As a guest in the United States of America, may I begin by
quoting another observer of your nation. More than a century and a
half ago, Alexis de Tocqueville perceptively observed:
Among the laws that rule human societies, there is one which
seems to me more precise and clear than all others. If men are to
remain civilised or to become so, the art of associating together
must grow and improve in the same ratio in which equality of
conditions is increased.
It is this sense of mutual association that Tocqueville observed
in America that stands at the heart of a well-functioning
democratic nation. It is not a new notion.
In his famous oration to commemorate the Athenians who died in
the Peloponnesian War against Sparta, Pericles extolled democracy
and praised the ancient city-state as the envy of the world. He
reminded his fellow citizens that democracy comprised not only a
constitution with equality before the law and opportunity for all,
but the day-to-day relations of Athenians with each other. It is
the "laws themselves" that are obeyed, including the "unwritten
laws that it is an acknowledged shame to break."
Although Pericles did much to extend democracy to the citizens
of Athens, many of the greatest thinkers of the time doubted this
new form of government. Plato believed that democracy deteriorates
into "license," and Aristotle, although less severe, noted that
constitutions can be captured by groups interested in only their
A cursory survey of the 20th century illustrates their
misgivings. Nations with apparently democratic constitutions were
in fact totalitarian regimes that denied even the most basic human
rights to many people. Some remain so. In other places, democracy
flowered, only to wither as special groups replaced government by
Despite the trappings -- the formal constitutions, the grand
national councils, and the political titles -- fundamental elements
of democracy have been missing from many systems of government. As
Jean Bethke Elshtain has written, "Democracy is not simply a set of
procedures or a constitution, but an ethos, a spirit, a way of
responding, and a way of conducting oneself."
It is the habits, dispositions, and culture of people that
undergird democracy. Consequently, a state without public
discussion and civil association lacks a democratic life force. As
Tocqueville observed 150 years ago of the United States, it is the
association of people in a myriad of groups and organizations that
underpins the modern democratic experiment.
This web of associations, what Edmund Burke referred to as "the
little platoons" to which we belong, has become known as civil
society. They are the relationships and institutions
that are neither created nor controlled by the state. "The
essential task of civil society -- families, neighbourhood life, and
the web of religious, economic, educational, and civic
associations -- is to foster competence and character in individuals,
build social trust, and help children become good people and good
citizens." Hence, democracy is built upon the virtues
of personal and civic responsibility.
The notion is not new. Adam Smith in The Theory of
Moral Sentiments posited the centrality of ethical values,
including care for others, as a necessary basis of the market
system. It is a peculiarity of the modern era,
however, that national debate has been framed almost exclusively in
economic terms, ignoring the social, the cultural, and indeed the
spiritual dimensions of national life.
There are three bases to a just and healthy society: a vital
market, an efficient and caring state, and a vibrant community.
There can be little debate, given the history of the last
century, that a vital market is a necessary element of economic
growth, adequate social welfare, and democratic freedom. The fall
of the Berlin Wall marked more than the end of a particular
ideological regime; it marked also the failure of the command
system, both as a harbinger of economic progress and as a vehicle
for human rights. The recent failures of financial regulation,
caused in part by the unwise idea that easy credit can be extended
to people with an inability to repay their loans, has been grasped
by some to attack the free market generally. It would be unwise to
confuse a failure of appropriate regulation with the overall good
generated by free markets.
However, the market alone does not and cannot deliver a just
society. There will always be the poor, ill, disabled, unemployed,
and those in need of care. There will be projects of societal
interest, including the defense of the nation, the promotion of
adequate health and education, the protection of the environment,
and the provision of the infrastructure necessary for an adequately
functioning community. There is no question about the need for
programs to support the poor and the vulnerable, for example, but
there are real questions about the kind of programs that are
Sometimes the debate about the role of the market and the state
is simplified to two opposing propositions, one in favor of the
market and the other in favor of the state. Both are important. The
question, for example, should not be one of intervention versus
non-intervention. All governments intervene in the economy. The
real issue is for what purpose the intervention is made and how
adequate is the outcome.
Both markets and governments can lead to injustice. The notion
that all aspects of society can be treated as a commodity can lead
to untrammelled consumerism, in which the interests of some
ultimately are ignored. Even in economic terms, this is dangerous,
as Australians have found with very low savings, rising debts, and
increasing interest payments in the 1980s and early 1990s. On the
other hand, the suppression of the market and the all-knowing hand
of government in many parts of the world last century led to some
of the worst forms of totalitarianism imaginable. A just and
healthy society requires a balance between the market and the
state. It is here that the community is important.
Because individuals gain meaning and identity from their
relationships with others, a liberal democracy dedicated to full
and free human development cannot afford to ignore the conditions
that are most conducive to the fulfillment of that ideal. If we do,
then liberal democracy neglects the very basis of its own
maintenance. It is in the institutions of civil society -- in
families and in voluntary associations -- that democracy is
sustained by balancing the power of both market and state and by
helping to counter both consumerist and totalitarian tendencies.
The Harvard scholar Mary Ann Glendon writes:
The myriad of associations that generate social norms are the
invisible supports of, and the sine qua non for, a regime in which
individuals have rights. Neither the older political and civil
rights, nor the newer economic and social rights, can be secure in
the absence of the social arrangements that induce those who are
disadvantaged by the rights of others to accept the restrictions
and interferences that such rights entail.
