The History of Social Movements in Australia
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Social movements emerged quickly in Australia and exerted a rapid and important influence on the development of politics and society. Not only were Australian men among the first to enjoy the privilege of the suffrage, they were also among the first to extend this privilege to women, to form powerful unions, to forge parties of labour capable of wielding national power, and to host movements of environmental protection. Indigenous people also used methods of petitioning and demonstration from the nineteenth century, though with notably lesser success. The precocious mobilisation of Australian social movements reflected the nation's history as a penal colony and a settler colony. The state was a powerful agent and the object of political claims. It acted to repress the most radical political agents, but also to incorporate and legitimate the demands of major political campaigns. This process was evident from the nineteenth century until the twenty first. It was jeopardised by the rise of neoliberalism, and the growing unwillingness or incapacity of the state to conform to past practices. In understanding the trajectory of Australian social movements, one therefore grapples with more general questions concerning the relationships between movement, state, empire, and economy.