Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History

‘Conflicts of Loyalty’: The Australian Labor Party and Uranium Policy, 1976-82

Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History (2012), 102, (1), 177–196.

Abstract

The Australian Labor Party (ALP) has periodically been enveloped by ‘conflicts of loyalty’ as a result of being forced to choose between representing its supporters in the trade unions and social movements and paying heed to powerful business groups whose investment decisions underpin the capitalist economy. This paper explores this dilemma through a case study of uranium mining policy from 1976-82. It is proposed that the party’s initial policy of opposition to the mining and export of uranium was overturned, despite its wide appeal among party members and constituents, because of the anticipated backlash from powerful commercial interests in a climate of economic downturn and the increasing globalisation of capital. This policy outcome also needs to be seen in the context of the desire on the part of federal ALP leaders to resurrect the party’s economic management credentials in the years following the dismissal of the Whitlam Government in 1975. The case was symptomatic, moreover, of the fading energy for fundamental political change increasingly afflicting social democrats worldwide.

Access Token
£25.00
If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here

Endnotes

1.While this dilemma is the main focus of the present paper, it is recognised that it is not the only dilemma social democrats face. For the electoral dilemmas with which social democrats have traditionally had to contend, seeA. Przeworski, Capitalism and Social Democracy,Cambridge University press,, 1985, pp.23-29. Google Scholar

2.L. James andR. Markey, ‘Class and Labour: The British Labour Party and the Australian Labor Party Compared’, Labour History, no.90, May2006, pp.23-24, 31. SeeA. Scott, Running On Empty: ‘Modernising’ the British and Australian Labour Parties,Pluto Press,, 2000, pp.11-15, for numerous other important similarities. Google Scholar

3., cited inD. Hodson andD. Mabbett, ‘UK Economic Policy and the Global Financial Crisis: Paradigm Lost?’, Journal of Common Market Studies, vol.47, no.5, 2009, p.1045. Google Scholar

4.R.N. Massey andN. Massey, ‘A Century of Laborism, 1891-1993: An Historical Interpretation’, Labour History, no.66, May1994, p.52. Google Scholar

5.T. O’Lincoln, ‘The New Australian Militarism’, Socialist Review, no.4, Winter1991, p.28. Google Scholar

6.I. Turner, Industrial Labour and Politics: The Dynamics of the Labour Movement in Eastern Australia,Hale & Iremonger,, 1979, p.76. Google Scholar

7.The case of Labor during World War I is discussed inJ. Hirst, ‘Labor and the Great War’, inR. Manne(ed.)The Australian Century: Political Struggle in the Building of a Nation,Text Publishing,, 1999. On the Scullin Government, seeW. Denning, Caucus Crisis: The Rise and Fall of the Scullin Government,Hale & Iremonger,, 1982. For a discussion of the Whitlam Government, see, among others,M. Sexton, Illusions of Power: The Fate of a Reform Government,Allen & Unwin,, 1979. Google Scholar

8.R. Miliband, The State in Capitalist Society: the Analysis of the Western System of Power,Quartet Books London, 1974, p.137. In describing the Australian Labor Party (ALP) as a ‘reformist’ party, we are including it in the category of social democracy. The differences between ‘social democratic’ and ‘labour’ parties have often been overstated, and there is a high degree of similarity between them in the sense of seeking to address the inequalities and injustices of capitalism through piecemeal legislative reform. SeeA. Lavelle, The Death of Social Democracy: Political Consequences in the 21st Century,Ashgate,, 2008, ch. 2. Google Scholar

9.For a brief explanation of the relationship between economic growth and social democratic reform ambitions, seeB. Head, andA. Patience, ‘Labor and Liberal: How Different are They?’, inA. Patience andB. Head(eds), From Whitlam to Fraser: Reform and Reaction in Australian Politics,Oxford University Press,, 1979, p.5. Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan revealed that the 2008/09 economic slowdown in Australia had caused a $170 billion projected shortfall in federal government revenues for the year 2009/10.W. Swan, ‘Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2009-10’, Treasurer of the Commonwealth, Media Release, 2November2009,http://www.treasurer.gov.au/DisplayDocs.aspx?doc=pressreleases/2009/113.htm&pageID=003&min=wms&Year=&DocType;accessed March 2012. Google Scholar