In other words, if we cannot preserve and support the
institutions of community in which relationships are developed and
nurtured, then we are not merely placing at risk the welfare of
many people, particularly the young and the elderly; we are
weakening the very foundations of democracy itself. As many have
observed, of all political systems, democracy most depends upon the
competence and character of its citizens. A liberal democracy
presupposes civic virtue to a higher degree than any other form of
In recent years, political discussion in many Western nations
has been dominated by the goal of reducing the size of government.
As government, including the burgeoning welfare state, is viewed as
the problem, limiting and decentralizing it is adopted as a
solution. There are limits to this approach. If the welfare state
cannot solve our social crisis, then dismantling it, by itself,
will not necessarily reverse all social problems. Hence, the need
to strengthen the institutions of civil society.
Civil society embraces those relationships which are independent
of the state but provide an environment in which children are
formed in the virtues of citizenship and in which adults are
encouraged to practice them. Of these institutions, the family is
the most important, as it is the first and most critical
environment for the development of human competence and civic
If the human person is at the center of every social
institution, then the family, as the primary place of
socialization, needs to be a community of free and responsible
persons who are encouraged to live marriage as a project of love
which contributes to the vitality of civil society. How we support
marriage, then, as the protective institution of family,
particularly the welfare of children, is of profound importance. It
is, in the words of Glendon, a "seedbed of virtue."
Significance of Ideas
I have begun with a discussion about ideas because they are
important. They shape the public culture. They inform political
discussions. They limit the role of government. They define the
relationships between individuals, families, and the institutions
of civil society. They underpin policies and programs. In short,
they inform us about how we should live together.
There are certain ideas that I believe are important:
- That the dignity of the individual is the foundation of all
- That the political and economic freedom of the individual is
central to societal well-being and that personal responsibility
underpins such freedom;
- That the covenantal relationships of love, loyalty, friendship,
and trust exist outside the political sphere but are essential to
the health of society;
- That social order and shared values underpin a healthy
- That government should be limited without forgetting that the
protection of the poor and the weak are pivotal political
- That functional families are crucial for the raising of
children and the stability of society;
- That society is a partnership across generations;
- That we belong to a nation, not a series of segregated groups;
- That our Western, liberal democracy best enhances individual
freedom and human dignity and is worth defending.
Stated this way, social justice is one factor in the creation
and maintenance of a well-functioning society. But it is not an end
in itself. It is here that the welfare state can be self-defeating.
By this, I do not mean that social security is unnecessary or
inappropriate. However, if the welfare state becomes an object in
itself rather than a means to an end, it is unlikely to relieve
individuals of their plight.
A problem is that the modern welfare state largely involves
accepting the consequences of societal dysfunction and is loath to
tackle the causes. This arises from a number of factors.
First, the emphasis on individualism has led to a reluctance to
interfere with other people's choices. There is a fear of being
accused of moralizing should one seek to address the causes. Even
holding out an aspiration is criticized as demeaning the poor or
the afflicted, insensitive to their plight, or paternalistic.
Yet this is a modern notion. As recently as a century ago,
poverty, for example, was seen as a moral issue. A distinction was
drawn between the deserving and the undeserving poor. Taking a
sense of responsibility for one's own situation was a central
feature of policy responses.
Indeed, Disraeli's famous reference to "two nations" was less
about poverty as such and more about the lack of connection he
observed between the rich and the poor. His books, such as
Sybil, or the Two Nations, describe the breakdown of society
and reinforce the significance of the mediating institutions of
A sense of community responsibility was reflected in the
institutions that developed in the later part of the 19th century.
For a century in Australia from the 1860s, friendly societies
flourished. Later, credit unions and building societies reflected
the self-help and mutual obligation ideas of the era. Not only did
they build communities, but they encouraged discipline,
responsibility, and thrift among individuals.
While the lack of universal provision can be criticized, the
replacement of these institutions by the welfare state also robbed
the community of many of its vital organic links. Local concern for
local problems and local organization came to be replaced by the
central state. Public servants, removed physically and emotionally
from the communities they were to serve, turned to regulation and
administrative programs. The impersonal program, increasingly
delivered by someone paid to do so, replaced the personal encounter
motivated by charity and concern to contribute to a healthy
Further developments have compounded the alienation of
communities. In many places, governments have realized that central
bureaucracy is not the solution. As a consequence, other sectors
have been employed, usually by contractual arrangements to deliver
While this has overcome one set of problems, it has helped
create others. Governments, subject to financial and other
scrutiny, impose burdensome administrative arrangements on the
service providers. They also seek the best value for public monies,
often by competitive tendering for services. This can result in an
emphasis on process, red tape, and time-consuming administration.
It also fosters powerful vested interests, dependent upon
government funding and therefore vocal advocates for more
Having deployed the civil sector as its agent, government can
also seduce it to become the mouthpiece for the latest fad or
manifesto. If "social inclusion," for example, becomes the
government's public relations cliché, agencies will spend
time ensuring that their programs are "socially inclusive" in order
to continue to receive funding. I will return to this theme
A second problem is the modern emphasis on rights and the
abandonment of responsibilities. Over the past half-century, the
language of rights -- originally understood as freedoms and
liberties, especially liberty against the state -- has been employed
to countenance all manner of things. Rights have become the
dominant language of our culture.
Although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights directly
refers to rights, it also contains a notion of obligation. Both the
U.N. Declaration and the American Declaration of the Rights and
Duties of Man issued at Bogota, Colombia, in 1948, upon which the
U.N. document was based, provide not only that all men and women
are born free and equal in dignity and rights, and that human
beings are endowed with reason and conscience, but also that they
should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. The
individual is situated in a framework of community and family.
