Labor, Telstra and anti-trust

Much drama about Labor’s announcement on Telstra to force a split of the wholesale and retail arms. In retrospect the debate about whether or not the public should retain majority holding in Telstra looks as relevant as the question of bank nationalisation was to 1950s banking policy. There has been coincidentally an acrimonious debate as to whether Labor or the Coalition can claim responsibility for the recent decades of Australian economic liberalisation. Few in the debate seems to have noted two factors, one that speaks agaisnt Labor claiming credit and another that speaks for it. Terry Flew notes:

the left of the late 80s hated the policies of the era that they now take retrospective credit for (the reform and opening up agenda). I was one of that left of that era.

But Labor had always been much more sympathetic towards increased competition in the private sector than the Coalition. During the post-war years Labor consistently called for trade practices legislation at a time when the Coalition and business was disinterested or overtly hostile, it was Labor that was responsive to the American anti-trust tradition, this is a neglected aspect of the intellectual relationship between Australian and American progressivism, although some aspects of the American influence on the Australian trust debate are discussed in Roe’s Nine Australian Progressives. The 1974 Trade Practices Act was a landmark in Australian economic policy as recognised by Craig Emerson. Even now sneering about the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission is a minor conservative trope: David Flint here and this astroturf venture here. Some of this historical background to Labor’s support of competition policy is discussed in my research grant application entitled From Labor populism to competition policy: the Whitlam government and trade practices.

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