10.Cited inI. Birchall, Bailing Out the System: Reformist Socialism in Western Europe, 1944-1985,Bookmarks,, 1986, pp.22-23. Google Scholar

11.By comparison, Australia’s involvement in the first Gulf War warrants some 15 pages in Hawke’s memoirs.B. Hawke, The Hawke Memoirs,Heinemann,, 1994, pp.112, 511-26. Even in party historian Ross McMullin’s account, the discussion of the possible economic consequences arising from the decision on uranium policy warrants only a few sentences.R. McMullin, The Light on the Hill: The Australian Labour Party 1891-1991,Oxford University Press,, 1991, pp.405-6. Google Scholar

12.B. Hayden, Hayden: An Autobiography,Angus & Robertson,, 1996, p.343. Google Scholar

13.S. McCausland, Leave it in the Ground: The Anti-Uranium Movement in Australia 1975-82, PhD Thesis,University of Technology Sydney, 1999, pp.375-79. Google Scholar

14.J. Camilleri, ‘Uranium: A Dead End’, The Age, 7July1978, p.11. Google Scholar

15.Hon. Donald Leslie Chipp, MP, Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates(CPD),House of Representatives, 30November1976, p.2985. Google Scholar

16.Hon. Thomas Uren, MP, CPD,House of Representatives, 31March1977, p.860;M. Grattan, ‘Economic Reality is Labor Target’, The Age, 6June1977, p.8;McCausland,Leave it in the Ground, pp.347-48. Google Scholar

17.P. Weller, Dodging Raindrops, John Button: A Labor Life,Allen & Unwin,, 1999, pp.130-31. Google Scholar

18.D. Glanz, ‘Uranium Mining: Bad, Mad and Dangerous’, inSocialist Worker, in the collection, From Mary Kathleen to Jabiluka: The Struggle Against Uranium,Bookmarks,, 1998, pp.4-7;D. Hayes,J. Falk, andN. Barrett(eds), Red Light for Yellow-Cake: The Case Against Uranium Mining,Friends of the Earth Australia,, 1977;McCausland,Leave it in the Ground, p.ix. Google Scholar

19.Hayes,Falk&Barrett, Red Light for Yellow-Cake, p.10. Google Scholar

20.McCausland, Leave it in the Ground, p.3. Google Scholar

21.R.K. Forward, ‘Australian Political Chronicle: The Commonwealth, January-June 1976’, Australian Journal of Politics and History, vol.22, no.3, December1976, p.398. Google Scholar

22.Fox Commission, Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry: First Report,Australian Government Publishing Service,, 1976, p.185. The First Report of the Inquiry, released inOctober1976, focused on uranium mining and export in general; the Second Report, released in May the following year, was devoted specifically to uranium mining in the Northern Territory.Fox Commission, Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry: Second Report,Australian Government Publishing Service,, 1977; see alsoJ. Falk andN. Barrett, ‘The Fox Report’, inHayes,Falk&Barrett, Red Light for Yellow-Cake, section 3. Google Scholar

23. The Australian, 29October1976, p.1. Google Scholar

24.ALP, Federal Parliamentary Labor Party(FPLP)Minutes, 17November1976, pp.4-5. Google Scholar

25.Ibid., pp.5-6. Google Scholar

26.Ibid., pp.6-7. Google Scholar

27.Ibid. Google Scholar

28.Ibid., p.7. Google Scholar

29.Ibid., p.7. Google Scholar

30.Ibid., p.8. Google Scholar

31.Ibid., pp.8-9. Google Scholar

32.Ibid., p.10. Google Scholar

33.Ibid. Google Scholar

34.ALP, FPLP Minutes, 17November1976, p.11. Google Scholar

35.A. Hill, ‘ALP Bans New Uranium Mines’, Australian Financial Review, 18November1976, p.8. Google Scholar

