fight to retain it. (2)

Thus Australian political culture in the long Labor decade is to be understood as being remade in the face of new realities. Throughout this thesis I have largely agreed with this line of argument. But Kelly’s story of the long Labor decade is one that uses this heuristic of the ninety-year-old Australian Settlement in order to bring a specific representation of what Tim Rowse calls a “characterology” into this narration of nation (1978: 94). In a close-reading of Keith Hancock’s influential “enquiry [into] the status of Australian nationhood or civilisation,” Australia (1930), Rowse detects a particular logic at work in Hancock’s text; a

generous use of characterological explanations for the flawed policies he is criticizing. Not a particular class or interest (such as a working class defending itself through reforming ideologies), but the idealism of a ‘people’, the optimistic, generous, reckless instincts of every Australian were evident in its ill conceived economic and political arrangements. Hancock moves effortlessly from personality to national policy. I shall call the logic of this kind of argument the immanence of subjectivity: the national or social level is reducible to the personal. In Australia this logic is exploited enthusiastically. Hancock lifts characterology from the subordinate marginal place it occupies in previous sociological descriptions of Australia, and places it at the centre of his nationhood argument. The dilemmas of an ethical, interventionist [social] liberalism, its aspirations and pitfall, are evoked as the engaging but innocent quality of the emergent Australian personality. The metaphors of youth, age and maturation which run through the book have a logical as well as a literary felicity. (1978: 79, 93-94)

The “immanence of subjectivity” whereby the national or social level is reduced to the personal is a logic we have seen at work in the language of Keating. For Rowse, Hancock’s master-work presents an Australian character through which he makes his arguments about the direction that Australian political culture should proceed by casting Social-Liberal ideals as adolescent and thereby as able to come-of-age toward a “cultural maturity” which was defined by “its defence of British interests in particular and of Australian capitalist interests in general” (79, 81).
Kelly too deploys a characterology, an immanence of subjectivity, which shifts from the qualities he characterises as embedded in the Australian Settlement to those needed and to be affirmed in the time of the post-Settlement. Thus in the following section we can see how Kelly “moves effortlessly from personality to national policy” when he writes:

The obsolescence of the old order is documented. Since Federation Australia has failed to sustain its high standard of living compared with other nations. Australia’s economic problems are not new; they are certainly not the result of the 1980s, the 1970s, or the 1960s. The malaise stretches back much further to the post-Federation Settlement. Australia’s economic problem is a ninety-year-old problem. The legacy of the Settlement has been relative economic decline throughout the century. Australia is a paradox – a young nation with geriatric arteries. (13)

There are similarities here with Keating’s statement that

It was our view that finance is the lifeblood of the economy and that this country’s financial arteries were clogged by redundant and outdated regulation and the lack of effective competition. In a sluggish economy that needs investment and dynamic entrepreneurship it is essential that the financial system encourage and sponsor the initiative rather than stifle it (Keating, 1987: 184)

The similarities between Kelly’s and Keating’s body metaphors turn on the figure of financial arteries which suggests that the paradox Kelly is referring to is that of a young political culture which has not been mature enough to embrace, by encouraging to make flow, the vital lifeblood of international finance and which has been locked into the debilitating stasis of the Australian Settlement’s “introspective, defensive, dependent [. . .] Fortress” (2). The paradox is thus a political culture which has stuck to an immature Settlement and thereby overprotected and restricted the economy with “protectionist shackles which stifled its first century” (6). By casting the destruction of the Australian Settlement as inevitable and those who resist its demise as “sentimental traditionalists” Kelly presents a modernisation thesis which gains in power by the immanent subjectivities ascribed to both the old and new Australia; here represented as those in the Fortress and the masculine builders:

[t]he [long Labor] decade saw the collapse of the Australian Settlement, the old protected Fortress Australia. In the 1960s it was shaken; in the 1970s its edifice was falling; in the 1980s the builders were on site fighting about the framework for the new Australia. (13)

Kelly’s thesis of the inevitable dismantling of the Australian Settlement provides a structural organising power over the temporality of the text. At those moments in the detailed narration when interpretation and, indeed, evaluation are proffered, Kelly consistently reaches into the temporal and characterological binary opposition between, on the one hand, the traditionalists who valued the Australian Settlement and Fortress Australia, and on the other, the modernisers who reformed the economy in line with the expectation and judgements of the international markets. Emblematic of the structural power of Kelly’s modernisation thesis is the manner in which he frames and presents the micro-economic labour reforms of the late 1980s. Here Kelly presents the problem – a series of economic crises – the solution for which he advocates as being heedful of “the need for more efficient workers, firms and industries” (386). Next, he asserts that the solution to the problem was one of changing “work habits and company practice” (386). This solution is presented as a “new benchmark against which Australian institutions and practice would be measured – the benchmark of international competition. It was a repudiation of the values of Fortress Australia” (386). The evaluative weight clearly lies on the side seeking to avoid the illness, old-age and immobility of the traditional forms of governmentality. The characterology Kelly employs in this evaluation of micro-economic policy is redolent with this modernist temporality:

The new benchmark would affect ultimately every enterprise in the nation. It derived from the realisation that lack of international competitiveness had declined over the previous two decades, a legacy of cultural attitudes dating back to the post-Federation Settlement and more recent economic policy failures. Hawke’s initiative was an attack on the habits of protection, regulation and national introspection. It meant changes in how people worked, their motives, their outlook and their relations with fellow workers and managers. (386)

Similarly his final evaluation on this episode of the long Labor decade intensifies the violent undercurrent that this modernizing inevitability is presented through: “[m]icro-economic reform was about changing Australia’s work culture and destroying the mindset that produced the Australian Settlement” (398). Near the end of Kelly’s story of the long Labor decade he writes that with the passing of the Australian Settlement there is an optimism

rooted in an appreciation of the progress towards a new national compact. [. . .] The essence of [which] was national maturity, more emphasis on individual responsibility and less on state power, a more open and tolerant society, an economy geared to a new test of international competition, a greater reliance on markets to set prices, an emphasis on welfare as a need not a right, a growing stress on individual achievement, history and national destiny. (679-80)

Near the end of the long Labor decade, in Kelly’s estimation, Australia was coming-of-age.


Tim Rowse, Australian Liberalism and National Character, 1978.

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