Ministerial consultants and privatisation

Australian federal government 1985-88

Geoffrey Hawker*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Citation (Scopus)


The "turn to the market" by the Hawke Government (1983-91) began with the floating of the dollar and the de-regulation of the banks, and later involved the privatisation of government assets. Though presented as a coherent re-thinking of Labor ideology, an examination of the events leading to privatisation reveals an episodic process that was not inevitable. The genesis of the economic statement of May 1987, which first delineated "asset sales" and signalled later privatisations, shows that individuals could act as "policy entrepreneurs" and bring unexpected solutions to re-defined problems. Important was David Block, one of a unique cadre of policy advisers - the "ministerial consultants" established in 1984 by the Labor government as part of its plan to control the public service, and all but abolished by John Howard in 1996. Though Block was not a typical consultant, his case shows how market-oriented ideas entered government through new channels at that time, and how a political "reform" had consequences in the economy that were unintended by the early reformers. Ministerial consultants have received little attention hitherto but their case illuminates some of the dramatic policy shifts of the government and shows that a discourse (in this case about "administrative reform") was reformulated to overturn old values about the role of government in the economy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)244-260
Number of pages17
JournalAustralian Journal of Politics and History
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2006

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