The U.N. Declaration, for example, provides that everyone has
duties to the "community in which alone the free and full
development of his personality is possible." It also refers
specifically to the rights and responsibilities of spouses to a
We must, I believe, continue to assert the place of obligation
in public discourse and private behavior if we wish to sustain our
modern, rights-giving democracies and build civil society. Unless
we appreciate that a right can exist only when some person or body
has a responsibility to deliver the subject matter of the right, we
run the risk of neglecting the foundation upon which our societies
Worse still, so-called rights are now being demanded in the name
of groups. This is a danger to liberal democracy, as Jonathan Sacks
Liberal politics does not deny the significance of groups. We
are who we are because of the various groups to which we belong.
What liberal politics did, however, was to create space for such
groups outside the political domain in that crucial region between
the individual and the state known as civil society. We belong to
this neighbourhood, that church, this professional body, these
charitable organisations. They give us our sense of identity, our
ideals, our opportunity to be bound to others in bonds of altruism.
But in the political domain we enter on equal terms with everyone
else, as individuals possessed of inalienable dignity. The shift
from individuals to groups, far from being an advance, was a
regression to a pre-modern political dispensation; from the nation
state to the corporate state, the state as a composite of different
classes and confessions.
The Causes of Poverty
If social justice is to succeed as a policy response to poverty,
then it cannot concentrate only on the consequences for individuals
and society. It must address the causes.
What, then, are the causes of poverty today? In Breakdown
Britain, the Centre for Social Justice identified five
- Family breakdown,
- Economic dependence and worklessness,
- Educational failure,
- Addictions, and
- Serious personal debt.
- Coming from Australia, it is difficult to challenge this list.
Take the trends about family, for example:
- People are marrying less;
- Couples are marrying later;
- Most couples cohabit before marriage, and cohabitation is less
stable than marriage;
- More people remain unmarried;
- The birth rate has fallen below replacement levels;
- Divorce has increased;
- One in three children are born out of wedlock; and
- Single-parent families have increased.
The largest decline in partnering is amongst non-professional
women. Conversely, divorce rates for degree-qualified women have
declined. In Australia, 45 percent of women aged 30-34 with no
post-school qualifications are lone parents; and for women aged
35-39, the proportion rises to 55 percent.
Men who are (1) partnered and (2) married are now predominantly
drawn from the ranks of the better-off.
Marriage and economic prosperity appear to be linked.
Conversely, divorce and lone parenthood are related to economic
hardship. A recent study by the National Centre for Social and
Economic Modelling (NATSEM) confirmed that both men and women are
worse off economically as a consequence of divorce.
One in five children under 15 has the double disadvantage of
living in a family with low financial resources and only one parent
responsible for day-to-day care.
Divorce also impacts on workforce participation. According to
the NATSEM study, most women are in part-time work before
separation. This fits the common model of work in Australia, where
one partner works full time and the other -- most often the
wife -- works part time. While three-quarters of women remain in
part-time work post-separation, one-tenth leave the labor force,
and one-tenth move to full-time work. The majority are therefore
endeavoring to survive on inadequate income.
For women who were working full time while married, 80 percent
remain in full-time employment, 5 percent move to part-time, and
the remaining 15 percent leave the labor force altogether.
David Popenoe's summary of the impact of these changes applies
equally to Australia as it does to the U.S.:
First, rising rates of divorce and unwed childbearing, which
mean the steady disintegration of married, mother-father child
raising unit. Second, the growing inability of families to carry
out their primary social functions: maintaining the population
level, regulating sexual behavior, socializing children, and caring
for family members. Third, the transfer of influence and authority
from families to other institutions, such as schools, peer groups,
the media, and the state. Fourth, smaller and more unstable family
units. And fifth, the weakening of familism as a cultural value in
relationship to other values, such as personal autonomy and
Taken together, these data reveal a steady displacement of a
marriage culture with a culture of divorce and single
The Impact of
If these developments were associated with an improving
lifestyle for our children, they might be applauded. Generally, our
GDP, our health, and our educational levels have risen, but
consider the evidence of what is happening:
- Youth suicide has increased markedly;
- Reports of child abuse rise each year;
- Alcohol and drug abuse amongst teenagers has multiplied;
- Violence has increased;
- Welfare beneficiaries are much higher than two or three decades
- Single-parent families, even after government benefits,
continue to be amongst the poorest groups in the community.
While the causes of these problems are complex, a recurring
factor is the breakdown of marriages and the disintegration of
family structures. Take two Australian examples:
- The report of the Prime Ministerial Taskforce on Youth
Homelessness, Putting Families in the Picture, found that
the majority of young people and families identified conflict in
their relationship as the main reason for imminent or early
home-leaving by young people; and
- The National Action Plan for Suicide Prevention stated
in part: "Young people with suicidal behaviours are less likely to
be living with their biological parents and more likely to be from
separated, divorced or single parent families, or from families
where there are interpersonal conflicts."
This is not to say that family problems are the only causes of
youth homelessness and suicide. These tragedies can strike any
family without apparent reason or cause.
Nonetheless, many scholarly and official reports attest to a
recurring association between a range of social pathologies and
marriage and family breakdown. Conversely, a series of studies
reveal that healthy family life is the optimal environment for the
well-being of both adults and children.
In his recent book, The Home We Build Together, Jonathan
Sacks says, "The fact that we have deconstructed the family
morally, psychologically, economically, politically, is the single
most fateful cultural development of our times."
