Social Policy for the 21st Century: Justice and Responsibility Social Policy Research Centre Conference July 1999, University of New South Wales

Article excerpt

The conference Social Policy for the 21st Century was the most recent of the Social Policy Research Centre's (SPRC) conferences, intended to provide a major forum for social policy analysts and researchers to discuss their research and policy interests. The conference theme reflected an orientation to Australia, with its explicit agenda to focus on policy issues relating to "the well-being of Australians in the next century". However, the issues covered through the conference placed the discussion in a wider context. This is illustrated by the following excerpt from the conference programme:

   Over the last decade targeting has been extended and intensified. In the
   same period, demographic changes and uncertainties in employment and family
   life have caused growing numbers of individuals and families to depend on
   the welfare safety net, There is also an increasing emphasis on the
   responsibilities incumbent on citizens, and widespread public support for
   the idea that welfare entails duties as well as rights.

These are key issues for New Zealand government agencies and, in particular, those whose brief concerns social provision. In recognition of this, representatives from the Social Policy Agency and the Children, Young Persons and their Families Agency attended the conference.(1)

What were our overall impressions of the conference? In terms of logistics, the conference was both large (over 500 participants) and well organised. Its format included 40 individual sessions, six forum sessions, and three keynote addresses (including Peter Townsend's Plenary Address: Poverty, Social Exclusion and Social Polarisation: The Need to Construct an International Welfare State). The individual sessions were run in eight parallel streams, providing a good selection. They covered issues of income, employment, service provision, social trends, and analyses of globalisation.

We took away an impression that New Zealand has much to share about its experiences. Papers where New Zealand experiences were shared covered topics such as family change, health status, economic status, retirement income, and the Code of Social and Family Responsibility. New Zealand's Strengthening Families approach was also talked about, albeit briefly, in the final forum of the conference, titled Strengthening Families: What Role for the State? All of the New Zealand papers were presented by people from the academic sector. Representatives of New Zealand government agencies have provided papers to previous SPRC conferences and it would be useful if policy makers in the New Zealand government sector made a commitment to providing papers for the proceedings in future conferences.

The Australian Government, from both commonwealth and state levels, seemed adequately represented among the audience, but less so among presenters of papers. Overall, presenters tended to be from the academic and community sectors, and the papers from the government sector tended to be more constrained, and oriented to reinforcing existing policies, compared with those from academic and community presenters. …