In 1980, Lee Kuan Yew, the outspoken prime minister of Singapore, famously warned that Australia was living way beyond its means and in danger of becoming the poor white trash of Asia.
Former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke agrees.
This was an era when Singapore was booming, while Australia, still prosperous, faced a series of structural problems including a highly protected economy and an inflexible labour market.
There was substantial pressure for reform, including from within the coalition where Liberal free-market "dries" were gradually achieving ascendancy.
But it was left to the new Labor government headed by Hawke to make what are now regarded as the enduring advances of that period.
Hawke, speaking at the launch of the 1982 and 1983 cabinet papers released by the National Archives of Australia, said it was difficult to overstate the extent of the economic challenge confronting Australia at this time.
"It was perhaps best put by Lee Kuan Yew in 1980 when he said that if Australia went on the way it was, it would finish up becoming the poor white trash of Asia," he said.
"And this was true."
Hawke said Lee Kuan Yew wasn't saying anything he didn't already know about the Australian economy, based on his own detailed knowledge acquired over years in the trade union movement.
But it was useful in convincing colleagues of the need for change.
"Here was the voice of a very respected regional politician confirming that," he said, adding it was confirmatory and helpful.
"But my own personal conviction about the challenges confronting Australia ... ensured that I was going to move in this direction anyway."
Hawke said the assumptions, attitudes, policies and institutions of the past were not adequate to meet the challenges of the time.
"We did face the real threat that Lee Kuan referred to.
"I was very much committed to move as quickly as possible upon election to give effect to my promises to call a summit."
It was held just a month after taking office, with the aim of achieving consensus on economy policy.
Labor had announced during the election campaign a prices and incomes agreement with trade unions.
That summit produced an almost unanimous communique - the odd one out was Queensland premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen - giving Hawke the mandate to get on with reform.
The float of the Australian dollar, on December 12, 1983, is best remembered.
Previously pegged at an artificially high rate - peaking at $US1.48 in 1973 but around $US0.86 just before the float - the dollar was allowed to find its own level in world markets.
Subsequently, Labor went on to deregulate the financial system, dismantle protective tariff barriers, privatise state sector industries, wind back subsidies to other industries and begin the sell-off of Commonwealth-owned enterprises.
Labor also introduced the fringe benefits tax and capital gains tax.
But for both the coalition and Labor, there were more immediate economic issues.
In July 1982 prime minister Malcolm Fraser's treasurer John Howard warned that economic activity had slowed and unemployment was rising in the face of a subdued global economy, high interest rates and excessive wages growth.
"To put it bluntly the economy has gone bad on the government and the current forecasts are as dismal as to suggest no real growth at all during 1982-83," he said in a submission in July 1982.
The government faced a budget deficit which Howard said should be no greater than $1.5 billion.
Hawke inherited all these problems when he won office on March 5, 1983, recalling how he received the really bad news.
Treasury secretary John Stone called on the prime minister-elect on the Sunday following the election.
He revealed the budget shortfall would be $9.5 billion.
That news immediately cast a pall on the range of election promises Labor had made, Hawke said.
New treasurer Paul Keating and finance minister John Dawkins warned the economy was in deep recession and the deficit needed to be reined in to a still substantial $8.5 billion through savings and revenue increases.
No matter the financial constraints, Hawke said he was still determined to press on with one key election promise.
"There was no way I was going to see the Medicare proposal not go ahead," he said.
Former Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam had introduced the universal health insurance scheme Medibank in 1975 but the Fraser government had wound it back and eventually dismantled it entirely.
Hawke remained committed.
"The realities of it were ... illness and hospitalisation was a personal economic tragedy for the poorer people of Australia and that had to be remedied," he said.