Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

From Meeting Needs and Establishing Entitlements to Enforcing Obligations: 1967-2004

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

From Meeting Needs and Establishing Entitlements to Enforcing Obligations: 1967-2004

Article excerpt

It seems fitting that this review of the articles published over the last 40 years in the Australian Journal of Social Issues on the broad topic of social security and social welfare should begin with an article by the great encyclopaedist of the Australian welfare system, T.H. Kewley (Kewley 1968). Kewley could be credited with inaugurating the genre of historical and political analysis of Australian social security developments (Kewley 1969; 1973; 1980). While it might be claimed that Kewley's strengths lay in empirical rather than overtly theorised analysis, a close reading reveals the clarity of insight and acumen which infuses his work. And so it is in the AJSI article of 1968, whose analysis of social security and medical/hospital/pharmaceutical benefits programs from 1900 to 1967 introduced many of the debates which continue to be addressed in social security research. Kewley begins by arguing that in Australia the "social services have come into being slowly and piecemeal. There have been no major developments at any one point in time, such as in New Zealand with the introduction of the Social Security Act 1938 or in the United Kingdom with the national insurance and health schemes in 1948" (Kewley 1968: 4). The article goes on to acknowledge that despite apparent piecemeal development, social services (a term which he uses to cover both social security and health insurance programs) "touch the lives of most people and absorb a large proportion of national income" (Kewley 1968: 4).

Kewley identified three main periods in the development of Australian social security benefits: from 1900 to 1912, from 1912 to 1939 and from 1939 to 1967 (the time of his writing). The period from 1900 to 1912 saw the introduction of Old-Age pension, Invalid Pension and the Maternity Allowance--developments which he traced in both State and Federal legislation. In so doing, he noted the constitutional issues which were later to be invoked in the period of Post-war Reconstruction, when Commonwealth welfare powers (specifically with regard to the Pharmaceutical Benefits legislation) were challenged and then became the subject of successful constitutional change through the Chifley Labor Government's 1946 Referendum. This allowed for the consolidation of the programs of child endowment, widows pension, unemployment and sickness benefits, together with the earlier programs of maternity allowance, age and invalid pension, into the characteristically Australian social security system. In addition, recognising the labour market context of these social security developments, Kewley noted that in 1945 an Australia-wide employment service was established within the Department of Employment and National Service "as an instrument of the government's declared policy of maintaining high and stable levels of employment" (Kewley 1968: 6). He concluded his assessment of the 1939-45 period:

   Before hostilities in World War II had ceased, the Federal
   Government, partly under the influence of the world-wide
   clamour for social security that developed during the war,
   had come to assume responsibility for a wide range of social
   benefits (Kewley 1968: 6)

The percentage of age-eligible people in receipt of age pension increased considerably over the post-war period; this reflected changed attitudes to towards retirement and also liberalisation of the means test by the Menzies Liberal Government. In contrast, the receipt of unemployment benefit had not increased. That is, under full employment (except for three minor recessions) the unemployment benefit had not been called upon to play "a traditional role of easing the hardship of workers between changes of jobs" (Kewley 1968: 12).

Kewley noted that between 1912 and 1939 there had been unsuccessful attempts to introduce contributory schemes of social security; the Menzies Liberal Government had considered, but not implemented, such schemes in the 1950s. …

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