The Withering Away of the Australian State: Privatisation and its Implications for Labour

This article analyses the privatisation processes at work in Australia, and assesses the significance of these to the employment relationship and organised labour. The argument has two aspects. First, it is argued that privatisation - that is, the process of transformation whereby state assets and state functions are moved from the state sector to the private sector - is a key element in a process of state restructuring. The various Governments in Australia have pursued distinctive policies towards state restructuring; and the objective, content and consequences of privatisation programs have thus been divergent. The second part of the argument is that Australian politicians who advocate privatisation tend to do so in terms of its practical benefits in reducing state debt and improving efficiency, promoting a 'de-politicised' version of privatisation, when in fact the decisions to privatise are inescapably linked to power and authority in capitalist society. There are three salient ideological considerations: Firstly, politicians and other policy formulators see privatisation as key to re-drawing the balance between private and public property and thus laying the foundation for a revived internationalising economy. Secondly, the relationship between Governments and organised labour is recast in order to establish the basis for control and exploitation. Thirdly, it has been the geo-political location of state power - especially the balance of power between rural and metropolitan interests - which has been central to the way in which privatisation decisions are worked out in practice, not ideological differences between political parties.