Eras Journal – Robinson, G: Abstract

Abstract of Robinson G., “The Political Economy of Maritime Industry Non-Reform in Interwar Australia: The Establishment of the Maritime Services Board of New South Wales”.

From the First World War Australian port administration came under criticism from exporters, shipping companies and the Commonwealth government, all of whom argued that port authorities charges imposed an excessive burden on exporters.

They sought the replacement of public port authorities by trusts representative of business interests. The campaign for port administration reform also diverted farmers from criticism of shipping freights and to secure their acquiescence in anti-competitive practices in the shipping industry. The formation of the Australian Overseas Transport Association in 1929 was the culmination of this campaign. Elite conservative political support for such anti-competitive practices reflected a belief that competitive capitalism was inherently unstable.

The Scullin Labor of 1929-31 government abandoned Labor’s earlier hostility to shipping companies to support cartelisation. Conservative state governments, in a more competitive electoral position than their federal counterparts and under greater financial pressure, deflected business calls for port administration reform. Business groups expected the NSW conservative government elected in 1932 to reform port administration towards a representative model, but the Maritime Services Board established in 1935 merely rationalised existing administrative structures. In the 1980s international economic instability legitimated the project of microeconomic reform, particularly in the maritime sector, but in the interwar period a different balance of capital, labour and the state meant that economic isolationism rather than integration was the policy outcome.