Society has an interest in functioning families and healthy
children. Society has an interest in promoting the institution of
marriage because it seeks to unite men
and women and to promote child rearing in a setting which provides
male and female models. As the demographer Kingsley Davis has
The genius of marriage is that,
through it, the society normally holds biological parents
responsible for each other and for their offspring. By identifying
children with their parents and by penalising people who do not
have stable relationships, the social system powerfully motivates
individuals to settle into a sexual union and take care of ensuing
David Blankenhorn and Allan Carlson put the economic
consequences succinctly when they said, "No amount of public
investment in children can offset the private disinvestment"
arising from dysfunctional families.
In summary, a society that does not concern itself with the
crucial role of its mediating structures, such as family and
community groups, undermines the very basis of its success.
Rebuilding these structures, supporting and strengthening them, and
encouraging their important role is essential for a free and just
Let me turn, then, to some developments in Australia. While I
draw upon our local experience, both in a policy and practical
sense, an important qualification should be stated: There is much
in common in the economic, social, and cultural life of the
industrialized nations, but there are also differences. I do not
pretend that our experiences in Australia are universally
applicable. Rather, I offer an overview by which others may make a
comparison, which may be useful even if not precisely
The industrialized nations are confronting many similar social,
cultural, and political trends. To learn from one another, we must
tell each other of our national and cultural experiences. With this
aim in mind, let me reflect on three examples from Australia.
Work is a social good which, in turn, is a foundation and
expression of human dignity. Seen this way, it is work or
employment and finding it for all who wish to participate that
should always be a primary focus of national policy.
Not only does work enable us to express ourselves as human
beings and fulfill our material needs; it enables us to contribute
to society as a whole: to our families, our community, and the
nation. At issue, then, is how we ensure work for all those who are
capable of it. None of us exist in isolation. We have a duty to
allow each of our fellow citizens to participate in the work of
society according to their ability.
Sixty years ago, the Australian authors of the 1945 White
Paper on Employment proclaimed that "full employment is a
fundamental aim of the Commonwealth Government." It was an
objective that sustained us for several decades. But the changes
wrought by the transition to a modern, globally competitive economy
undermined this aim, returning us to levels of high unemployment in
the late '80s and early '90s. While many areas of the nation were
experiencing close to full employment by 2005, there still remained
many Australians unable to participate.
Having regard to these principles, what should be the objectives
of our policy for welfare reform?
All people should be able to contribute, according to their
ability, to the economic life of the nation. People with
disabilities, for example, both want and are generally able to
contribute. This is equally true of others locked out of employment
because of age, personal circumstances, or changing industrial
Some want to characterize welfare reform in purely economic
terms. This misses the point. When the great majority of people,
whatever their physical, mental, or social situation, want to
contribute positively to society, the issue is both social and
moral. To miss the chance to increase the opportunities for more
people to participate in the workforce would be to betray our
obligation to our fellow men and women.
Australians wish to be secure in the knowledge that a safety net
and social support system will always be available to them if it is
genuinely needed. However, at a time of strong jobs growth and
emerging labor and skill shortages, the number of working-age
people in receipt of income support grew by 2005 to over 20 percent
of all working-age Australians, or more than 2.7 million
Only a small percentage of this number had participation
requirements tied to their income support. 700,000 were on the
Disability Support Pension (DSP), and 630,000 receive a Parenting
Payment. Both of these payments are more generous than the Newstart
Allowance received by the unemployed. There were more people
receiving the DSP than there were on unemployment benefits.
What this highlighted was that people with disabilities, in
particular, had a very low rate of participation in the workforce.
Less than 10 percent of people receiving DSP undertook any work,
including many people who had significant work capacity.
Participation requirements that were placed on sole parents were
very low by international standards. Sole parents were on income
support for an average of 12 years; however, many did engage in
some form of workforce participation during this time. Figures from
June 2002 showed that around 41 percent of Parenting Payment
(Single) recipients were working, and 42 percent of those not
working wanted to work. Not surprisingly, the incidence of work and
the preference for work was higher for those with older
While these figures were encouraging, they also demonstrated
that sole parents faced very real barriers to participation. In
order to continue to boost the participation rates of sole parents,
there were a number of issues that needed to be addressed. These
included the provision of more family-friendly workplaces,
availability of affordable before- and after-school child care, and
timely payment of child support.
Many people on income support were also reluctant to move into
employment and lose access to not only their benefits, but also
other forms of special assistance. The importance of the pensioner
concession card (PCC), mobility allowance, and home help, for
example, could not be underestimated. People wanted to be secure in
the knowledge that we understood that if their employment did not
work out, they should not be left worse off.
In my discussions about welfare reform, including the
representatives of those who are facing barriers to greater
participation in the workforce, such as people with disabilities,
they made it clear to me that they wanted to contribute and
participate in the social and economic life of our nation. We
needed to assure people that if they had a go and it didn't work
out, they would not be left worse off. We needed to reassure them
that they would be given the opportunity to have another go if
their initial foray into the workforce wasn't successful.
Approximately one-quarter of all DSP recipients in Australia
suffer from a psychological/psychiatric condition. Such conditions
are often episodic, and due regard had to be given to how we could
more appropriately deal with the situations that many of these
people find themselves in when they have an episode that leaves
them unfit for work.
