Labour History

Putting the ‘Australian Settlement’ in Perspective

Labour History (2012), 102, (1), 99–118.


This paper reviews arguments about the origins and significance of Australia’s formative policies of Developmentalism, Tariff Protection, Industrial Arbitration, White Australia, and Old-Age Pensions. To do so, it applies the comparative method, following a ‘most similar systems’ approach that juxtaposes Australia and New Zealand in the southern hemisphere and the United States and Canada in the northern. Putting the Australian experience in comparative perspective allows us to distinguish what was ‘normal’ in either a settler society and a broader context; to identify what was distinctive; and to get a clearer picture of what factors contributed to any such distinctiveness. Developmentalism, tariff protection and racial exclusion were common to all four country cases; only arbitration and old-age pensions were peculiar to New Zealand and Australia. In explaining that distinctiveness, comparative analysis confirms the decisive role of unusually strong labour movements and supplies a corrective to prevailing interpretations based on treating the Australian case in isolation.

Access Token
If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here


1.For discussion of that concept, seeGiovanni Capoccia andR. Daniel Keleman, ‘The Study of Critical Junctures: Theory, Narrative, and Counterfactuals in Historical Institutionalism’, World Politics, vol.59, no.3, 2007, pp.341-69. Google Scholar

2.Paul Kelly, The End of Certainty: The Story of the 1980s,,Allen & Unwin, 1992, pp.1-16. For discussion of underlying dynamics see:Alan Fenna, ‘Political Alignments, Political Economy and Political Change in Australia, 1890-1940’, Australian Journal of Political Science, vol.31, no.1, 1996, pp.67-82;Herman Schwartz, ‘Social Democracy Going Down or Down Under: Institutions, Internationalized Capital, and Indebted States’, Comparative Politics, vol.30, no.3, 1998, pp.253-72. Is it going too far to claim that these matters were truly ‘settled’? I don’t think so. Contrary to Macintyre’s assertion that ‘Kelly’s argument … depends upon the proposition that all parties accepted Deakin’s policies’, such moments of ‘historical compromise’ neither require nor are ever likely to achieve unanimity; they merely (if merely is the word) require a broad agreement among a coalition of players and interests and, perhaps, some sort of grudging, tactical, tolerance by opposition interests.Stuart Macintyre, ‘What Happened to Deakinite Liberalism?’, inPaul Strangio andNick Dyrenfurth(eds), Confusion: The Making of the Australian Two-Party System,Melbourne University Press,, 2009, p.235. And contrary to Macintyre’s suggestion (p.246) that this was not really a ‘settlement’ because ‘there was a recognition that future eventualities would arise’, the fact is that ‘future eventualities’ are always going to arise and not only were a number of central public policies decided upon, they were decided upon with something as close to finality as one is ever going to get in politics. Google Scholar

3.Kelly nominates a fifth component, ‘Imperial Benevolence’, but this was a facilitating contextual factor rather than a key policy development and not particularly germane to the issue – which is why it does not figure in Castles’ more scholarly interpretation. SeeFrancis G. Castles, Australian Public Policy and Economic Vulnerability: A Comparative and Historical Perspective,,Allen & Unwin, 1988. Stokes’ suggestion that the list is too limited and should be extended to includeTerra Nullius, State Secularism, Masculinism and Australian Democracy is an interesting one. However, that would sap the concept of its meaning as a characterisation of a key historical juncture. It also conflates policy choices with underlying assumptions, longer term developments or implications. SeeGeoffrey Stokes, ‘The “Australian Settlement” and Australian Political Thought’, Australian Journal of Political Science, vol.39, no.1, 2004, pp.5-22. Google Scholar

4.A point made byPeter Beilharz, ‘Australian Settlements’, Thesis Eleven, vol.95, no.1, 2008, pp.58-67; andRaymond Markey, ‘The Australian Place in Comparative Labour History’, Labour History, vol.100, 2011, p.171. Google Scholar

