Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Mutuality, Mead & McClure: More `Big M's' for the Unemployed?

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Mutuality, Mead & McClure: More `Big M's' for the Unemployed?

Article excerpt

A. Introduction

Mutuality pervades contemporary welfare policy. `Reciprocity' between citizens, state and community in welfare provision is common parlance in social policy debate (Mead, 1997: 221), reflecting an `element of populist commonsense' (Yeatman, 2000: 56). Despite being a multi-faceted and fuzzy concept, mutuality has caught on within diverse policy settings, (1) resonating with both Blair/Clinton `Third Way' policies and conservative US and Australian `workfare' programs. And Europe has not escaped its effects, many countries there having recast traditionally client-empowering labour market programs (Lodemel & Trickey, 2001). In short, mutual obligation represents an international policy agenda which makes it difficult to judge welfare systems without careful analysis of their inherent implications for client empowerment or marginalisation.

This paper reports on fieldwork assessing Australia's experiment with mutuality both within employment services and social security. (2) Unlike the gradualist approach of 1998 British New Deal reforms, (3) Australia under the current Government has dismantled its public labour exchange (the Commonwealth Employment Service, CES), slashed labour market funding, and created a private market for job-matching. (4) The social security system--and employment services in particular--began moving towards a mutuality basis from the early 1990s under the `active society' reforms of the Social Security Review, established in 1985 (Cass, 1986; 1988; Weatherley 1994). Subsequent changes under the `Working Nation' package of 1994 furthered this process, emphasising `case management' of clients and offering conditional job and training guarantee programs (Australia, Prime Minister, 1994a; 1994b; Finn, 1997; Carney & Ramia, 1999).

The administration of the system did not change markedly, however, until 1998 with the inauguration of the `Job Network' approach. The traditional (Weberian) basis of the system ascribed the central public service functions to the Department of Social Security, with placement and labour market services run by the CES. Accountability was almost entirely an affair of the state. Under new arrangements these functions have been radically fragmented. The initial service-point is a semi-corporatised public service `delivery agency' called Centrelink; with the policy formulation arm of social security now handled by the Department of Family and Community Services. Centrelink refers the unemployed person (its `customer') to any of a plethora of employment service organisations, which together constitute the replacement for the CES. These organisations in turn contract with two other public service Departments (now respectively forming part of separate portfolios: Education, Science and Training; and Employment and Workplace Relations) to train and place job-seeking clients mainly by `result' or `outcome' rather than policed suitability for the job.

Imposition of rate reduction or loss of payment penalties for breach of the conditions for receipt of unemployment payments (Newstart allowance) as set down in the Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) remains the responsibility of Centrelink, but it draws much of its information about the unemployed from Job Network members. Under the old system clients seeking redress for any displacement of procedural justice had relatively well-established remedies available in the Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT), with further appeals heard by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) (Carney & Hanks, 1994; Carney 1996; Bacon 2002). Though appeals mechanisms are still in place under the Job Network, the location of accountability is now under question and there has also been an alarming increase in client rights violations. As we find, rights are often difficult for members of the Network to trace and their enforcement by the unemployed client is highly problematic. …

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