There are substantial barriers which prevent people with
disabilities from participating both in the workforce and in
everyday life. They include physical barriers, such as access to
transport, and mental and psychological challenges. Whatever shape
or form they come in, these barriers have been unfortunately
reinforced by negative community attitudes and a low expectation of
people with disabilities. This has contributed to many people with
disabilities feeling a sense of disempowerment.
Governments, business, and the disabled themselves must work
together and set about removing these barriers and negative
Increasing participation is not just a matter of moving more
people into the workforce. We must also address the demand for
their services. Business needs to be educated about the benefits of
employing people with disabilities. We can learn from companies
such as Westpac, McDonald's, Telstra, and IBM who can see the
benefits for themselves and their employees.
There is also a role for the Commonwealth to play, given the
declining number of people with disabilities in the public service.
The Australian government can do more by taking the lead and making
a commitment to increasing employment of people with a disability
in the public service.
People with disabilities acknowledged that they wanted to be
more economically active. The Disability Support Pension should not
be a dead-end payment, as many see it today.
The principal object of reform, therefore, was to encourage and
assist more and more people to contribute and participate
Two major changes were made to Australian welfare in 2005.
First, sole parents were required to seek work and to
move from Parenting Payments to the unemployed benefit when their
youngest child turned six.
Second, if people with a disability had the capacity to
work between 15 and up to 30 hours per week without ongoing support
in the open labor market, then they would not be eligible to claim
the disability support pension. They have to apply for another
payment, typically Newstart, and are required to look for work. A
person's work capacity is assessed by a new Comprehensive Work
Capacity Assessment service. People who were receiving the
disability support pension on May 10, 2005, were not be affected by
The details of the reforms are set out in Appendix A.
The results of the reforms have been mixed. As of June 2008,
there were 732,367 recipients of the Disability Support Pension, a
2.6 percent increase on the 714,156 recipients as of June 2007.
These figures suggest that the rapid growth in the number of
recipients has slowed markedly. However, as existing recipients
were grandfathered, the large number in receipt of the DSP will
take many decades to reduce.
In 2007-08, the number of Parenting Payment (Single) recipients
declined by 8.8 percent, from approximately 395,500 to 360,600. The
number of Parenting Payment (Partnered) recipients also declined by
12.8 percent, from approximately 144,400 to 125,900 in June 2008.
Overall, the numbers had fallen from 600,000 in 2005 to 486,000 in
In 2007, the Howard government launched major changes to
There are approximately 517,000 indigenous Australians, which
represents 2.5 percent of the total population. On almost all
measures of welfare, indigenous Australians fare poorly by
comparison to the rest of the population. Appendix B provides a
Cradle-to-grave poverty amongst indigenous Australians remains
one of Australia's most urgent social issues, despite the fact that
aboriginal people gained constitutional recognition and land rights
in recent decades. The situation is the result of a series of
developments, including failed policies of the past. These included
a homelands movement which resulted in small, isolated communities
cut off from economic activity and dependent on welfare; an
aboriginal Community Development and Employment Project (CDEP) that
effectively provided funds for not working; a permit system that
kept these communities isolated from the rest of the nation; a
system of representation that descended into nepotism and
corruption; and the corrosive impact of alcohol and drug use and
pornography on communities and individuals.
From 1996, the Howard government had commenced reforms of
indigenous affairs, abolishing ATSIC, the indigenous representative
body, and replacing it with a new appointed Council and changes to
the CDEP to encourage indigenous people, who are mostly young, to
get real jobs.
The spur for more drastic action was the publication of a
report, Little Children Are Sacred, in 2007, which had been
commissioned by the Northern Territory government. The authors of
the report visited 45 indigenous communities are found widespread
sexual abuse of children in every one of them. It described family
and community dysfunction and the corrosive combination of welfare,
alcohol, drugs, and pornography.
As a result, the Australian government intervened, having powers
to override a Territory (but not the States). In summary, the
- The management of the income of all people in receipt of
welfare in the communities;
- Increased health checks for aboriginal children and
notification requirements in relation to suspected abuse;
- More police in the communities;
- Connecting the receipt of welfare to school enrollment and
- Bans of the supply of alcohol and pornography to aboriginal
- Phasing out of the CDEP program;
- Allowing indigenous people to individually own land via a
long-term leasing arrangement;
- Introducing food standards for community stores; and
- Abolishing the permit system.
It is too early to judge the success or otherwise of these
changes. In some cases, the new Labor government is proposing to
reverse some of them, such as reintroducing the permit system.
There is little doubt, however, that the reforms will have a
significant impact on the lives of individuals and communities.
What remains to be done is to fully integrate indigenous people
into the economic life of the nation by encouraging them to work
and own property individually. This remains one of Australia's
Supporting Marriage and Family
During the 1950s, church and other organizations commenced
offering marriage preparation and counselling. The Catholic Church,
for example, conducted "Pre-Cana" programs for engaged couples. In
each state, Marriage Guidance Councils were established, following
the British model.
These developments were given official recognition in the 1961
when the national Parliament first legislated for marriage. (The
States had previously regulated marriage.) The Marriage Act 1961
included provision for the government to fund organizations
providing marriage education and counselling services.
Interestingly, the divorce rate had fallen during the 1950s. In
1961, it was at the lowest level it was ever to reach since World
The funded agencies and others continued to provide marriage
support services. As the incidence of divorce increased,
particularly following the introduction of no-fault legislation in
1975, more effort and funding was spent on marriage counselling,
and little on preventive education.