5.See, for instance,J.W. McCarty, ‘Australia as a Region of Recent Settlement in the Nineteenth Century’, Australian Economic History Review, vol.13, no.2, 1973, pp.148-67;Donald Denoon, Settler Capitalism: The Dynamics of Dependent Development in the Southern Hemisphere,Oxford University Press,, 1983;James Belich, Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo-World, 1783-1939,Oxford University Press,, 2009. By contrast,‘Comparative labour history remains relatively underdeveloped in Australia’arguesMarkey, ‘The Australian Place in Comparative Labour History’, p.173. The closest major example would beRobin Archer, Why is There No Labor Party in the United States?,Princeton University Press,, 2008. Google Scholar

6.Beilharz, ‘Australian Settlements’, p.63notes that ‘Masculinism, the logic of terra nullius and racism are not exceptional, but either universal to this moment of world history and new world history or shared by settler capitalist experiences across Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada, and echoed in the parallel Latin American experience of the 20th-century project of national development’. (Compare this toPeter Beilharz,Mark Considine andRob Watts, Arguing about the Welfare State: The Australian Experience,Allen & Unwin,, 1992.) Graham Maddox reminds us that Australian racism was quite ‘mild’ by comparison with many places elsewhere. See his‘The Australian Settlement and Australian Political Thought’, inPaul Smyth andBettina Cass(eds), Contesting the Australian Way: States, Markets and Civil Society,Cambridge University Press,, 1998, p.64. Google Scholar

7.Adam Przeworski andHenry Teune, The Logic of Comparative Social Inquiry,Wiley,, 1970. Google Scholar

8.See, inter alia,Jared Diamond andJames A. Robinson(eds), Natural Experiments in History,Harvard University Press,, 2010;Gregory Robinson,John E. McNulty andJonathan S. Krasno, ‘Observing the Counterfactual? The Search for Political Experiments in Nature’, Political Analysis, vol.17, no.4, pp.341-57. Interestingly enough, one of the earliest attempts to exploit the potential of such natural experiments was an attempt to prove the superiority of free trade over protectionism by contrasting the colonial Victoria and colonial NSW; seeGeorge Baden-Powell, State Aid and State Interference: Illustrated by Results in Commerce and Industry,Chapman and Hall,, 1882. Google Scholar

9.James Belich, ‘Exploding Wests: Boom and Bust in Nineteenth-Century Settler Societies’, inDiamond andRobinson(eds), Natural Experiments, p.67. Google Scholar

10.For some discussion, see:Christopher Lloyd, ‘Australian and American Settler Capitalism: The Importance of Comparison and its Curious Neglect’, Australian Economic History Review, vol.38, no.3, 1998, pp.280-305;Gary Cross, ‘Labour in Settler-State Democracies: Comparative Perspectives on Australia and the US, 1860-1920’, Labour History, vol.70, 1996, p.10; andArcher, Why is There No Labor Party in the United States? Google Scholar

11.‘The principal problems facing the comparative method can be succinctly stated as: many variables, small number of cases.’Arend Lijphart, ‘Comparative Politics and the Comparative Method’, American Political Science Review, vol.65, no.3, 1971, p.685. Google Scholar

12.John Stuart Mill, A System of Logic Ratiocinative and Inductive: Being a Connected View of the Principles of Evidence and the Methods of Scientific Investigation,University of Toronto Press,, 1973-74(originally published 1843), p.883. For further discussion of these risks, seeStanley Lieberson, ‘Small N’s and Big Conclusions: An Examination of the Reasoning in Comparative Studies Based on a Small Number of Cases’, Social Forces, vol.70, no.2, 1991, pp.307-20;Adam Przeworski, ‘Is the Science of Comparative Politics Possible?’, inCarles Boix andSusan Stokes(eds), The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Politics,Oxford University Press,, 2007. Google Scholar

13.This is a mistake that is very clearly made inShaun Goldfinch andPhilippa Mein Smith, ‘Compulsory Arbitration and the Australasian Model of State Development: Policy Transfer, Learning, and Innovation’, Journal of Policy History, vol.18, no.4, 2006, pp.419-45. The idea of reconciling capital and labour through conciliation and arbitration attracted attention in all of these countries at that time, and indeed in other countries as well; however, it was only implemented in two of them. Google Scholar

