australian history trade policy

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Since the mid-nineteenth century, there has been a sustained rise in Australian protectionism, which is the subject of this article. The tariff was mindful of Australia's abundant natural wealth and redistributed the benediction accordingly. Policies to limit imports received support from the public, private interests, and others who benefited from taxation revenue. Furthermore, the major privacy concerns were the security of employees and employers. A fair national debate was that protection would expand Australia's workforce and industrial base. The strategy of import-replacement was resisted by elite Australian opinion in the late 1960s to early 1970s. Even though the usage of protective trade instruments is a means of creating jobs, labor governments have forsaken this approach as the ACTU supports them (Armstrong, 2012). The trade policies in Australia have shaped the manner with which the economy has evolved over time. These policies not only affect the economy but are underpinned in various facets of the country such as the social and political structures that have been put in place (Markey, 1996).

Key words: social and political structures, import-replacement, trade instruments.

A History of the Australian Trade Policy

Evolution and Political Economy of Australian Trade Policies

In order to redistribute the benefits of the overflowing natural resources in Australia in the past 140 years, the government used the Australian trade policy as the central component alongside other series of measures (Capling, 2008). Since the mid 19th century, the Australian trade policy has been made to adopt a broad policy framework which enables it to favor the exponential growth of the economy and also shape the development patterns of the economy (Kunkel, 2002). Therefore, it is essential we look into the economic linkages that were available between trade policy and the policies relating to taxation, immigration, spending and wages. A political system was incorporated into the Australian trade policy thus it consists of both domestic and foreign pressures of ideas, interests, and opportunities.

Until the 1970s, the main standpoint was that the Australian economy consisted of few people and had a minimal productivity prowess so that it availed minimal jobs even at full-time employment (Snape, Luttrell, & Gropp, 1998). A huge number of the white people and a larger economy were expected to provide unending economic benefits in the manner of risen opportunities for exploiting economies of scale and developments in the standard to defend the nation and its allies. The manner of support included aiding in import-competing industries via tariffs, trade policy measures in effect were used to bring jobs and foreigners to Australia. The plan of stimulating the expansion of the economy and population of Australia was considered successful all over especially during the 1950s and 1960s (Lee, 1998). However, in the recent decades, both the development goal of retaining and securing a bigger population has been doubted. There was a disrupt when it came to protectionism.

Trying to improve employment opportunities, the government in the colony of Victoria after the gold rushes resorted to tariffs and other policy instrument methods. This caused the abiding theme which continues until the recent years (Rhodes, 2003). It states that the chief goal of tariffs was to provide jobs so that they are participating in attracting and retaining population.

Before trying to explicate why its fellow major colony, New South Wales, did not enthusiastically follow the steps of the Victorian, it is important we state what import protection is. A tax put on an import renders protection to the local industry if no excise tax is drafted on the manufacture or sale of the import-substitute, or if excise is drafted at a lower rate than tariff; similarly, the protective assistance accorded to the local substitute relies on the magnitude of the tariffs appointed on whichever imported inputs used. Therefore, if tax rates are uniform, then protection or industry assistance is missing. Revenue considerations are the reason why tax rates differ across products, agreeing to elasticities of demand and supply, thus bringing into existence what is called incidental protection. The Victorian tariffs were contemplated deliberately protective in that the tax progression differed not only for purposes of tax revenue but also agreeing to employment or defense considerations.

The main interest was revenue. Colonial governments had different methods to acquire revenue from the main asset that the British granted them, namely, the land and its elements ("ARPA: The politics of Australia’s postwar trade", 2017). Afterward, the revenue was utilized to subsidize migrants, and to service, the public debt acquired during work, some of which raised the relative importance of the public revenue base. The public revenue came from three primary sources: import taxes, export taxes and land sales, leases or taxes. Gold experts who were situated in both New South Wales and Victoria were obliged to pay taxes were subjected to taxation. The colonies made use of tariffs but at various magnitudes. The economists were surprised when they discovered that the incidence, the individual responsible for the economic cost, of a tax on exports is similar to the incidence of a tax imposed on imports: both are immobile elements of production (Economist, 2017). Labor was readily available in the 19th century, as shown by the overflow of close to 300,000 people between 1851 and 1860 into Victoria, a flow which was four times more than the previous population in 1851. Some opinion leaders in Victoria like David Syme were concluded that those who came in quickly would also leave at equally the same speed, in order to go to new gold fields or for better occupations in another colony. Capital equipment could be readily shifted from one area to another at that duration.

Land, its features and the developments on it were the main fixed factor (Field, 1992). Therefore, taxes which were placed on external trade were substitutes for the fees placed on land. When land and various revenues were falling behind, the budget would diminish into deficits, the government would resort to increased taxation inclusive of import taxation. With an exception of alcoholic spirits, it was basically too expensive to accumulate excise taxes. Excise taxes are taxes which usually based on the relative worth of local production. The improvement of economic conditions led to an increase in public revenues while the progression of tariff seemed to have decreased. Even though there were all these reversals, Victoria was still relatively protectionist.

