Book review: The Longest Decade

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Murdoch stable journalist and author, George Megalogenis, has written a very useful history of Australian federal politics in the 1990s. Its title ‘The Longest Decade’ refers to the long but uneven 1990s economic upturn that has continued deep into this decade. While no radical, let alone a Marxist, Melalogenis is clearly on top of his subject matter and provides facts and figures useful to socialists.

He shatters the idea that there was anything fundamentally different in the economic policies of the Hawke-Keating and Howard governments.

In fact a central theme of the book is the link in neo-liberal economic policy between ALP Prime Minister Paul Keating (and Bob Hawke before him) and Liberal Prime Minister John Howard. Megalogenis shows how Hawke and Keating laid the foundations for Howard. This is true industrially, with the last Labor Federal government crushing the BLF and Pilots Federation, however in ?The Longest Decade? it is the economic connection that is explored.

Keating literally paid for Kennett’s Victorian counter-reforms in 1992, allowing him to borrow almost $2 billion necessary to pay for the massive redundancies of public servants.

Keating wanted Australia to be ?a pin-up for globalisation (and) Howard happened to agree with him on that score? (pg. 3).
The 13-year long ALP governments of Hawke and Keating introduced the Wages and Incomes Accord which was sold to unions as a form of workers? control yet (as we explained at the time in what was very much a minority position in the movement) Megalogenis quotes Keating as admitting one of cause of the late 1980s boom as ?the gift to business through the higher profits coming from six years of wage restraint? (pg 14).

Therefore while it?s true for Keating to say about Howard ?(he?s) never changed, he was always the same suburban reactionary, and he?s been there long enough to see a large part of his suburban, reactionary agenda (in) place? (pg 170), it is also hypocritical as Keating helped lay the basis for this government.

Some naive ALP supporters would say that Keating had more progressive social policies, however Megalogenis outlines the very warm relationship between this last ALP Prime Minister and the then Indonesian dictator Suharto.

Megalogenis explains how the ?boom? left many behind especially blue collar males, who provided the power base for Hanson, until Howard stole many of her policies. ?What is not widely appreciated is that the nation?s 357,000 jobless families outnumber the 356,000 working families that fit the bill as the new mainstream, in which dad has a full-time position and mum works part-time.? (pg 192)

There is a fascinating chapter on how Keating cleverly won the 1993 election against the John Hewson-led Liberals, in the unusual position of being to the left of someone. Howard learnt the lesson of Hewson’s defeat and ensured he coated his neo-liberalism with handouts to families via the Family Tax Benefit and with diversions like guns, refugees and interest rates.

The changing face of working class is dealt with well by Megalogenis, even if he does not use these terms. ?Behind the tariff wall, Australia had been a 60-40 society. Men had more than 60% of all the jobs in the workforce, while 60% of women of working age were at home, most of them raising young children. That left working women with only 40% of the jobs, and only 40% of women working?.By 2005 only 55% of jobs belonged to men?No real jobs have been created for men in the Keating-Howard economy. The women, on the other hand, have seen their worker ranks rise by 14% points. Translated into human beings, that is about 1.1 million extra women with jobs thanks to deregulation.? (pg 25-26)

However, he continues, (pg 39-40) ?Here?s a dirty secret of deregulation. The more women enter the workforce, the easier it gets for capitalism. (An open economy) pays women about 10-15% less to do the same jobs as men. This transaction is one of the X-factors that helps explain Australia?s longest boom, and it has nothing to do with politicians?The price that capitalism has placed on the heads of women, and their willingness to take the work despite the short-changing involved, has helped to underwrite the boom.?

Megalogenis’ book is well worth reading and colours in some of the analysis of Marxists concerning the recent history of Australian capitalism.

Reviewed by Stephen Jolly

The Longest Decade
By George Megalogenis
Published by Scribe, Melbourne 2006
RRP $32.95