ABSTRACT

The inter-war years are conventionally described as a period of stasis in Australian policy development. The energy that had produced major social reforms at the turn of the century was lost; the period was marked by slow recovery from the carnage of the war, and this is frequently identified as a time of transition from a ‘social laboratory’ to a ‘welfare laggard’.1 In the political realm, Labor enjoyed power for significant periods in the states, but conservative governments ruled at the federal level, other than the tragic interlude of the Scullin government, during the Depression. The ALP had split in 1916 over conscription, and would split again in 1931, over its orthodox austerity policies.Each time, the party regrouped and continued, although weakened. Each time, the non-Labor side of politics was the beneficiary, re-forming into new parties, first as Nationalists and then as the United Australia Party (UAP), with Labor defectors providing their leadership. Despite upheavals, these non-Labor parties were also continuous, as coalitions of conservatives, remnants of social liberalism as well as Labor defectors. In addition, the Country Party had emerged to influence after 1922, representing rural and conservative interests, and was in a formal governing coalition for most of the period.