In 1980, my wife Margaret and I, along with a small group of
like-minded couples, established the Marriage Education Programme
in Melbourne. In almost 30 years, we have provided marriage
education courses to some 20,000 people. The work is undertaken on
a voluntary basis, apart from the employment of an administrative
assistant. We receive a small grant from the federal government.
Otherwise the work is self-funding. It is an example of a group of
people recognizing a need and responding to it. It is an example of
how government can support the voluntary sector.
Following the election of the Howard government in 1996, I
established an inquiry into strategies to strengthen marriage and
relationships in Australia. The resulting report, To Have and to
Hold, noted the significant costs of marriage breakdown for
individuals and society and recommended increased funding for
programs of education, skills training, and prevention.
The publication of the report was seminal in the discussion of
marriage education policy. It was the first time that a legislature
had undertaken a thorough review of the field, and it became a
stimulus for other policy discussions.
The report led to increased government funding for marriage
education and related services, but suggestions for a more
equitable basis for the funding were ignored. A pilot scheme of
education vouchers was introduced and, although successful, was
never implemented universally.
More recently, the Howard government established 65 Family
Relationship Centres around the country to act as a gateway to
family support services. Their introduction had its origins in the
ongoing dispute about child support.
Soon after the introduction of a child support scheme in the
late 1980s, there was an ongoing campaign against what was seen as
an inequitable system, especially towards non-custodial parents,
invariably fathers. Soon after my election to Parliament, I was
appointed to an inquiry into the scheme. The cross-party committee
agreed that there were inequities that should be remedied. Yet
within an hour of the release of the report, the then Minister
categorically ruled out any substantial change. Apart from the
substantive issues involved, the curt response was unproductive. It
was part of the reason, I believe, why child support remained a
political issue for so long.
The issues had not been resolved when the Howard government was
elected in 1996. On regular occasions, government MPs would raise
the issue in the Party Room. Many of the MPs complaining about the
inequity were women. As a consequence, further inquiries were
established, leading ultimately to further reforms and the creation
of the Family Relationship Centres.
Whether these centres will fulfill the expectations for them
remains to be seen. The government set out a series of key
performance indicators at the time of their introduction against
which future judgments can be made.
However, there is one lesson that clearly emerges from the
events of over a decade. It is that marriage breakdown and child
support are the tail that wags the body of family policy. As a
consequence, government support for marriage education has been
caught in the crossfire of debate about the causes, meaning, and
consequences of family breakdown over the past four decades.
Numerous inquiries have been conducted, and hundreds of millions
of dollars are now expended on the consequences of marriage
breakdown. Despite the fact that marriage breakdown costs the
nation billions of dollars each year and leaves both men and women
substantially worse off, little is spent by way of comparison on
Yet the research indicates that programs of prevention,
education, and skills development can enhance the prospects of
successful marriage. More needs to be done.
A Final Reflection
Before concluding, I would like to make a final reflection on
the role of organizations in the third sector. It relates to their
relationship with government. Having been a minister responsible
for the delivery of government programs and the member of an agency
in receipt of modest government funding, I believe there is a
tension that needs to be addressed.
In this context, Australia is different from both the U.K. and
the U.S. Government funding of third- or charitable-sector services
has become commonplace in Australia over the past 50 years. For
example, the Australian government has provided funding to
non-government schools since the late 1950s. As I indicated
earlier, family support agencies, many of which are conducted by
the various churches, have been funded since the 1960s. Hospitals
and aged-care homes conducted by religious and charitable
organizations are funded by government in a similar way to
More recently, the Howard government abolished the
government-run Commonwealth Employment Program and began funding
employment services provided by private providers. Some of the
largest employment service providers in Australia are auspiced by
religious groups, such as the Salvation Army. In many other areas,
ranging from community health services to programs for refugees and
newly arrived migrants, governments fund community organizations
that provide services.
This is different from the U.K., where, in my observation, more
services are directly provided by government, whether at national
or local level. It also differs from the U.S., where the debate
about church and state influences policies and programs in a way
that does not occur in Australia.
I remarked earlier that there is a danger that government can
seduce community groups into becoming its mouthpiece. There is also
a danger that government will see the voluntary sector as just an
extension of itself.
I was reminded of this concern when reading the speech of a
former New Zealand Labour Government Minister to a conference on
social inclusion in Melbourne recently. In it, Steve Maharey, now
Vice-Chancellor of Massey University, Palmerston North, New
Zealand, and formerly a New Zealand government minister for nine
- Community organisations have to accept that they must have
professional management and rely less on volunteers. Volunteering
is still vital but the core of a community group of any size needs
to be paid and accountable.
- There are too many community groups. While new groups will
always appear in response to a need, if real progress is to be made
rationalisation of numbers is essential.
- Local communities need volunteer centres where induction and
training can be provided.
- There has to be full funding of the work community groups are
asked to do.
While aspects of these statements are unremarkable, taken
together they raise a concern. There is a sense in these remarks
that the voluntary sector is viewed as another arm of government to
be directed, regulated, and funded like an agency of the state.
The essence of the third or voluntary sector of civil society is
that individuals gather together to address issues that they
perceive as in need of a response. Most often, this is at a local
level. Surely there cannot be too many community groups. The
suggestion that there are too many groups smacks of a command
approach and bureaucratic control.
The institutions of civil society are important because they are
neither created nor controlled by the state. While public funding
requires accountability and some services require training, skills,
and a professional approach, this is entirely in the capability of
many volunteers. We should guard against unnecessary state control
of the civil sector.
