Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Social Inclusion under Labor in South Australia

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Social Inclusion under Labor in South Australia

Article excerpt

Introduction

At the turn of the century, Stretton (2000) noted that the pace of social reform in South Australia had been characterised by irregular cycles of government social policy initiatives followed by retrenchment over the course of the previous 100 years. Stretton noted that none of these initiatives had achieved all of their goals. Social reforms by South Australian governments tended to be watered down or abandoned by later governments. The Social Inclusion Initiative launched by the Rann Labor government in South Australia in 2002 has the distinction of being watered down if not dissolved by the same Labor government, albeit under different leadership.

The former South Australian Social Inclusion Initiative drew its inspiration from the Blair Labour Government's policies to address social exclusion in Britain in the 1990s. South Australia's social inclusion policies also appeared to fit with the moral underclass discourse (MUD) discussed by Levitas (1998) in her critique of the Blair Labour government's social exclusion agenda. Levitas (1998) unpacked the role of ideology in describing how concepts of social exclusion, or the causes of social disadvantage changed over time and how these concepts influenced social policy in Britain. Notably, Levitas traced the evolution of social policy as changing from a redistribution discourse (RED), founded on social, political, cultural and economic citizenship and a critique of inequality, to SID, a social integration discourse that focused on social inclusion mostly in terms of labour market attachment and the MUD or moral underclass discourse, which offers cultural explanations of poverty. MUD implies that social welfare provisions by the state are problematic because they create welfare dependency. Hence social policy should focus on changing behaviour through stipulating requirements that need to be met to receive welfare benefits, sanctions for non-compliance and intensive casework with the clients of welfare services.

As will be discussed, the South Australian approach to social inclusion seems closer to MUD than the 'market integrationist' approach, analogous to SID, that identifies inclusion with participation in paid employment and education, which Marston and Dee (in this issue) argue was central to the social inclusion policy of the 2007-13 Australian Labor government. This distinction might be associated with the differing roles of national and state governments in Australia, with the former having responsibility for the national economy, which includes supporting employment and training, and the latter with delivering law and order, health, education and community services. Australia has also experienced, until recently, a long economic boom that has provided little incentive for state governments to make political capital by addressing broad economic issues. In South Australia, the Labor government elected to office in 2002 chose to focus its social inclusion policies on addressing homelessness, substance abuse and related matters. These issues affected 'problem' communities outside the mainstream, which tended to be the focus of media-driven moral panics. But South Australia currently faces the loss of key industries that, it will be argued here, are likely to refocus the same state government on addressing pressing socio-economic issues that affect a much wider community, with implications for how social policy is delivered.

Our paper begins with discussion of the disbanding of the South Australian Social Inclusion Unit in 2011 and subsequent developments. This is followed by a history of the South Australian Social Inclusion Initiative, its association with a moral underclass discourse, and a discussion of the current economic challenges facing South Australia. We argue in conclusion that the diminishing political returns from MUD-driven social inclusion policies have been further eroded by a looming economic crisis, which is likely to change the focus of state government social policy. …

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