Labour History

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

Labour History (2012), 102, (1), 177–196.


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.

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Author details

Lavelle, Ashley