36.Hon. Paul John Keating, MP, CPD,House of Representatives, 21April1977, p.1158. Google Scholar

37.C. McGregor, ‘A Future Leader of the Labor Party’, National Times, 28March–2April1977, p.4. Google Scholar

38.Cited inMcGregor, ‘A Future Leader of the Labor Party’, p.4. Google Scholar

39.Hon. Edward Gough Whitlam, MP, CPD,House of Representatives, 30November1976, p.2979. Google Scholar

40.Hon. William George Hayden, MP, CPD,House of Representatives, 30November1976, p.2996. Google Scholar

41.M. Grattan, ‘Labor Backs N-Pause: Lib Deals won’t be Honored’, The Age, 8July1977, p.1. Google Scholar

42.Cited in‘The Uranium Controversy: What the Party Decided’, The Age, 8July1977, p.4. Google Scholar

43.B. Toohey, ‘ALP Blacks Uranium: Mine Contracts to be Repudiated’, Australian Financial Review, 8July1977, p.1. Google Scholar

44.R.K. Forward, ‘Australian Political Chronicle, July-December 1977: The Commonwealth’, Australian Journal of Politics and History, vol.24, no.1, April1978, p.76. From early on in the uranium debate, Labor was confronted with the pro-uranium policy of the Whitlam Government. SeeW. Beeby, ‘Uranium Putting Bob Hawke in the Hot Seat’, The Australian, 2June1976, p.11. Google Scholar

45.P. Kelly, The Hawke Ascendancy,Angus & Robertson,, 1984, p.193. Google Scholar

46.Hon. Thomas Uren, MP, CPD,House of Representatives, 25August1977, p.694. Google Scholar

47.Cited inThe Age, 9July1977, p.3. Google Scholar

48.M. Grattan, ‘State Call to Toe N Line’, The Age, 29July1977, p.1. Google Scholar

49.M. Grattan, ‘Nimble Footwork on Uranium by Labor’s Left’, The Age, 9July1977, p.19. Google Scholar

50.Cited inB. D’Alpuget, Robert J. Hawke: A Biography,Schwartz in conjunction with Lansdowne Press,, 1983, p.325. Google Scholar

51. Sydney Morning Herald, 19July1979, p.2. This reaffirmation might have been helped by the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in the USA in April 1979 and its association with uranium. SeeThe Age, 2April1979, p.11. Google Scholar

52.‘Uranium Politics’, Australian Financial Review, 7August1979, p.2. Google Scholar

53.Cited inT. Walker, ‘Uren: Stand by Uranium Policy’, The Age, 30January1979, p.5. Google Scholar

54.Cited inA. Summers, ‘Hayden Poses Uranium Teaser’, Australian Financial Review, 14October1980, p.6. Google Scholar

55.G. Roberts, ‘ALP U-Turn’, Chain Reaction, no.29, Spring1982, p.11. Google Scholar

56. Australian Labor Party 33rd Biennial Conference held at Adelaide, July 1979,ALP,, 1979, p.401. Google Scholar

57.P. Malone, ‘Narrow Vote Softens Labor Uranium Policy’, Australian Financial Review, 8July1982, pp.1, 14. Google Scholar

58.M. Grattan, ‘Fierce Fight, Then Vote to Honor Existing Contracts’, The Age, 8July1982, p.1. Google Scholar

59.Roberts, ‘ALP U-Turn’, p.11. Google Scholar

60. Australian Labor Party 35th Biennial National Conference, Canberra, 5-8 July 1982,ALP,, 1982, pp.453-55. Google Scholar

