Labour History

Postscript: The Significance of the Fisher Labor Government, 1910-13

Labour History (2012), 102, (1), 119–130.


The authors of this thematic issue have substantially rescued the second Fisher-led Labor government of Australia from the relative neglect of labour historians, by acknowledging the significance and achievements of the first majority labour or social democratic national government in the world. The government’s significance was twofold: first, its election was based on the creation of a mass working class constituency; and second its busy legislative program extended the Australian Settlement, contributed significantly to the nation-building project, and instigated a progressive redistributive welfare program well in advance of other countries. The government’s reforms were based on liberal philosophy as well as prior initiatives, but it also extended the terms of the Australian Settlement and contributed to the divergence of liberalism and laborism. This postscript reviews the contributors’ arguments in the context of the government’s full reform agenda to assess the significance of the Fisher government’s achievements.

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


1.To usePaul Kelly‘s term referred to by most of the authors in this thematic. Google Scholar

2.The standard accounts are:R. Gollan, Radical and Working Class Politics: A Study of Eastern Australia, 1850-1910,Melbourne University Press,, 1966(first published 1960);L.F. Crisp, The Australian Federal Labour Party, 1901-1951,Hale & Iremonger,, 1978(first published 1955);R. McMullin, The Light on the Hill: The Australian Labor Party, 1891-1991,Oxford University Press,, 1991;D.J. Murphy(ed.), Labor in Politics: The State Labor Parties in Australia, 1880-1920,University of Queensland Press,, 1975;D.J. Murphy,R.B. Joyce andC.A. Hughes(eds), Prelude to Power: The Rise of the Labour Party in Queensland, 1885-1915,Jacaranda Press,, 1970;F. Bongiorno, The People’s Party: Victorian Labor and the Radical Tradition, 1875-1914,Melbourne University Press,, 1996;J. Hagan andK. Turner, A History of the Labor Party in New South Wales, 1891-1991,Longman Cheshire,, 1991;G. Freudenberg, Cause for Power: The Official History of the New South Wales Branch of the Australian Labor Party,Pluto Press,, 1991;N.B. Nairn, Civilising Capitalism: The Labor Movement in New South Wales, 1870-1900,Australian National University Press,, 1973;R. Markey, The Making of the Labor Party in New South Wales, 1880-1900,NSW University Press,, 1988;J. Moss, Sound of Trumpets: History of the Labour Movement in South Australia,Wakefield Press,, 1985;B. Oliver, Unity is Strength: A History of the Australian Labor Party and the Trades and Labor Council in Western Australia,API Network,, 2003. Google Scholar

3.R. Markey, In Case of Oppression: The Life and Times of the Labor Council of New South Wales,Pluto Press,, 1994, pp.266, 315. Google Scholar

4.E.J. Hobsbawm, ‘The Making of the Working Class, 1870-1914’, inE.J. Hobsbawm(ed.), Worlds of Labour: Further Studies in the History of Labour,Weidenfeld and Nicolson,, 1984, pp.194-212. Google Scholar

5.NotablyGollan, Radical and Working Class Politics, but also most sources in note 2 above. Google Scholar

6.A. Davies andS. Fielding(eds), Workers’ World: Cultures and Communities in Manchester and Salford, 1880-1939,Manchester University Press,, 1992;L. James andR. Markey, ‘Class and Labour: The British Labour Party and the Australian Labor Party Compared’, Labour History, no.90, May2006, p.29. Google Scholar

7.The 1908 Commonwealth Labor Platform is reproduced inW.G. Spence, Australia’s Awakening: Thirty Years in the Life of an Australian Agitator,Worker Trustees,, 1909, pp.407-10. Google Scholar

8.R. Markey, ‘The ALP and the Emergence of a National Social Policy, 1880-1910’, inR. Kennedy, (ed.), Australian Welfare History: Critical Essays,Macmillan,, 1982, p.113;F. Crowley, ‘1901-14’, inF. Crowley(ed.), A New History of Australia,Heinemann,, 1974, p.304. Google Scholar

9.S. Macintyre, The Oxford History of Australia: Volume 4, 1901-42,Oxford University Press,, 1986, pp.79-80. Google Scholar

10.Markey, ‘The ALP and the Emergence of a National Social Policy’, pp.110-11;Crowley, ‘1901-14’, pp.282-83;G. Greenwood, ‘National Development and Social Experimentation, 1901-14’, inG. Greenwood(ed.), Australia: A Social and Political History,Angus and Robertson,, 1974(first published 1955), p.243;J. Rickard, Class and Politics: New South Wales, Victoria and the Early Commonwealth, 1890-1910,Australian National University Press,, 1976, pp.210-11;A.C. Castles, ‘Australian Anti-Monopoly Legislation’, The American Journal of Comparative Law, vol.8, no.1, Winter1959, pp.82-84. Google Scholar

