Federalism, Finance, and Social Legislation in Canada, Australia, and the United States

By A. H. Birch | Go to book overview

8
SOCIAL LEGISLATION IN AUSTRALIA

I. THE FIRST PERIOD: 1900-12

THE demand for social security developed very much earlier in Australia than in the other two federations, and it is necessary to begin by asking why this was. One answer would be that it followed from the early growth of a nation-wide labour party, closely connected with the trade unions and committed to the provision of social security, but this is another way of describing the situation rather than an explanation. The fundamental reason for the difference, it is suggested, was the absence of an expanding frontier in Australia. There was a great deal of land to the West, but it was nearly all desert, and the periodic gold rushes are not analogous to the steady opening up of the western territories that took place in the United States and Canada. In the North American countries it was mainly this constant expansion, and the individual opportunities afforded by the possibility of migration, which held back both the development of a national party of labour and the growth of a demand for social security. In Australia the limitation of this kind of opportunity led to the development of social and political attitudes very different from those of North America, and in the early years of the century all the political parties favoured the idea of old-age pensions.1

This early Australian consciousness of social security resulted in the inclusion in the Constitution of clauses empowering the Federal Parliament to legislate in respect of old-age and invalid pensions. These powers were used in 1908, when legislation was passed providing for federal schemes of oldage pensions, which came into effect the following year, and of invalid pensions, which came into effect in 1910. This legisla

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1
For a discussion of the relevance of Frederick Jackson Turner's theories to Australian history, see F. Alexander, Moving Frontiers ( Melbourne, 1947).

-205-

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