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The Dawkins revolution: 25 years on

By Trevor Cook - posted Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Last week I went to Melbourne for the launch of this book.

There's a good review on the Conversation by someone much more familiar with the policy issues involved than me.

I worked for John Dawkins in his personal office from October 1987 for about 3 years as variously a political adviser (dealing mainly with internal ALP matters and links with the ACTU), an adviser on training policy, media relations and finally as senior private secretary.


The first thing to say about working for Dawkins while he was devising and introducing his revolution is that he was a difficult and demanding boss. He treated a lot of people poorly.

Few people get to be Cabinet ministers, even fewer make any real use of the often brief time they have in those privileged positions.

As a staffer, the long-term value of your experience has a lot to do with whether your boss turns out to be one of the few who achieve something significant or one of the many time servers who flap about the place continuously out of their depth in a policy area of which they have only a superficial grasp.

I'm talking here about something far more substantial than the 'canniness' of a Bob Carr.

One of the key traits of the Hawke Government was that it had a greater than usual share of the type of Cabinet minister who has the desire and capacity to do something truly significant.

These substantial ministers were fortunate to have the backing of an excellent prime minister in Bob Hawke who encouraged substantial reform efforts without feeling the need to micro-manage and who frequently protected his ministers from the sort of party and sectional interest criticisms that will often cause a lesser political leader to wilt.


The achievement of Dawkins should also be seen as an achievement by Hawke as well.

Dawkins tried to do something significant in every portfolio he held. He came to education after establishing the Cairns group, an alliance of nations that lobbied for fairer and freer trade in agriculture. Dawkins' achievements for Australian farmers stacks up well against the often lame efforts of his National party predecessors and successors in the trade or primary industries area.

And let's be clear, the Dawkins revolution was not reform by consensus, it was not watered down to an extent that made it essentially meaningless, but broadly acceptable to all stakeholders.

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This is a review of The Dawkins Revolution: 25 Years on

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About the Author

Trevor Cook is currently a Phd student in politics at the University of Sydney. He blogs at Trevor Cook.

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