Australian society in 1985

Recently read Graetz & McAllister’s Dimensions of Australian Society based on the National Social Science Survey of 1984-85 and other survey data. This is Australia before market liberalism and the transformation of the ALP. How did the patterns describe anticipate the future? Can we see signs of John Howard’s later ascendancy? Some interesting observations:

The disadvantaged ethnic group then were southern Europeans who were also particularly disengaged from politics although they were disproportionately Labor supporters, they had particularly low levels of education and women were particularly poorly educated.

The self-employed had lower levels of income than those in wage employment.

4/10 felt uneasy about a relative marrying an aboriginal.

‘Those who are not religious are generally less nationalistic, less punitive and less jingoistic’

Women were disadvantaged in education and their attainments were more confined by processes of stratification.

Skilled manual work had increased in prestige at the expense of routine clerical work.

More identified as middle-class than working-class and those who identified as middle-class did not have a particularly strong affinity with the middle-class but had stronger feelings against the working class. However most people expressed a closer affinity to the working class than the middle class: ‘a good deal of sentimental attachment to a working-class ethos still prevails’.

A majority wanted more restrictions on big business and greater efforts to reduce material inequalities but were hostile to socialism and trade unionism.

Bob Hawke was uniquely popular. John Howard evoked little emotion either way with not much of a partisan gap in evaluation.

The level of voters identifying with Labor increased during the 1970s even during the Whitlam government. Labor had made major gains among government employees and university graduates from the late 1970s.

The self-employed one in six of the electorate were described as a ‘small minority’ (today the same portion would see them described as greatly significant)

Overall the pattern here is one of Labor ascendancy as the next three elections were to demonstrate and more broadly that by the early 1970s Labor was the natural party of government. The Fraser years were an aberration. Yet faintly we can see hints of conservatism’s later success the rising social status of manual workers and sentimental valorization of manual work quite disengaged or even hostile towards unionism and socialism. Howard’s appeal to workers, his rhetorical egalitarianism, racial anxieties and modest but real welfarism had a real base in public opinion. Howard would be a blank slate on which voters would write their own script after 1996.

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