11.Greenwood, ‘National Development and Social Experimentation’, pp.213-15;Markey, ‘The ALP and the Emergence of a National Social Policy’, p.113. Google Scholar

12.R. Markey, ‘Explaining Union Mobilisation in the 1880s and Early 1900s’, Labour History, no.83, November2002, p.35;D. Plowman, ‘Forced March: The Employers and Arbitration’, inS. Macintyre andR. Mitchell(eds), Foundations of Arbitration: The Origins and Effects of State Compulsory Arbitration, 1890-1914,Oxford University Press,, 1988, p.149. Google Scholar

13.M. Kirby andB. Creighton, ‘The Law of Conciliation and Arbitration’, inJ. Isaac andS. Macintyre(eds), The New Province for Law and Order: 100 Years of Australian Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration,Cambridge University Press,, 2004, pp.102-06, 111-12, 114-15;Markey, ‘Explaining Union Mobilisation in the 1880s and Early 1900s’, p.36;Plowman, ‘Forced March’, p.150. Google Scholar

14.Plowman, ‘Forced March’, p.152. Google Scholar

15.Markey, In Case of Oppression, pp.158-60, 163;McMullin, Light on the Hill, pp.72-73. Google Scholar

16.McMullin, Light on the Hill, p.75;Markey, ‘The ALP and the Emergence of a National Social Policy’, p.130;Crowley, ‘1901-14’, p.295. Google Scholar

17.Greenwood, ‘National Development and Social Experimentation’, p.228. Google Scholar

18.Crowley, ‘1901-14’, pp.294-95. Google Scholar

19.Markey, Making of the Labor Party in NSW, p.296. Google Scholar

20.Fourth Commonwealth Political Labour Conference,Brisbane,6 July 1908, inR.N. Ebbels(ed.), The Australian Labor Movement 1850-1907: Extracts from Contemporary Documents,Australasian Book Society,, 1960, p.239;Markey, ‘The ALP and the Emergence of a National Social Policy’, p.130;Crowley, ‘1901-14’, p.293. Google Scholar

21.Markey, The Making of the Labor Party in NSW, pp.235-39;R. Gollan, The Commonwealth Bank of Australia: Origins and Early History,Australian National University Press,, 1969, pp.31-108. Google Scholar

22.SeeGollan, The Commonwealth Bank, pp.44-56;P. Love, Labour and the Money Power: Australian Labour Populism 1890-1950,Melbourne University Press,, 1984. Google Scholar

23.Gollan, The Commonwealth Bank, pp.1-26. Google Scholar

24. Ibid., pp.154-55. Google Scholar

25.Gollan, Radical and Working Class Politics, pp.206-7;Markey, ‘The ALP and the Emergence of a National Social Policy’, p.124. Google Scholar

26.Markey, The Making of the Labor Party in NSW, pp.297-305. Google Scholar

27.Apart from contributions in this thematic, seeR. Mitchell, ‘State Systems of Conciliation and Arbitration: The Legal Origins of the Australasian Model’, inMacintyre andMitchell, Foundations of Arbitration, pp.74-103;S. Goldfinch andP. 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.427-39. Google Scholar

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

29.Markey, ‘The ALP and the Emergence of a National Social Policy’, p.128. Google Scholar

30.H. McQueen, A New Britannia,Penguin,, 1970. Google Scholar

31. Ibid., pp.25-26, 68-75, 92-100. Google Scholar

32.NotablyMcQueen, A New Britannia. Google Scholar

33.Gollan Radical and Working Class Politics, pp.110-27. Google Scholar

34.R. Ward, The Australian Legend,Oxford University Press,, 1970(first published 1958);J. Norton(ed.), A History of Capital and Labour,Oceanic Press,, 1888, p.ix;R. Markey, ‘Federation and Labour: The National, State and Local Dimensions’, inM. Hearn andG. Patmore(eds), Working the Nation: Working Life and Federation, 1890-1914,Pluto Press,, 2001, pp.100-1. Google Scholar

35.SeeN. Kirk, Comrades and Cousins: Globalization, Workers and Labour Movements in Britain, the USA and Australia from the 1880s to 1914,Merlin Press,, 2003, p.101. Google Scholar

36.R. Markey, ‘Comparing the Labo(u)r Party in New Zealand and Australia’, Labour History, no.95, November2008, pp.69-70. Google Scholar

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


Author details

Markey, Raymond