How neoliberalism transformed the Australian state

Edited by Phillip Toner and Michael Rafferty

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Format: paperback
426 pages
ISBN: 9781743329801
Publication: 01 Aug 2024
Series: Public and Social Policy Series
Publisher: Sydney University Press

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Four decades ago, faced with a series of economic, political and social crises, business and government leaders in Australia and many other nations were convinced by a well organised ideological insurgency of the need for what at first was presented as a series of technical changes in economic policy. However, neoliberalism quickly became a revolutionary agenda for re-ordering the social democratic state.

Captured: How neoliberalism transformed the Australian state directs attention to the central role of state power not just to remake markets, but also to remake a broad swathe of political life, social policy and citizenship.

In seeking to undermine the power of organised labour and “unleash” market capitalism, neoliberalism promised a surge of competition, productivity and common prosperity. For the wealthy few, this has indeed been an historically unprecedented time of capital accumulation, but for most, the results have been profoundly disappointing.

Today, neoliberalism is in crisis. We are living through an age of great instability, disillusionment and despair. Inequality of income and wealth has been rising; a majority of workers have experienced long-term declining relative living standards; corporate political and market power has reached historic levels; and younger generations are increasingly giving up the expectation of attaining the living standards of their parents. The status of prevailing neoliberal ideas and policy is in increasing disarray.

But without a coherent understanding of the ideas and interests driving neoliberalism, many people have turned to incoherent populism for an explanation and salvation and, failing that, even to forms of nihilism. Disillusion and anxiety constitute the dominant mood among the economic and policy elites, within Australia and internationally.

Captured presents a series of case studies from leading public policy experts, building critical new insights into the malaise that has characterised the neoliberal era. This book tells the story of how a small group of economists and lobby groups with a universalising agenda of radical change used neoliberalism to transform the state, and of the destructive effects of those policies on everyday life. Captured includes critical accounts of neoliberal policy and speculates on the likely future of neoliberalism as a form of political power and governmentality in Australia.

Michael Rafferty is a political economist with a research interest in finance and labour. He has published widely on these topics and has been a regular commentator in the media. He teaches international political economy at RMIT University.

Phillip Toner is a political economist and has worked in government, universities and industry focussing on industry policy, labour markets and technical innovation. He has published in leading journals and worked extensively in consulting to entities such as the OECD, ILO and European Union. He is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Political Economy, University of Sydney.

  • Introduction

Part I The nation-state changes its mind

  • Chapter 1. Contemporary monetary and fiscal policy by Susan K. Schroeder

  • Chapter 2. New Public Management and the hollowing out of the state by John Quiggin
  • Chapter 3. Outsourcing and neoliberal constitutionalism by Kristen Rundle

Part II Case studies: Neoliberal public policy

  • Chapter 4. The big country that can’t by Evan Jones

  • Chapter 5. Capital gains and wealth by David Richardson
  • Chapter 6. Neoliberal labour market policy in Australia: The “fair go” is long gone by Greg Jericho and Jim Stanford

Part III Case studies: Creation of neoliberal markets

  • Chapter 7. Murray–Darling Basin Water Market by Maryanne Slattery and Bill Johnson

  • Chapter 8. Neoliberalism and human services: The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) by Bob Davidson

  • Chapter 9. Neoliberal care policies and women’s economic inequality by Fiona Macdonald

  • Chapter 10. The national electricity market 25 years on: Outcomes and prospects by Bruce Mountain

  • Chapter 11. Superannuation and neoliberalism by David Richardson

  • Chapter 12. Regulation, deregulation and re-regulation: The apartment quality crisis in Sydney by Bill Randolph, Martin Loosemore, Laura Crommelin and Hazel Easthope

  • Chapter 13. The neoliberal reconstruction of curriculum and teaching in Australian vocational education by Steven Hodge

  • Chapter 14. The extraordinary case of Transurban, the Australian toll roads company by Phillip O’Neill

  • Chapter 15. Friedman, HECS and income-contingent loans by Mike Rafferty, Phillip Toner and Scott MacWilliam

  • Chapter 16. Port privatisation in Australia: Justifications and outcomes by Darryn Snell and Victor Gekara

  • Conclusion

“Well worth reading even for neoclassically-minded economists. The book takes a leftist political economy based approach usefully covering most major contemporary Australian policy issues and raises ideas and issues often absent from more conventional discussions.”

– Professor Allan Fels AO, Monash University


“Offers a great, grim brief of evidence against the ideas and practices that have dominated Australian public policy in recent decades. It is a strange relief to read that neoliberal policies have failed to deliver on the promise of the better, cheaper and more accountable services because this was never really their goal. The way forward is not clear, but without the knowledge in books like Captured, we will struggle to discern it.” – Gabrielle Meagher, Macquarie University


Captured is an excellent compilation that indeed captures the corrosive impact of neoliberalism on the Australian state and political economy. It analyses and documents neoliberalism’s rise as ideology and practice, with an array of leading scholars providing example after example of how neoliberal state capture has enhanced corporate power and undermined the public interest.”

– Stephen Long, ABC investigative reporter


“Forty years ago, politicians and economists promised that deregulating labour markets, globalising trade and selling off profitable state assets would deliver prosperity for all ... the result is record low productivity, a shrivelled manufacturing base, galloping inequality and increased economic insecurity for many. This book explains how and why this happened and how to hit to reverse.”
– Peter Roberts, editor @AuManufacturing News, founder Australian Manufacturing Forum


Format: paperback
Size: 210 × 148 mm
426 pages
25 figures and 8 b&w tables
Copyright: © 2024
ISBN: 9781743329801
Publication: 01 Aug 2024
Series: Public and Social Policy Series