61.McCausland, Leave it in the Ground, p.ix. Google Scholar

63. The Australian, 22May1976, p.1. Google Scholar

64.W. Beeby, ‘Uranium Putting Bob Hawke in the Hot Seat’, The Australian, 2June1976, p.11. Google Scholar

65. The Age, 3February1977, p.16. Google Scholar

66.G. Korporaal, ‘Miners Welcome ACTU Uranium Policy’, Australian Financial Review, 13February1978, p.1. Google Scholar

67.K. Martin, ‘ACTU Plans No Action on Defiant Unions’, Sydney Morning Herald, 9March1979, p.3. Google Scholar

68.R.M. Martin, ‘The ACTU Congress of 1979’, Journal of Industrial Relations, vol.21, no.4, 1979, pp.487-88. Google Scholar

69.P. Bowers, ‘Fraser Battles the Economy: Hayden Battles the ALP’, Sydney Morning Herald, 19December1981, p.13. Google Scholar

70.Kelly, The Hawke Ascendancy, p.207. Google Scholar

71.G. Richardson, Whatever it Takes,Bantam Books,, 1994, p.100. Google Scholar

72. Australian Labor Party 35th Biennial National Conference, p.353. Google Scholar

73.Malone, ‘Narrow Vote Softens Labor Uranium Policy’, p.1;J. Camilleri, ‘ALP U-Turn’, Chain Reaction, no.29, Spring1982, p.10;Grattan, ‘Fierce Fight’, p.1. Google Scholar

74. Australian Labor Party 35th Biennial National Conference, p.409. Google Scholar

75.McMullin, The Light on the Hill, p.406. Google Scholar

76.J. Durie, ‘New Labor Policy on Uranium Welcomed by Mining Industry’, Australian Financial Review, 8July1982, p.2. Google Scholar

77.Hayden, Hayden, p.346. Hawke succeeded as Prime Minister in gaining the approval of Caucus as well as the 1984 National Conference to mine uranium at Roxby Downs. Moreover, in 1986 exports of uranium to France were resumed – in apparent clear breach of party policy – despite the opprobrium caused by French nuclear testing at Mururoa Atoll.McMullin, The Light on the Hill, pp.425-26. Google Scholar

78.This was a reference to a disturbing report in theAustralian Financial Reviewuncovering a ‘secret political campaign’ by the Australian Petroleum Exploration Association against the ALP’s minerals and energy policies, including its plans for a Resource Rental Tax.A. Summers, ‘Secret Campaign against ALP Resources Policy’, Australian Financial Review, 7July1982, p.1. Google Scholar

79. Australian Labor Party 35th Biennial National Conference, pp.407-9. Google Scholar

81. Australian Labor Party 35th Biennial National Conference, pp.411-15. Google Scholar

82.Ibid., pp.425-26; emphasis added. Google Scholar

83.Ibid., p.438. Google Scholar

84.Ferguson, cited inIbid., p.441. Google Scholar

85.Ibid., pp.445, 447. Google Scholar

86.Ibid., p.476. Google Scholar

87.SeeA. Lavelle, In theWilderness: Federal Labor in Opposition, PhD Thesis,Griffith University, 2003, pp.102-5. Google Scholar

88.Lavelle, In theWilderness, pp.108-10. Google Scholar

89.M. Walsh, Poor Little Rich Country: The Path to the Eighties,Penguin Books,, 1979, pp.87-88. Google Scholar

90.I. Davis, ‘Wran Learns the Whitlam Lesson’, Australian Financial Review, 11May1976, p.1. Google Scholar

91.P. Bowers, ‘The Reluctant Cassandra’, Sydney Morning Herald, 14January1976, p.7. Google Scholar

92. Australian Labor Party 33rd Biennial Conference, p.336. Google Scholar

93. Labor in Power[videorecording], written and reported byPhilip Chubb,ABC,, 1993. Google Scholar

94.Senator James Robert McClelland, MP, CPD,, 18February1976, p.57. Google Scholar