The Honorable Kevin Andrews was elected to the Australian
Parliament in 1991. He chaired the House of Representatives Legal
and Constitutional Affairs Committee (1996-2001), which
published To Have and to Hold in 1998. He also served as the
Australian Minister for Ageing (2001-2003); Minister for Employment
and Workplace Relations (2003-2007); and Minister for Immigration
(2007). He is currently Deputy Chairman of the House Economics
Committee and Chairman of the Coalition Policy Review. He is
married to Margaret, and they have five children. This address was
delivered at the International Conference on a Conservative
Vision for a Free and Just Society, sponsored by The Heritage
Foundation and held in Washington, D.C., on November 19-20,
Appendix A 2005
Parents -- Availability to Work
Parents out of the workforce for long periods of time are in
danger of losing the skills and self-confidence necessary for
them to return to work. Single parents spend around 12 years on
average on income support. It is not surprising that some
parents find it difficult to transfer back into work after
extended periods out of the labor force.
Under the 2005 measures, the core requirement for
principal-carer parents on income-support payments is to look
for part-time work if they have the capacity and availability to do
so, generally when their youngest child turns six and is ready for
school. If they are unable to find work, they continue to keep
their income support. In many cases, parents meeting their
requirements through part-time work retain part-rate income
These reforms were in line with community expectations and
are modest by international standards.
From July 1, 2006, new applicants were eligible for Parenting
Payment (Single) when their youngest child is aged less than eight.
For Parenting Payment (Partnered) applicants, this applies when
their youngest child is less than six. Once their youngest child
turns either six, for Parenting Payment (Partnered)
recipients, or eight, for Parenting Payment (Single) recipients,
they typically go on to Newstart. Single principal-carer parents in
receipt of Newstart allowance also have access to the pensioner
concession card, the pharmaceutical allowance, and the
Parents on Parenting Payment (Single) or Parenting Payment
(Partnered) on June 30, 2006, can stay on that payment under
current eligibility provisions until their youngest child turns 16.
However, they have a job search requirement from the latter of July
1, 2007, or when their youngest child turns seven.
The government recognized that some principal-carer parents -- for
example, registered and active foster carers, distance educators,
home schoolers, or those who have large families or a disabled
child -- may be unavailable for work because of the need to focus
fully on their caring responsibilities.
If a parent has special family circumstances such as these, they
are taken into account when determining their participation
requirements under the Welfare to Work changes, and the parent may
be eligible for a temporary exemption. Circumstances where the
parent has multiple caring responsibilities or cannot find
suitable child care are also taken into consideration.
All principal-carer parents who are registered and active foster
carers, home educators, or distance educators are exempt from
participation requirements for a period of up to 12 months at
a time and receive a new rate that tops up their
income-support payment to the equivalent of the Parenting
Payment (Single) rate. This applies for the period of the
exemption and is reviewable.
The new rate was indexed from July 1, 2006, so that it continues
to cover any difference between Parenting Payment (Single) and
Principal-carer parents who are subject to family breakdown
associated with domestic violence are temporarily exempted from
participation requirements. Others who have been subjected to
domestic violence are temporarily exempted from participation
requirements under current, more general exemption provisions.
Additionally, principal-carer parents who have undergone a
highly stressful family breakdown may be eligible for a period of
stabilization before participation requirements commence. This
will give them time to adjust before looking for work.
Improved child-care provisions assist parents returning to the
workforce. The measures provide the additional outside-school-hours
child care necessary to reduce barriers that parents face in
moving from welfare to work, as well as addressing the high demand
for places. Principal-carer parents with part-time work
requirements are not expected to take up work if it occurs outside
school hours and no suitable child care is available, or if the
cost of care would result in a very low or negative financial gain
The government, recognizing that some parents may have barriers
to overcome as they enter or re-enter the workforce and committed
to providing assistance to those with obligations to seek work,
will provide additional employment focused services to help
jobless parents find work.
A new employment preparation service was established through Job
Network to assist parents with school-age children to find work and
overcome barriers to employment by equipping them with skills
to re-enter the workforce. The government also provided
additional employment-related services to parents with special
needs. Parents who have significant non-vocational barriers, such
as substance abuse or homelessness, to overcome before looking for
work are referred to the personal support program.
Parents with a part-time requirement who are not working may be
required to undertake an annual mutual obligation activity,
including part-time Work for the Dole.
People with a Disability -- Capacity to
The government committed to maintaining a sustainable and
adequate safety net for people with disabilities who are
unable to work. At the same time, we believed long-term dependence
on the disability support pension is not the best option for people
who have the ability to work reasonable hours without ongoing
support in the open labor market.
In 1980, 2.3 percent of working-age people were claiming the
disability support pension. By June 2005, this proportion had more
than doubled to over 5 percent, or 705,000 people. Only around 10
percent of DSP recipients were in the paid workforce in
Australia, while the average among OECD countries was around 30
percent. The changes in income-support arrangements and the
increased funding for employment services and the Workplace
Modifications Scheme were designed to encourage and assist people
with disabilities to test their capacity to work.
From July 1, 2006, the focus shifted to the capacity people
have to work, not their incapacity or their inability to work. If
people with a disability have the capacity to work between 15 and
up to 30 hours per week without ongoing support in the open labor
market, then they are not eligible to claim the disability
support pension. They need to apply for another payment, typically
Newstart or youth allowance (other), and are required to look for
work. A person's work capacity is assessed by a new Comprehensive
Work Capacity Assessment service.
People who were receiving the disability support pension on May
10, 2005, were not affected by these changes.
