Whitlam Institute


Browse Latest

Economic Rationalism in Canberra: Twenty-Five Years On


Twenty-five years on from the first release of Michael Pusey's work Economic Rationalism in Canberra, five diverse authors including Pusey himself reflect on how economic rationalist ideas - now more commonly referred to as neoliberal ideas - have shaped policy and debate in Australia. 

They explore how we got here from their varying perspectives and, just as importantly, underscore the need to re-kindle a more considered conversation on national life beyond ‘economic rationalism’.

1. Economic Rationalism in canberra 25 years on

Michael Pusey

Reflecting on his own publication from a quarter of a century ago, Pusey examines how contemporary Australia has changed since he penned Economic Rationalism in Canberra.  More →

2. Reflections on Neoliberalism in Australia

Bob Debus

In this essay Bob Debus reminds us of the powerful historic standing of the bureaucracy as a ‘moral institution’ and the idea of a public service that can be trusted to defend the national interest. Debus concludes that: “The line between the government and the private sector needs to be redrawn.”  More → 

3. The impact of economic rationalism on the Australian Public Service: from 1991 to the present

Osmond Chiu

Chiu brings a fresh perspective to the debate as a millennial, capturing the generational normality of economic rationalism or neoliberalism. “An existing alternative is not a lived experience,” he notes, “Something different is abstract.” Chiu calls for a refresh in the language of this debate, challenging the environment in which economic rationalism has come to be accepted as “common sense.” More → 

4. Is the goose cooked? Agency, Stewardship and contracting regimes: public sector contracting with the Not-For-Profit sector

Jennifer Mason

Mason focuses on the way that economic rationalism has transformed the delivery of human services in Australia. In particular, Mason notes the implications for the structure of the Not-For-Profit organisations that largely deliver these human services as they compete with for-profit organisations in this new ‘care market’. More → 

5. Economic rationalism and Indigenous affairs: the project of "normalisation"

Diana Perche

Perche examines the effect that economic rationalism has had on policies directly affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The policy changes that Pusey outlined in 1991 were slower to take hold in Indigenous policy, but reframing Indigenous disadvantage as welfare dependence has had a profound effect. Nonetheless, Perche observes that for many Indigenous communities the foundations for successful and genuine self-determination are “perhaps more realistic now than 4 decades ago.” More → 


Read or download the paper: