A Liberal State: How Australians chose liberalism over socialism, 1926–1966
Miegunyah Press, $59.99 hb, 616 pp
David Kemp, formerly professor of politics at Monash University and minister in the Howard government, has a fairly simple thesis about Australian politics in the years between the mid-1920s and the mid-1960s. Put crudely, Australians were offered a choice between socialism and liberalism.
The Australian Labor Party offered them socialism. Kemp doesn’t much like it. It is one of the remarkable features of A Liberal State, that in more than five hundred pages of packed type, the author struggles to find a single idea or policy pursued by the Labor Party worthy of praise. The gymnastics involved in this effort are sometimes remarkable. To take just one example, the casual reader might imagine that it was a Liberal government that initiated Australia’s massive postwar immigration program. John Curtin and Ben Chifley, Kemp concedes, weren’t bad blokes, but they were surrounded by deluded ideologues and class warriors who wanted to nationalise everything.