Access to Other
Benefits and Support
People with disabilities have access to the full range of
vocational and prevocational programs to help them with job
preparation and job search activities. Places in vocational
rehabilitation and employment services were guaranteed for Newstart
and youth allowance (other) recipients with disabilities who
have part-time work capacity.
These people also get the pensioner concession card,
pharmaceutical allowance, the telephone allowance, and other
concessions available to card holders. Job seekers with a
disability and a part-time requirement are also eligible for a $312
employment entry payment.
Mobility allowance was increased to $100 per fortnight for
people on Newstart allowance or youth allowance (other) with an
assessed work capacity of at least 15 hours per week and for those
people on the disability support pension being assisted by an
employment services provider. If these people increase their hours
of work and move off income support and continue to work, they
retain eligibility for this mobility allowance.
People with disabilities and a part-time requirement who
are not working may also be required to undertake an annual mutual
obligation activity, including part-time Work for the Dole.
Mature-Age Job Seekers
Although the participation rate in the labor market had been
rising steadily among mature-age Australians, too many mature-age
people often experienced difficulties finding work.
Under the changes, Newstart recipients aged 50 to 64 were
required to seek full-time work -- the same requirements applying to
younger job seekers. People aged 60 or over are not required to
participate in Work for the Dole, nor are people aged 50 or
over unless they are not genuine in their effort to find work.
However, job seekers aged 55 or over are able to fully meet their
activity requirements through part-time work and/or voluntary work
totalling at least 15 hours a week.
Mature-age job seekers are supported by increased
employment assistance. They also benefit from the new Employment
Preparation Service, which is able to assist mature-age people to
update their skills and prepare them for the modern labor
Getting the Very-Long-Term Unemployed
Back into Work
The Welfare to Work measures also increase the assistance
provided under the Job Network active-participation model to
very-long-term unemployment benefit recipients.
The new Wage Assist measure provides additional incentives
to employers to take on very-long-term unemployed job seekers in
full-time, ongoing employment. To help develop the work habits
needed to enter the labor market, job seekers who are not genuine
in their efforts to find work can be required to participate in
full-time Work for the Dole for 25 hours per week.
Very-long-term unemployed job seekers with major employment
barriers can also be referred to a Comprehensive Work Capacity
Assessment to identify whether another payment, such as the
disability support pension, or a specialist program, such as
vocational rehabilitation or disability open employment
services, is appropriate.
More Generous Taper Rates for Newstart
Many people moving from welfare to work, or increasing their
earnings, benefit from an enhanced allowance income test.
Under the existing Newstart personal income test, there was no
payment reduction for the first $62 of income per fortnight, while
payment was reduced by 50 cents in the dollar for income between
$62 and $142 per fortnight and 70 cents on the dollar thereafter.
The new income test is more generous. The $62-per-fortnight free
area is unchanged, but the income range over which the 50
cents-on-the-dollar reduction applies was increased from $142 to
$250 per fortnight, with payment being reduced by 60 cents on the
dollar thereafter. The rate at which someone's income affects their
partner's allowance was also reduced from 70 cents on the dollar to
60 cents on the dollar.
These changes improved rewards from part-time work and help
people move from welfare to work.
Youth allowance (other than for full-time students or new
apprentices), widow allowance, partner allowance, mature age
allowance, and sickness allowance were also changed in line with
the changes for Newstart allowance.
A Fair but Firm Compliance Regime
This reform abolished the existing breaching regime, under which
job seekers could incur long-lasting financial penalties regardless
of any subsequent efforts to meet their requirements.
The new compliance framework more clearly linked participation
to payment and rewards those who are willing to re-engage quickly.
A job seeker without a record of repeated non-compliance who
commits a participation failure, such as missing an interview with
an employment service provider, is given the opportunity to avoid
any financial penalty by quickly re-engaging with that
Job seekers who persist with their non-compliance despite
being repeatedly warned lose their payments. As a deterrent to
repeated participation failures or more serious failures, such as
refusing a job offer, an eight-week non-payment period applies. The
reforms also introduced a more equitable means of deterring
income-support recipients from deliberately failing to declare or
underdeclaring their earnings in the form of a recovery fee
set at 10 percent of the debt incurred.
There are special arrangements for vulnerable people, such as
dependent children, under the new compliance framework, including
case management and limited financial assistance where
vulnerable people and third parties may be unduly affected by
non-payment periods. Vulnerable clients, such as people with
intellectual disabilities, are clearly flagged so that their
circumstances are taken into account in cases of
Existing legislative safeguards relating to the imposition of
penalties, such as the need for requirements to be reasonable
and the need to consider a job seeker's reasons for non-compliance,
continue to apply for both vulnerable and non-vulnerable job
seekers. In addition, the existing review and appeals system was
retained. This allows any job seeker to ask Centrelink to review
any adverse decision and, if not satisfied with the outcome of that
review, to appeal the matter to an external tribunal.
Work First Approach
RapidConnect is a "work first" approach designed to provide
assistance to job seekers as soon as possible. Connecting job
seekers to their Job Network member quickly is designed to reduce
frictional unemployment and improve job seekers' chances of finding
Under RapidConnect, a job seeker who contacts Centrelink to
inquire about Newstart or youth allowance is referred directly to
Job Network. Job seekers who do not connect with their Job
Network member may experience an impact on their income support.
This "work first" approach was at the cornerstone of the
government's Welfare to Work measures.
Source: Kevin Andrews, Second Reading Speech,
Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Amendment (Welfare
to Work and other measures) Bill, 2005.