Why Hawke got away with it

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Why Hawke got away with it

Business mates: The power and politics of the Hawke era.
By Doug McEachern
Prentice Hall Australia, 1991. 168 pp. $16.50
Reviewed by Jeff Richards

This an examination of the relationships between big business, government and the trade union hierarchy that provided for the ALP's record term of office during the Hawke era. Doug McEachern's main concerns are the institutional linkages that business establishes with government, the manner in which business exercises an influence over government decision making and conflicts within business over what policies best protect its interests.

The focus of business during the Hawke era was on how it would deal with the close relationship established between the trade union movement and the Labor government under the Accord.

The book makes clear that business was deeply divided over the benefits to be gained from cooperation with the Hawke government. There are fascinating accounts of the divisions within business that developed from the national economic summit in 1983: between the militant new right in the Confederation of Australian Industry, who attempted to gain representation in the summit as the sole peak body for business, and the big business leaders (such as Sir Peter Abeles and Sir Roderick Carnegie of CRA) who where more inclined to cooperate with the Accord process. After the summit, the Business Council of Australia formed to represent the interests of capitalism's pro-Accord wing.

Many critiques of the Hawke government have focussed on the destructive consequences that the Accord has had on the labour movement. While these accounts are correct, they do not explain Hawke's successes with the electorate. They do not explain why business was unable to mount a decisive challenge to Accord politics. The divisions within the business class detailed in this book are part of the explanation for the longevity of the Hawke government.

Two other chapters of interest deal with the effect that divisions within business had on the Liberal Party and on the conflicts and alliances that developed over the Labor government's environmental policy.

This book is an important account of the internal workings of and influences upon state policy — an insight into the way governments work.