The three decades prior to the First World War witnessed, in Queensland, a significant change in the basis and rate of economic growth. The long boom based on the development of the pastoral industry gave way in the 1890s to a period of depression and stagnation. This was followed, however, by a new phase of prosperity after the early 1900s underpinned by the development of new rural industries involving the more intensive use of land. The period was also one of important changes in the structure of politics as the rise of the Labour Party led to the merging of the former liberal/conservative division.
In this context there were significant developments in the role played by governments in influencing economic development. In respect of three of the major categories of government involvement in the process of development - the management of land; public investment, particularly in railways; and the encouragement of population growth through immigration -there was a degree of continuity: these elements of 'colonial socialism' were all present in earlier decades. But the particular policies pursued in these areas underwent some major changes. Governments came also to involve themselves in the industrial process in a variety of ways that were novel: this intervention was directed particularly, though not exclusively, at encouraging new bases of economic growth, especially agricultural industries.
Land policy involved three major categories of decisions: how to manage the extensive pastoral use of land; how to arrange for the conversion of such land to more intensive use to accommodate a larger population; and how, and to what extent, to intervene in instances where the freehold title of large areas of land had been allowed to pass into private hands so as to encourage and provide for its more intensive use. In each case policy had to balance often competing goals: maximisation of the revenue which the government as landlord should obtain from its most valuable natural resource and achievement of a rapid rate of settlement of people on the land.
Decision making with respect to investment in railway communication also presented difficulties of principle. Railways were seen in large part as means of shaping as well as merely serving development in a new and still imperfectly understood environment. 'Rational' decision making was accordingly very difficult. Yet, particularly because expenditure was reliant on borrowing and thus created fixed financial commitments, the narrow economic and financial implications of railway investment were inevitably a major consideration.
In their role of encouraging population growth by subsidising immigration governments were also confronted with a dilemma. A high level of immigration implied benefits in terms of economic expansion; but to a section of the community at least it also implied a cost in terms of increased competition in the labour market. The issue of the immigration of coloured labourers also revolved around a conflict: that between economic and social goals.
Finally, the new range of policies aimed particularly at assisting the development of specific industries - the provision of general technical and financial aid to agricultural industries, assistance with the production of meat and dairy produce for export, assistance to the sugar and mining industries, subsidisation of the cost of controlling the rabbit pest and protection of industries by way of tariffs - raised questions about the appropriate nature and extent of government's role in economic activity and the process of economic development.
No simple pattern or trend emerges from the complex of policies in these areas as they were pursued during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The period has been characterised for Australia as a whole as one where governments came increasingly to intervene in economic activity in a way which emphasised social and political goals at the expense of more purely economic considerations. Such a phenomenon can be clearly discerned in the policies of Queensland governments. But there is also a pervasive element of 'economic rationalism': governments hesitated to distort the process of development too heavily away from the paths along which economic forces pointed, either in the name of social/political goals or the more particularly economic end of growth.
This characteristic of policy became more strongly evident in the 1890s in the context of economic depression and stagnation. It remained so in the early part of the twentieth century even as prosperity returned.