Labour History

Business Mobilisation, the New Right and Australian Labor Governments in the 1980s

Labour History (2010), 98, (1), 7–24.


This article explores the relationship between social democratic parties and business through an examination of political mobilisations by employer associations in Australia during the 1980s, and the responses to these by successive Labor federal governments. In a period of ongoing crisis in the Australian and world economies, numerous employer groups mobilised politically to effect a neoliberal transformation of the Australian state and economy. Two broad strategies were adopted by employer groups to achieve this neoliberalisation. Some employer groups, including the National Farmers Federation, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and the Australian Federation of Employers, pursued a strategy of militant confrontation. Their strident neo-liberal rhetoric, close involvement with neoliberal think tanks, support for legal action against trade unions, and their use of popular mobilisations put them at odds with the Labor government. The Business Council of Australia, in contrast, pursued a more pragmatic strategy of engagement with the Labor government. While some members of the Business Council had close and supportive relationships with neoliberal think tanks, it was the confrontationalist employer associations that, together with these neoliberal think tanks, came to be labeled the “New Right”. The article argues that the Labor government was able to use the perceived threat constituted by the New Right to facilitate acquiescence within the Labor caucus and broader labour movement leadership to its less radical version of neoliberalism. Conversely, the confrontational strategies of the New Right helped the Business Council of Australia pursue an effective strategy of engagement with Labor.

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Author details

Cahill, Damien