14.SeeCharles C. Ragin, The Comparative Method: Moving Beyond Qualitative and Quantitative Strategies,University of California Press,, 1987;Redesigning Social Inquiry: Fuzzy Sets and Beyond,University of Chicago Press,, 2008;James Mahoney, ‘Qualitative Methodology and Comparative Politics’, Comparative Political Studies, vol.40, no.2, 2007, pp.122-44. Google Scholar

15.Mill, A System of Logic, bk 3, ch. 8. Google Scholar

16.With theAbolition of the Provinces Actof 1876. Google Scholar

17.Castles, Australian Public Policy and Economic Vulnerability, p.93. Google Scholar

18.Kelly, End of Certainty, pp.9-10. Google Scholar

19.Although for Castles it is an incidental point; seeAustralian Public Policy and Economic Vulnerability, p.107. Google Scholar

20.Albert Métin, Le Socialisme Sans Doctrines: La Question Agraire et la Question Ouvriére en Australie et Nouvelle-Zélande,Felix Alcan,, 1901. Google Scholar

21.Albert Métin, Socialism without Doctrine, translated byR. Ward,Alternative Publishing Cooperative,, 1977, p.181. In1904, another visitingFrenchman,André Siegfried, published his Tocquevillian account, La Démocratie en Nouvelle-Zélande,Armand Colin,. From England, it was the social-democratic celebrities Sidney and Beatrice Webb. Google Scholar

22.Stuart Macintyre, ‘The Short History of Social Democracy in Australia’, Thesis Eleven, vol.15, no.1, 1986, pp.3-14. Google Scholar

23.Marilyn Lake, ‘The Politics of Respectability: Identifying the Masculinist Context’, Historical Studies, vol.22, no.86, 1986, pp.116-31;Beilharz,Considine andWatts, Arguing about the Welfare State, pp.20-21. Google Scholar

24.The meaning of ‘ludicrous’ is clear, of ‘historicist’ somewhat less so since the term has been used in several rather different ways. Here I interpret it as adverting, in the Popperian sense, to the imposition of grand meaning on history via ana prioritheoretical framework.Raymond Markey, ‘Social Democracy and the Agrarian Issue: Australia, 1870-1914’inAad Blok,Keith Hitchins,Raymond Markey andBirger Simonson(eds), Urban Radicals, Rural Allies: Social Democracy and the Agrarian Issue, 1870-1914,Peter Lang,, 2002, p.112. Google Scholar

26.Stuart Macintyre, Winners and Losers: The Pursuit of Justice in Australian History,Allen & Unwin,, 1985, p.52. Google Scholar

27.Ibid., p.71; and seeJ.E. Le Rossignol andW.D. Stewart, State Socialism in New Zealand,, 1911. Google Scholar

28.F.W. Eggleston, State Socialism in Victoria,P.S. King & Son,, 1932, p.7. Google Scholar

29.N.G. Butlin, ‘Colonial Socialism in Australia, 1860-1900’, inH.G.J. Aitken(ed.), The State and Economic Growth,Social Science Research Council,, 1959, pp.26-78. Also seeN.G. Butlin,A. Barnard andJ.J. Pincus, Government and Capitalism: Public and Private Choice in Twentieth Century Australia,Allen & Unwin,, 1982; andColin White, Mastering Risk: Environment, Markets and Politics in Australian Economic History,Oxford University Press,, 1992. Google Scholar

30.W.K. Hancock, Australia,Ernest Benn,, 1930, p.52. Google Scholar

31.See, for example,Louis Hartz, Economic Policy and Democratic Thought: Pennsylvania, 1776-1860,Harvard University Press,, 1948. Google Scholar

32.H.G.J. Aitken, ‘Defensive Expansionism: The State and Economic Growth in Canada’, inAitken(ed.), The State and Economic Growth, pp.79-114. Google Scholar

33.H.M. Boot, ‘Government and the Colonial Economies’, Australian Economic History Review, vol.38, no.1, 1998, p.88. Google Scholar

34.Michael Bassett, The State in New Zealand, 1840-1984: Socialism without Doctrines?,Auckland University Press,, 1998.W.P. Reeves, State Experiments in Australia and New Zealand,Macmillan,, 1960(originally published 1902). Google Scholar

