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Could Bill Shorten be the saviour of capitalism?

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26.04.2019

Bill Shorten is campaigning on fairness. He doesn't want to tear down the capitalist system. He wants to save it from its own excesses. Would it be ironic for a former trade union leader to rescue capitalism? "It's happened before," he replies.

He's referring to Bob Hawke. The larrikin president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions went on to preside over the successful rejuvenation of a moribund Australian economy.

Could Labor leader Bill Shorten be Australia's fix-it man? Credit:

Australia, fated to become the land of the "poor white trash of Asia" in the famous presentiment of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew, has instead become the most successful developed economy in the world.

The flexibility that Hawke and his treasurer, Paul Keating, gave the Australian system is the greatest single reason that the country has enjoyed nearly three decades of unbroken growth, a record among the developed countries.

What's the big problem? According to the government, there isn't one. Scott Morrison is campaigning for another three years in power to deliver a largely status quo outcome. Growth remains unbroken. Unemployment is at 5 per cent. Morrison concedes that wages growth has been slow, but says that workers should live in hope – the market will deliver faster pay rises in due course. Morrison does want to cut income taxes, but that's about it.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten hugs Hawa Del as his wife Chloe Shorten looks on during the launch of Labor's policy to lift the equality of Australian women at the Queen Victoria Women's Centre in Melbourne on Friday. Credit:AAP

But Shorten sees it differently. "Income has been redistributed from wages to profits," he tells me. "We have seen the consequences of the government's wages policy – zero per cent inflation. People are not spending."

Is this true? Has income been redistributed from wages to profits? Or is this a socialist fantasy, a cover story to allow a Labor government to appropriate money from the rich through bigger taxes?

The non-partisan Reserve Bank answered this question quite clearly in a study published last month. "In Australia, the share of total income paid to workers in wages and salaries rose over the 1960s and 1970s but has gradually declined since then," began the report by economist Gianni La Cava. "The corollary is that the share of income going to capital owners in profits has risen."

When Hawke took the prime ministership,........

© The Age