Economic Deregulation and the Australian Press, from the 1970s to the 1990s
This thesis seeks to investigate economic deregulation and aspects of the deregulatory process in Australia from the 1970s to the 1990s through an examination of coverage by the Australian press of several key historical deregulatory moments in print news media from across the country via the lens of media frames. Media frames are defined by Todd Gitlin as “persistent patterns of cognition, interpretation, and presentation, of selection, emphasis, and exclusion, by which symbol-handlers routinely organise discourse, whether visual or verbal”. Examinations of deregulation in Australia have been carried out, with some of these investigations featuring or focusing on the media’s role in celebrating certain facets of deregulation. However, the majority of this research has focused on economic deregulation during the 1980s under the Hawke Government. Research and works focusing on a longer duration of time have emerged from journalists such as George Megalogenis and Paul Kelly (The Australian Moment: How we Were Made for These Times and The End of Certainty) but this work only incorporates print media to a limited extent. More scholarly work, such as Frank Bongiorno’s The Eighties: The Decade That Transformed Australia, has some focus on economic deregulation and the press but such examinations are very limited in scope, and are not the chief focus of the work. Other work, such as Graeme Turner’s Making It National: Nationalism and Australian Popular Culture have interacted with economic deregulation and media framing in specific ways, limiting its focus to the 1980s and concentrating more on how discourses of nationalism were created and deployed. This thesis opens new ground by examining deregulation in Australia starting from the 1970s and the Australian reaction to the Nixon Administration’s indefinite suspension of the gold standard (a move which marked the end of the old economic order) and investigates certain key events through to the 1996 federal election. By doing so, it allows for an examination that situates the deregulatory moment in Australia as not simply a product starting from the Hawke Labor Government. Rather, it provides important context and challenges earlier assumptions about the role and assertiveness of Australian media prior to the 1980s. This work moreover focuses directly on press interactions with and responses to the deregulatory process, examining how the press packaged and argued for deregulatory reforms, how it set the bounds on debate, and how these arguments and frames developed over time. This thesis finds that press reporting in the 1970s argued for deregulatory reform; voices within the press were already advocating floating the Australian dollar as early as December 1971. Reporting surrounding the Whitlam Government’s tariff cuts saw significant support for ‘economic efficiency’, while the Fraser Government’s deregulatory Campbell Inquiry received press support. Press reporting in the Hawke-Keating era is marked by an increasing stridency which, while beginning by framing deregulation as offering benefits for all Australians, concluded by arguing there was no economic alternative, that Australian culture needed to change, and that unions and wage issues stood in the way to making Australia globally competitive.