95.Hon. Thomas Uren, MP, CPD,House of Representatives, 4October1977, p.1565. Google Scholar

96.N. Harris, Of Bread and Guns: The World Economy in Crisis,Penguin Books,, 1983, p.89;N. Blewett, ‘The Challenge of the New Conservatism’, inG. Evans andJ. Reeves(eds), Labor Essays 1982,Drummond,, 1982, p.35. Important developments in this trend included the historic defeat of the Swedish Social Democrats in 1976 after 44 years in power, and the conservative election victories ofMargaret Thatcher in(1979),Joe Clark in(1979), andRonald Reagan in the(1980). Google Scholar

97.On the speedy retreat of 1974-75, seeA. Lavelle, ‘Social Democrats and Neo-liberalism: A Case Study of the Australian Labor Party’, Political Studies, vol.53, no.4, 2005, pp753-71; on the limitations of some of the Whitlam reforms, seeT. O’Lincoln, Years of Rage: Social Confl ict in the Fraser Era,Bookmarks Australia,, 1993, esp. pp.19-23. Google Scholar

98.Lavelle, The Death of Social Democracy; for the ALP specifically, see ch. 5. Google Scholar

99.V. Burgmann, ‘Moloch’s Little Mate: The Ruling Class and the Australian Labor Party’, inN. Hollier, (ed.), Ruling Australia: The Power, Privilege & Politics of the New Ruling Class,Australian Scholarly Publishing,, 2004, pp.53, 65. Google Scholar

100.For a defence of the line that the ALP is still a ‘capitalist workers party’ qualitatively distinct from the conservative parties, seeT. Bramble andR. Kuhn, ‘Continuity or Discontinuity in the Recent History of the Australian Labor Party?’, Australian Journal of Political Science, vol.44, no.2, June2009, pp.281-94. Google Scholar

101.A. Summers, ‘Wran for President: A Coup for the ALP’, Australian Financial Review, 30July1980, p.3;R. Schneider, ‘Dawkins Dumping Swings Labor to the Left’, The Weekend Australian, 11-12December1982, p.4. Google Scholar

102.T. Uren, Straight Left,Random House,, 1994, p.316;M. Grattan, ‘Leftwinger Gets Place on Labor Tactics Body’, The Age, 26October1982, p.5. Google Scholar

103.A. Summers, ‘Hayden Opts to Face Hawke’, Australian Financial Review, 9July1982, p.3. Google Scholar

104.Alan Day of the London School of Economics considered the international crisis so severe as to force people to ‘rethink the whole nature of our economic and monetary system’. Cited inG. Barraclough, ‘The End of an Era’, The New York Review of Books, 27June1974, p.14. See alsoP.A. Hall, ‘Policy Paradigms, Social Learning, and the State: The Case of Economic Policymaking in Britain’, Comparative Politics, vol.25, no.3, April1993, pp.284-85. Google Scholar

105.T. Knez, ‘Keep Unions, A.L.P. Warned’, The Australian, 23June1978, p.3. Google Scholar

106.D. Clark, ‘To Understand the 1980s, Look at the 1930s’, Sydney Morning Herald, 25November1982. Google Scholar

107.S. Bell, Ungoverning the Economy: The Political Economy of Australian Economic Policy,Oxford University Press,, 1997, p.88. Google Scholar

111.D. Harvey, Spaces of Global Capitalism,Verso,, 2006, p.42. Google Scholar

112.Lavelle, The Death of Social Democracy, pp.26-30. Google Scholar

113.D. Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism,Oxford University Press,, 2005, pp.2-3. Google Scholar

114.For the paradigm shift,M. Sawer, ‘Political Manifestations of Libertarianism in Australia’, inM. Sawer, (ed.), Australia and the New Right,Allen & Unwin,, 1982, pp.1-2;Kuhn, cited inHall, ‘Policy Paradigms’, pp.284-85. On neo-liberalism and the Washington Consensus, seeHarvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism;J. Williamson, ‘Did the Washington Consensus Fail?’, Outline of Speech at the Center for Strategic & International Studies,Peterson Institute, 6November2002, available athttp://www.iie.com/publications/papers/print.cfm?doc=pub&ResearchID=488;accessed March 2012. Google Scholar