35.Boot, ‘Government and the Colonial Economies’, p.75. Google Scholar

36.Butlin, ‘Colonial Socialism’, p.35. Google Scholar

37.Métin, Socialism without Doctrine, p.159. Google Scholar

38.Kelly, End of Certainty, p.13. Google Scholar

39.W.K. Hancock, Australia, p.193. Google Scholar

40.Peter Gourevitch, Politics in Hard Times: Comparative Responses to International Economic Crises,Cornell University Press,, 1986, p.75. Google Scholar

41.Ben Foster, A Conjunction of Interests: Business, Politics, and Tariffs 1825-1879,Toronto University Press,, 1986. Google Scholar

42.Donald Creighton, ‘George Brown, Sir John A. Macdonald, and the “Workingman”’, Canadian Historical Review, vol.24, December1943, pp.362-76. Google Scholar

43.Bassett, The State in New Zealand, p.89. Google Scholar

44.Paul Bairoch, Economics and World History: Myths and Paradoxes,University of Chicago Press,, 1993, p.33. Google Scholar

45.Alexander Hamilton, Report on Manufactures,Department of the Treasury,, 1791;Friedrich List, Outlines of American Political Economy,S. Parker,, 1827;Friedrich List, The National System of Political Economy,J.B. Lippincott,, 1856(originally published 1841). Google Scholar

46.Kelly, End of Certainty, pp.13-14. Google Scholar

47.Kym Anderson andRoss Garnaut, Australian Protectionism: Extent, Causes and Effects,Allen & Unwin,, 1986, p.16. Google Scholar

48.T.A. Coghlan, A Statistical Account of the Seven Colonies of Australasia, 1899-1900,Government Printer,, 1900, pp.720, 725. Google Scholar

49.Calculated fromAngus Maddison, The World Economy,Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development,, 2006, pp.439, 449, 454. Google Scholar

50.I.W. McLean, ‘Why was Australia so Rich?’, Explorations in Economic History, vol.44, no.4, 2007, p.635. Google Scholar

51.Boris Schedvin, ‘Primary Phases of Australian Economic Development in the Twentieth Century’, Australian Economic Review, vol.41, no.4, 2008, pp.450-51. Google Scholar

52.For some discussion of the arbitrariness here, seeMark Thomas, ‘“A Substantial Australian Superiority”? Anglo-Australian Comparisons of Consumption and Income in the Late Nineteenth Century’, Australian Economic History Review, vol.35, no.2, 1995, pp.10-35. Google Scholar

53.F.H. Gruen, ‘How Bad is Australia’s Economic Performance and Why?’, Economic Record, vol.62, no.177, 1986, pp.180-93. Google Scholar

54.S. Dowrick andD.T. Nguyen, ‘A Re-Assessment of Australian Economic Growth in the Light of the Convergence Hypothesis’, Australian Economic Papers, vol.27, no.51, 1988, pp.196-212. Google Scholar

55.That this was the optimal strategy for Australia at the time is now well established. See:Mahinda Siriwardana, ‘The Economic Impact of Tariffs in the 1930s in Australia: The Brigden Report Reexamined’, Australian Economic Papers, vol.35, no.67, 1996, pp.370-89;Rod Tyers andWilliam Coleman, ‘Beyond Brigden: Australia’s Inter-War Manufacturing Tariffs, Real Wages and Economic Size’, Economic Record, vol.84, no.264, 2008, pp.50-67;Boris Schedvin, ‘Primary Phases of Australian Economic Development in the Twentieth Century’, Australian Economic Review, vol.41, no.4, 2008, pp.450-55; andFrank Bongiorno, ‘Whatever Happened to Free Trade Liberalism?’, inPaul Strangio andNick Dyrenfurth(eds), Confusion: The Making of the Australian Two-Party System,Melbourne University Press,, 2009, pp.249-74. On the historically positive relationship between growth and tariffs, seeMichael A. Clemens andJeffrey G. Williamson, ‘Why Did the Tariff-Growth Correlation Change after 1950?’, Journal of Economic Growth, vol.9, no.1, 2004, pp.5-46. Google Scholar