This Victorian experiment brought about a continuous controversy between economic historians regarding the correct judgment to make about it. This difference opinion is that the Victorian policy most likely had a greater effect on the structure of economic activity in Victoria before Federation and an aggregate magnitude of the population and labor force of Victoria. Even though protection advanced urban deeds, it was doing this at expense of rural areas which were labor-intensive at the time. The progress of protection could not be classified as excessive or permanent. Victoria had a bad time because of tax evasion via smuggling, particularly from South Australia, which put up some restraints on the Victorian tariff, more so its height. Furthermore, the conformation of the Victorian tariff was not intended to deal with protective possibilities, in that it did not have strong escalation, meaning that the progression on intermediate and semi-finished inputs was not minimal. Since their law hindering white people from shifting from on colony to another, it is likely that any benefits Victoria managed to pull off in aggregate population, from their policy of tariff protection, they played a part in the population growth in various colonies.

Federation and Defeat of Free-traders

In 1850, during the legislation of the framework for competent colonial government, the British government compelled the Australian colonies from forcing taxation that distinguished in favor of other parts of the empire. Thus, the different independent colonies would find themselves having to tax products from other colonies, a procedure which was wrong and would, later on, bring friction. One of the main goals to be initiated by Federation in 1901 was the formation of a single, Australian-wide market, by merging the different colonial markets.

The fresh central government was provided power over currency, legal tender, and coinage: over insurance, corporations, copyrights, bankruptcy, and banking: over methods in which the colonies had established non-tariff hindrances on inter-colonial trade. Additionally, the Federal Constitution encouraged the removal of intimidation in railway freight rates. The removal of customs duties that different colonies used to aid their own producers so that they can outperform the competitors was very important in the achieving the goal of having a bigger market. in short, the Federation created the Australian Customs Union, enabled states to do business freely and a joint external tariff meant to keep away foreign commodities.

Customs duties generated most of the Australian tax collection in every year until World War I and retained the role of being the most crucial source of public revenue until 1941,at the of World War II, when it was surpassed by income taxes (International Trade: Theory and Policy. (2012). To the developing Commonwealth government in 1901, Federation had provided absolute entry to the biggest tax revenue sources, excise taxes and customs duties. However, for the initial ten years, the federal parliament had to provide to the states three-quarters of the revenue accumulated in excise and customs, together with whichever revenue surplus to its own modest. In meeting the financial desires of the newly federated states, the central government put up the first tariff rates which were similar to the moderately-protective rates in Victoria. People like Alfred Deakin, deceitfully debated that the need for tax revenue implied that protection ought to become the main policy of the federation; whereas most of the needed tax revenue could have been acquired without the propagation of important protection in opposition to imported commodities, by trying to balance excise taxes against tariff rates.

The account of the protectionists' triumph throughout the first decade of federation mostly depended on a comprehension of the different aims that can be initiated by a tax on imports, and the kind of groups taking those interests. This was considered to be a versatile policy instrument which had the potential of providing work, increasing wages, providing support to import-competing industries and also labor-intensive export industries. Aside from being possible winners from the policy of tariff protection, the workers and employers were also going to witness how the public revenue would be spent on them. This importance alliance was established between the protectionist forces and parliamentary members of the labor movement, chiefly from Victoria.

There was a short-lived element at work: protectionist opinions were made stronger by the fact that the economy was diminished, especially in Victoria. It was still on the mend from the economic downtime of the 1890s, and extreme drought in the eastern states had destroyed processing industries. From the Victorian tariff rates and excises, the ordinary Australian tariff would purport to reduce the protection being given and utilized to Victorian producers, against manufacturers in different states

On their own, the parliamentary members of the protectionist proprietors did not have majority supporters in parliament: so they would require allies, some of whom they interacted with in labor movement. In the economic downtime of the 1890s, trade unions succumbed to extreme defeats, and so they resorted to political power for assistance in accomplishing union acceptance through the making of laws on mandatory arbitration. In the new Australian constitution, the national assembly could create laws for the avoidance and settlement of industrial disagreements exceeding beyond the capabilities of whichever state. Therefore, they got access to another place in order to look support, a step that demonstrated its importance in later years. On their quest to get parliamentary efficiency, the laborites made transient coalitions with the liberal-minded or progressive politicians. The politicians were frequently protectionists.

In the first federal parliaments, the chosen representatives of the labor movement mainly disregarded the usage of taxes on imports (Lai, 2017). This is because they were afraid it would have unfavorable effects on the price of products consumed by employees. Thus, the initial federal tariff, which took place in the year 1901, could be thought about as weakly protective. Nonetheless, the Laborites, later on, became satisfied that the tariff could be utilized to improve the living standards of the employees. The liberal politicians and Laborites, which was a protectionist coalition, prevailed over the free-traders. In a period of ten years later, that saw the rise of the modern, rigorous, political party.


The victory of the protectionists over the free-traders was not yet finished once the first decade of the federation ended. Since the neighboring states did not benefit much by means of additional employment in the safeguarded industries, they persisted in expressing their dissatisfaction with the policy. Specifically, in Western Australia, which is mainly a mining and agricultural state, farmers were afraid that the federal tariff would cause an increase in the prices of farm machinery and excessive wages for laborers which were going to be a disadvantage to them. The state voters were swayed by the federal compact once they were assured of a trans-Australian railway and by a constitutional provision permitting Western Australia a time frame of five years which were to be spent on the Australian tariff wall.


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Rhodes, David, Terra Culture Heritage Consultants, Channel Deepening Existing Conditions Final Report – Aboriginal Heritage, Prepared for Parsons Brinckerhoff & Port of Melbourne. (2003). Retrieved on April 5, 2017, from file:///C:/Users/Tayisiya%20Ivanyuk/Downloads/Park-note-Collins-Settlement-Historic-Site.pdf

November 17, 2022

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