Andrew Chapman/Nationwide Library of Australia
The election of the Hawke Labor authorities on March 5 1983 started an period of once-in-a-century financial reforms that opened the Australian economic system to world. It floated the greenback, eradicated controls on worldwide capital flows, and dismantled the excessive tariffs that protected native producers from imports. It refocused Australia’s worldwide commerce and overseas coverage on the Asia-Pacific area.
However maybe its most putting innovation was in place even earlier than it was elected: a historic settlement with the Australian Council of Commerce Unions, generally known as the Costs and Incomes Accord (or “the Accord”), introduced on February 22 1983.
Beneath this deal, the union motion agreed to curb calls for for increased wage rises in trade for will increase within the “social wage”. Accordingly, the Hawke authorities launched measures reminiscent of common medical insurance and superannuation, and extra funding for schooling and coaching, baby care and social safety.
Seven variations of the accord can be signed over the subsequent 13 years – the final one below Paul Keating, who changed Hawke in 1991.
By offering the foundations for fewer strikes and curbing the inflationary impact of wage calls for, the accord arguably contributed greater than every other Hawke-Keating-era reform to establishing Australia for nearly three a long time with out a recession (outlined as two consecutive quarters of destructive GDP).
Is there a case for the Albanese authorities to resurrect the accord course of? Sure, though circumstances are very completely different now.
Australian politics explainer: the Costs and Incomes Accord
‘Bringing Australia collectively’
The accord was the centrepiece of Hawke’s 1983 marketing campaign. He needed to keep away from the errors a decade earlier than of the short-lived Whitlam authorities, whose financial insurance policies had been tailor-made to the lengthy postwar increase however unsuitable for the stagflation (excessive inflation and excessive unemployment) engendered by the oil provide disaster of the mid-Nineteen Seventies.
Australia was nonetheless affected by this stagflation in 1983, with double-digit inflation, and unemployment rising in the direction of 10%. The accord promised to repair this, and finish the commercial battle below the Fraser authorities (1975-83). Hawke’s election slogan “Bringing Australia collectively” mentioned all of it.
That Hawke was capable of ship this deal was attributable to his shut relationship with the ACTU, having been its president from 1969 to 1980. As a commerce unionist, he was confrontational. As aspiring prime minister, he confused consensus. Whitlam would later quip to me: “Bob Hawke’s best benefit as prime minister was that he didn’t need to cope with Bob Hawke as ACTU president.”
What I realized from Bob Hawke: economics is not an finish itself. There needs to be a social profit
Hawke additionally benefited from the help of economics-trained unionist Invoice Kelty, who grew to become ACTU common secretary in 1983. With Accord Mark II, signed in September 1985, Kelty satisfied the unions to simply accept wage discounting after a pointy devaluation within the Australian greenback to keep away from increased import costs (resulting in extra wage-price inflation). In return, staff obtained tax cuts to spice up take-home pay.
Not everybody within the union motion appreciated the accord. The pinnacle of the militant Constructing Employees Industrial Union, Tom McDonald, informed me:
The accord enabled unions – significantly the left – to deal with the creation of wealth in addition to the distribution of wealth. In its very essence, the accord ready the Australian workforce for globalisation and obtained us out of stagnation.
Even Keating was initially an accord sceptic. He thought-about it a rerun of the incomes insurance policies of Britain’s Wilson-Callaghan Labour governments of the Nineteen Seventies. However he ended up a self-proclaimed “accord warrior”, working carefully with Kelty.
Is it time for a brand new accord?
Trying to completely replicate the accord’s template can be a mistake.
Financial and political situations in 2023 are very completely different to 1983. Whereas inflation is an issue, there is no such thing as a stagflation. Unemployment is at traditionally low ranges, and fears of a wages explosion have did not materialise. The Reserve Financial institution of Australia expects actual wages will proceed to fall.
That is partly as a result of union energy has been so drastically lowered. In 1983, practically 50% of the workforce was unionised. Now, it’s 12.5% – and within the personal sector simply 8%. So any cope with the ACTU simply wouldn’t have the identical impact.
However there are grounds for the Albanese authorities to emulate the spirit of consensus that underpinned the accord, forging a grand cut price between unions, employer teams and different stakeholders.
This could be much like Germany’s industrial relations mannequin, which characterises employers and unions as “social companions”, working cooperatively with authorities.
A brand new accord would assist as a result of employers are fearful that the Albanese authorities’s industrial relations reforms – notably increasing the capability for multi-enterprise collective bargaining – will result in a wage explosion.
What the compromise IR deal means for wage negotiations, and pay rises
To attain a deal through which unions cap their calls for in trade for social-wage advantages, the federal government might provide to make dental care a part of Medicare, enhance unemployment funds, or make investments extra in early childhood schooling.
That means, employers might relaxation straightforward about business bargaining. Employees would know they’re getting advantages as useful as a pay rise. Such a pact would assist preserve inflation in examine, taking strain off the Reserve Financial institution of Australia to curb inflation by way of interest-rate hikes.
A brand new accord might even embrace reforming the mess of federal and state taxation and distribution, and the key financial coverage making and advisory establishments such because the RBA and the Productiveness Fee.
The 1983 accord was an excellent success as a result of it was the precise suite of insurance policies on the proper time. Forty years later, Albanese and his treasurer, Jim Chalmers, have a possibility to forge an accord-like framework match for situations now.
This text was co-authored by Jerome Fahrer, a former economist with the Reserve Financial institution of Australia and now director of ACIL Allen Consulting.
Tim Harcourt was a Analysis Officer with the ACTU through the Hawke Keating Labor Authorities
This text was co-authored with Jerome Fahrer, Director of ACIL Allen