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Industrialisation pattern in Australia

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Much of the pattern of industrialisation in Australia was focused on unlocking the abundances of natural resources that lay in the country and using it to fuel an economic development. The pattern of industrialisation in many countries tends to begin with exploiting the inorganic sources of energy, which Australia had a certain amount of in coal. Secondly, the next requirement was for an extensive labour force which the post-war immigration programme supplied. Finally, it required a certain amount of infrastructure, which in a country as geographically vast as Australia proved to be a vital element. Following the Great Depression of the 1920s and the poor growth of the 1930s that culminated in the Second World War, the stage was set for Australia to create an economic boom that lasted through the 1960s and much of the 1970s. Japan emerged as the primary market for Australian exports, replacing Britain as the major market, and the stage seemed set for increased growth. However, as will be seen, the sustainability of this economic growth is in question and problems were only narrowly avoided by the development of service-led industries in the 1990s.

Following the Second World War, new financial institutions were created in Australia to attempt to alleviate the troubles from before the 1940s. Before the First World War, the bulk of investment in Australia had come from private British Investors through specialised investment banks. However, by the 1930s, confidence had fallen and very little capital flowed into Australia leaving a dearth in investment. However, after 1945 the international price for primary products increased substantially setting the market-driven context for Australian growth. In 1945 Australia was not well integrated in the Asia-Pacific region, and this meant the country initially looked towards Britain and the USA in the first instance. However, after achieving independence in 1952, Japanese industrial output increased, as a result of it holding a significant amount of manufacturing capability as a result of its output during the war. This provided Australia with a significantly closer market for its raw materials and thus helped fuel the continued development of its mining and refining industries. International capital was at its highest, the population influx provided a burgeoning increase in the market and the stage appeared to be set for continued and sustained economic growth.

The difficult with establishing the success of Australian economic growth tends to lie with the contrast of the enormous success of the initial years with the steady decline of later years. Not only did the real economic growth of Australia steadily decline, from 6.4% in 1950-4 to 2.6% in 1875-79, its share of World economic growth steadily declined in this period. Australia’s share of World Trade declined throughout this period from 2.8% in 1950 to 1.5% in 1972. This suggested that the foundation of the ‘long boom’ was unsustainable in the long run. It has been argued that smaller countries need to rely heavily on a balance of trade, and Australia is the only small economy in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that is not a heavy trader and in fact is the third most closed economy. There was a decline in investment in Australian manufacturing in the late 1960s, and the share of total employment fell from 22.8% in 1974 to 17.8%. In the early 1990s, Australia experienced a recession with 11% unemployment. From the criteria that successful industrialisation should lay the foundation for sustained growth in the future, or at least relative sustained growth (i.e. increased growth relative to other countries), the Australian industrialisation has not been particularly successful.

The reconstruction of the international economy following the 25 years after 1945 provided an important stimulus to economic growth that many nations took advantage of. Australia responded by undergoing a significant industrial revolution. However, it only held a relative advantage that gave it a great starting point. Increased migration, improved infrastructure and inflows of foreign development led to a vast increase in industrial output both in the supply of raw materials and in the creation of a manufacturing base in the country. However, the growth was not sustained and was reliant upon other countries’ sustaining their imports of Australian goods which was a poor foundation as was exposed after 1973. Nevertheless, Australia had created a secure welfare state, sustained an increased immigration policy and was able to adapt to the challenges with which it was presented. The growth in service industries in the 1990s lay upon the basis of a strong industrial base, and thus it can hardly be said that industrialisation was in any way a disaster. Therefore it can be concluded that Australia was relatively successful in industrialising between 1950 and 1973 – it was not as successful as it could have been when viewed retrospectively, but it certainly made itself into an industrialised nation with great prospects for sustaining economic growth into the future.


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