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Public finance and income redistribution in interwar Australia: towards a class analysis

conference contribution
posted on 2007-01-01, 00:00 authored by Geoffrey RobinsonGeoffrey Robinson
In this paper I focus on a neglected aspect of Australian political history, the extent to which Australian governments actually redistributed income. The German sociologist Rudolf Goldscheid argued that 'the budget is the skeleton of the state stripped of all misleading ideologies'. In Australia a party that claimed to represent lower income earners, the Labor Party, was a major political force, but did Labor actually make a difference to the distribution of income across social classes, or did Labor's rhetoric of equity merely serve to incorporate workers into the capitalist system? A quantitative approach to the political history of labour may enable us to escape both nostalgia for old labourism (which the Howard years have encouraged) and a simple and undifferentiated rejection of labourism as a reformist agent of social integration.

This paper incorporates some material from a 2005 paper that examined overall expenditure patterns and taxation patterns across the states and Commonwealth from 1910 to 1940 but it goes beyond the aggregate approach of this paper to consider the extent which the varying patterns of taxation and public expenditure across Australia impacted on different social classes during the 1930s. It is very much a preliminary analysis based on existing compilations of taxation statistics. It is a static analysis and does not consider if nominally redistributive taxation and expenditure patterns might be rendered ineffective by consequent interstate migration.



National Labour History Conference (10th : 2007 : Melbourne, Vic.)


165 - 169


Australian Society for the Study of Labour History and Business and Labour History Group


University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

Place of publication

Melbourne, Vic.

Start date


End date








Publication classification

E1 Full written paper - refereed

Copyright notice

2007 by Australian Society for the Study of Labour History


J Kimber, P Love, P Deery

Title of proceedings

Labour traditions : proceedings of the tenth National Labour History Conference, held a the University of Melbourne, ICT Building Carlton, 4-6 July 2007

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