56.There were only two substantive planks in Labor platform of 1901: old age pensions and‘Total exclusion of coloured and other undesirable races’;L.F. Crisp, The Australian Federal Labour Party 1901-1951,Longman’s Green & Co,, 1955, p.261. See alsoRonald Norris, The Emergent Commonwealth: Australian Federation, Expectations and Fulfilment 1889-1910,Melbourne University Press,, 1975. Google Scholar

57.Marilyn Lake andHenry Reynolds, Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men’s Countries and the Question of Racial Equality,Melbourne University Press,, 2008, pp.17, 34. Google Scholar

58.C.A. Price, The Great White Walls are Built: Restrictive Immigration to North America and Australasia 1836-1888,Australian Institute of International Affairs and Australian National University Press,, 1974, p.68. Google Scholar

59.Lake andReynolds, Global Colour Line, p.25. Google Scholar

60.Ibid., p.20. Google Scholar

61.Price, Great White Walls, p.74. Google Scholar

62.Hancock, Australia, p.77. Google Scholar

63.Ibid., p.79. Google Scholar

64.Aristide R. Zolberg, A Nation by Design: Immigration Policy in the Fashioning of America,Harvard University Press,, 2008, p.179. Google Scholar

65.Ibid., p.103. Google Scholar

66.Price, Great White Walls, p.64. Google Scholar

67. Constitution of California, Article 19; not removed until the 1950s. Google Scholar

68. An Act Supplementary to the Acts in Relation to Immigration; it focused particularly on excluding females. Google Scholar

69.See the US Supreme Court’s ruling in theChinese Exclusion Case130 U.S. 581 (1889). Google Scholar

70.Price, Great White Walls, p.135;Donald H. Avery, Reluctant Host: Canada’s Response to Immigrant Workers, 1896-1994,McClelland & Stewart,, 1995, pp.43-45. Google Scholar

71.Gregory S. Kealey, Toronto Workers Respond to Industrial Capitalism 1867-1892,University of Toronto Press,, 1980, p.228. Google Scholar

72.Eugene Forsey, Trade Unions in Canada 1812-1902,University of Toronto Press,, 1982, p.435. Google Scholar

73.A. Ross McCormack, Reformers, Rebels, and Revolutionaries: The Western Canadian Radical Movement 1899-1919,University of Toronto Press,, 1977, p.9. Google Scholar

74.Ibid., p.10. Google Scholar

75.Bryan D. Palmer, Working-Class Experience: The Rise and Reconstitution of Canadian Labour, 1800-1991, 2nd edn,McClelland & Stewart,, 1992, p.124. Google Scholar

76.Price, Great White Walls, p.136. Google Scholar

77.Avery, Reluctant Host, p.30. Google Scholar

78.Ibid., p.45. Google Scholar

79.Ibid., p.47. Google Scholar

80.Amending theImmigration Actto empower the government ‘to prohibit landing of any specified class of immigrants or any immigrants who have come to Canada otherwise than by continuous journey from the country of which they are natives or citizens and upon through tickets purchased in that country’. Google Scholar

82.Avery, Reluctant Host, p.35. Google Scholar

83.Palmer, Working-Class Experience, p.162. Google Scholar

84.Ray Markey, ‘Trade Unions, the Labor Party and the Introduction of Arbitration in New South Wales and the Commonwealth’, inStuart Macintyre andRichard Mitchell(eds), Foundations of Arbitration: The Origins and Effects of State Compulsory Arbitration 1890-1914,Oxford University Press,, 1989, p.156. Google Scholar

85.The 1906Act Relating to Duties of Exciseoffered enterprises a waiver on their duties if they paid prescribed wage rates. It was declared unconstitutional by the High Court inR v Barger6 CLR 41 (1908) for violating the equal treatment requirement in s.51(ii) of theCommonwealth Constitution. Google Scholar

86.Stuart Macintyre, ‘Neither Capital nor Labour: The Politics of the Establishment of Arbitration’, inStuart Macintyre andRichard Mitchell(eds), Foundations of Arbitration: The Origins and Effects of State Compulsory Arbitration, 1890-1914,Oxford University Press,, 1989, pp.182, 193. Google Scholar

87.Métin, Socialism without Doctrine, p.124. Google Scholar

88.Archer, Why is There No Labor Party in the United States?, pp.172-73. Google Scholar

