The last stand of the Keating elite

As the comments thread for a recent post made clear, the most notable single representative of the Keating era elite consensus (free-market economic reform and aggressive social progressivism) has been Paul Kelly’s Australian. Today’s editorial plaintively asserts that “Howard must revive that reform feeling”. It starts out with a standard bold generality “A secure economic future for Australia demands bold policy initiatives and a new wave of structural reforms that will help create wealth in which all Australians can share. ” But all that’s proposed is the dead duck of Telstra privatisation (a ‘bold’ proposal that’s been floating around for 15 years or so) and tax-welfare reform along the lines of the Five Economists’ plan that the government rejected three or four years ago.

For good or ill, the free-market reform agenda is essentially played out. The big action in the future will be in health and education, areas where there is no serious proposal for a fully market-oriented solution and where a range of partial market-oriented reforms have repeatedly failed to deliver the goods.

And while I think Howard’s success in changing the terms of debate on social issues has been greatly overstated, it’s clear that top-down elitism of the kind exemplified by Keating is, and will remain, on the nose with the Australian public with respect to both social and economic issues.