115.A. Callinicos, Bonfire of Illusions: The Twin Crises of the Liberal World,Polity,, 2010, pp.127-34. Google Scholar

116.F.W. Scharpf, Crisis and Choice in European Social Democracy,Cornell University Press,, 1991, p.23. Google Scholar

118.In the case of Australia, seeD. Cahill, ‘Contesting Hegemony: The Radical Neo-liberal Movement and the Ruling Class in Australia’, inHollier, Ruling Australia, pp.87-105. Google Scholar

120.Harvey, Spaces of Global Capitalism, p.15. Google Scholar

121.SeeLavelle, The Death of Social Democracy, ch. 7. Google Scholar

122.For example,J. Gray, Endgames: Questions in Late Modern Political Thought,Polity Press,, 1997, pp.28-29. Google Scholar

123.C. Harman, ‘Globalisation: A Critique of a New Orthodoxy’, International Socialism, no.73, Winter1996;L. Martell, ‘Capitalism, Globalization and Democracy: Does Social Democracy Have a Role?’, inLuke Martell(ed.), Social Democracy: Global and National Perspectives,Palgrave,, 2001, p.214. Google Scholar

124.J. Weeks, ‘Globalize, Globa-lize, Global Lies: Myths of the World Economy in the 1990s’, inR. Albritton,M. Itoh,R. Westra andA. Zuege(eds), Phases of Capitalist Development: Booms, Crises and Globalizations,Palgrave,, 2001, p.281. Google Scholar

125.K. Rudd, ‘Global Good Not Global Greed’, Sydney Morning Herald, 27July2000, p.15; for samples of social democrats’ views elsewhere, seeLavelle, The Death of Social Democracy. Google Scholar

126.A. Wolfe, ‘Review: Has Social Democracy a Future?’, Comparative Politics, vol.11, no.1, October1978, pp.108-9. Google Scholar

127.G. Moschonas, In the Name of Social Democracy: The Great Transformation, 1945 to the Present,Verso,, 2002, pp.65-66. Google Scholar

128.Cited inB. Hutton, ‘Bob Hogg and the ALP Uranium Policy’, Rabelais, vol.16, no.11, 28July1982, emphasis added. Google Scholar

129.Summers, ‘Secret Campaign against ALP Resources Policy’, pp.1, 6. Google Scholar

130.‘APEA Denies Role in Campaign Against ALP’, The Australian Financial Review, 8July1982, p.2. On business opposition to the Whitlam Government, seeS. Ghosh, ‘Business and the Whitlam Government’, inP. Weller andD. Jaensch(eds), Responsible Government in Australia,Drummond Publishing,, 1980. Google Scholar

131.The Australian,‘Uranium Mining Realism from Mr Hayden’, The Australian, 15October1980, p.12. Google Scholar

132.S. Ghosh, ‘Business and the Whitlam Government’. Google Scholar

133.See, for example, the different experiences of the Curtin, Chifley, Whitlam and Hawke Governments inCarol Johnson, The Labor Legacy: Curtin, Chifley, Whitlam, Hawke,Allen & Unwin,, 1989;D. McEachern, Business Mates: the Power and Politics of the Hawke Era,Prentice Hall,, 1991; and more recently,T. Bramble andR. Kuhn, Labor’s Conflict: Big Business, Workers and the Politics of Class,Cambridge University Press,, 2011. Google Scholar

134.Cited inMalone, ‘Narrow Vote Softens Labor Uranium Policy’, p.14. Google Scholar

135.McCausland, Leave it in the Ground, p.32. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 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

Details

Author details

Lavelle, Ashley