89.Cross, ‘Labour in Settler-State Democracies’, p.10. Google Scholar

91.Bassett, The State in New Zealand, p.89. Google Scholar

92.Notably in the reforms introduced by the first Labour government, elected in1935. Google Scholar

93.Michael Barry andNick Wailes, ‘Contrasting Systems? 100 Years of Arbitration in Australia and New Zealand’, Journal of Industrial Relations, vol.46, no.4, pp.433, 434. Google Scholar

94.‘It was empowered to set minimum wages, grant preferences to unionists, and to declare the common rule.’P.G. Macarthy, ‘Wage Determination in New South Wales: 1890-1921’, Journal of Industrial Relations, vol.10, no.3, p.190. Google Scholar

95.Kenneth Chan, ‘The Origins of Compulsion in Australia: The Case of Victoria 1888-1894’, Journal of Industrial Relations, vol.13, no.2, 1971, pp.155-63. Google Scholar

96.Beilharz,Considine andWatts, Arguing about the Welfare State, pp.20-21. Google Scholar

97.Stuart Macintyre, The Labour Experiment,McPhee Gribble,, 1989, pp.27, 32. Google Scholar

98.As discussed inT.H. Marshall, Social Policy in the Twentieth Century,Hutchinson,, 1975, pp.42-43. Google Scholar

99.E.P. Hennock, ‘The Origins of British National Insurance and the German Precedent 1880-1914’, inW.J. Mommsen, ed., The Emergence of the Welfare State in Britain and Germany 1850-1950,Croom Helm,, 1981, pp.84-106. For the first major advocacy in Australia, see the Commonwealth Statistician’s report:G.H. Knibbs, Social Insurance,Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics,, 1910. Google Scholar

100.Most famously adumbrated inR.M. Titmus, Social Policy: An Introduction,George Allen & Unwin,, 1974; andT.H. Marshall, ‘Citizenship and Social Class’, inCitizenship and Social Class,Cambridge University Press,, 1950. Google Scholar

101.Gøsta Esping-Andersen, The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism,Princeton University Press,, 1990. Google Scholar

102.Francis G. Castles, The Working Class and Welfare: Reflections on the Political Development of the Welfare State in Australia and New Zealand, 1890-1980,Allen & Unwin,, 1985. Google Scholar

103.Peter Baldwin, The Politics of Social Solidarity: Class Bases of the European Welfare State 1875-1975,Cambridge University Press,, 1990, p.62andpassim. Google Scholar

104.For example,Macintyre, ‘Short History of Social Democracy’, p.5. Google Scholar

105.Baldwin, Politics of Social Solidarity, p.32. Google Scholar

106.Patrick Weller, Caucus Minutes 1901-1917: Minutes of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party,Melbourne University Press,, 1975, pp.52, 178andpassim. Google Scholar

107. Official Report of the Debates of the House of Commons of the Dominion of Canada, vol.84, 1907-08, p.4689. Google Scholar

108.Kenneth Bryden, Old Age Pensions and Policy-Making in Canada,McGill-Queen’s University Press,, 1974, p.49;Dennis Guest, The Emergence of Social Security in Canada, 3rd edn,UBC Press,, 1997, p.34. Google Scholar

109.Macintyre, ‘What Happened to Deakinite Liberalism?’, p.243. Google Scholar

110.T.H. Kewley, Social Security in Australia 1900-72,University of Sydney Press,, 1972, pp.33-50;W. Pember Reeves, State Experiments in Australia and New Zealand,Macmillan,, 1960(originally published 1902), vol.2, p.296;M.A. Jones, The Australian Welfare State: Growth, Crisis and Change,Allen & Unwin,, 1980, p.23. Google Scholar

111.Alexander Hicks,Joya Misra andTang Nah Ng, ‘The Programmatic Emergence of the Social Security State’, American Sociological Review, vol.60, no.3, 1995, pp.329-49. Google Scholar

113.For example,Edgar Kiser andMichael Hechter, ‘The Role of General Theory in Comparative-Historical Sociology’, American Journal of Sociology, vol.97, no.1, 1991, p.2. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here


Author details

Fenna, Alan