The Howard Government’s disabling policies

Social Change in the 21st Century Conference, 28 October 2005,
Queensland University of Technology

Since 1996, the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has twice condemned Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and Aborigines. In 1998, the Coalition Government stopped paying benefits to unemployed 16-18 year olds adversely affecting 46,000 people (Horin 1998). Recipients of unemployment benefit were the first to feel the sting of the Howard Government’s increased breaching and mutual obligation regime which has subsequently been extended to single parents and Disability Support Pensioners. The Government has waged a relentless campaign to curb the power of the Federal Arbitration Commission and the union movement. It is moving to weaken further the bargaining power of workers. Private insurance has been promoted over public programs: the undermining of Medicare and bulk billing are two obvious examples. The Government has used the threat of terrorism to take away civil liberties and as an excuse to invade other countries.

The purpose of this paper is simply to describe several of the social policy changes installed by the Howard Government so as to provide a basis for understanding how such changes have cumulatively eroded Australians’ sense of solidarity. It does not attempt to locate such insights within a reified conceptual paradigm; rather it is content to describe how such policies have impacted adversely upon long established social, economic and political conceptions of citizenship. It will outline preferable social policies and suggest ways in which these alternative policies might be achieved.


This paper essentially adopts T. H. Marshall’s approach to citizenship as set out in his 1950, 1975 and 1981 texts. Marshall conceived of modern citizenship as embodying a more complex collection of features than the franchise or even broader political rights: for him it includes social and economic rights. The analysis utilised in this paper is informed by some recent thinking about citizenship and Basic Income. In addition Marshall’s approach is interpreted within an Australian context and relies on my earlier study of citizenship and sovereignty (Tomlinson 1996) and a forthcoming paper “From paupers to citizenship” (Tomlinson, Dee and Schooneveldt).

International reputation 1901-1996

Australia once had a fine international reputation, at least among predominately white nations, for having developed an advanced system of social support. Its aged and invalid pension legislation (1908) coupled with the fact that its industrial relations were presided over by an Arbitration Commission led, in the first two decades of the 20th century, to Australia being regarded as a “social laboratory” where the French slogan “socialism without doctrines” seemed applicable (Roe 1976, p.4). Perhaps Australia’s reputation as a civilised nation was underserved. Our treatment of Indigenous Australians between 1788 to the 1960s was brutal (Bennett, 1957, Rowley 1972 [a], [b], [c], Reynolds 1972, 1981, 1989, 1996, 1998, 1999, Roberts 1978, Robinson and York 1977). The first major piece of legislation passed by the Federal Parliament established a ‘White Australia’ immigration policy (Roe 1976, p.14). Reviewing the treatment of the original owners of this continent and the ‘White Australia’ policy provides substantial grounds to argue that Australian nationalism, rather than being inspired by liberal democratic thought, emerged from a cauldron of smouldering racial hatred and fear.

During the Second World War Labor Governments consolidated the provision of social security and this was further expanded by subsequent governments over the next forty years. The 1907 judgement of the Arbitration Commission, in relation to Sunshine Harvester Company, introduced a national basic wage system sufficient to support a man, his wife and two or three children. Women were paid between two- thirds and three-quarters of that wage until the equal wage case of 1967. Indigenous Australians were not included in such judgements until 1967. Francis Castles described the combined social security and Arbitration Commission system as constituting the “workers welfare state” (Castles 1985, 1994).

Aborigines, if they were paid wages at all, were paid at much lower rates set by state government agencies charged with the responsibility for Indigenous affairs. In most States the bulk of Aborigines’ wages were paid to ‘protectors’ many of whom stole a significant proportion of such trust funds. The wages of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders stolen by the ‘protectors’ who were appointed by the Queensland Government or withheld by the Queensland Government itself remains an issue to this day. It should be apparent to white governments that the issue of the missing wages cannot be justly resolved when, as in the case of Queensland, the Government is offering only one-tenth of the missing wages by way of reparation (Kidd 1997, Stolen Wages Campaign 2005).

In 1967 the Liberal Coalition Government held a referendum to allow Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders to be counted in the Census and for the Federal Government to be able to pass laws in relation to Indigenous Australians. From the beginning of the Whitlam Government in 1972 to the end of the Keating Government in 1996, Indigenous people made gains in relation to social security, legal aid, access to health services, education and land rights.

Refugee and migrant policies were approached in a bipartisan manner from 1945 to1996. From the late 1960s the White Australia policy was no longer ‘official’ policy. From 1972 to 1993 reasonably humane refugee policies prevailed. The Keating Government introduced a six month waiting period before migrants became eligible for social security payments. It also introduced mandatory detention for asylum seekers who arrived without a visa.

Asylum seekers

In 1996 the Liberal Coalition regained the treasury benches. Asylum seekers who arrived without visas were granted three year Temporary Protection Visas rather than permanent protection. A system of concentration camps, euphemistically referred to as Immigration Detention Centres, proliferated. These camps were usually located in remote and inhospitable places. Then, in 2001 came the Tampa with its cargo of 430 asylum seekers which the crew had rescued from the Indian Ocean. Howard responded with his ‘Pacific solution’ which began a policy of incarcerating asylum seekers, who had not set foot on Australian soil, in camps on Nauru and Manus Island. White racist groups here and in Europe praised the Australian Government but in other circles the ‘Pacific solution’ was roundly condemned (Maley 2004, Marr and Wilkinson 2004, Brennan 2003, Lock, Quenault, and Tomlinson 2002).

The Government’s refusal to let the Tampa unload its human cargo at Christmas Island was a political master stroke in Australian electoral terms. The local capitalist press turned itself into a cheer squad for the Government on this issue. The Opposition led by Kim Beasley, went to water and a number of opinion polls in the aftermath of the Tampa showed 80% support for the action taken by the Government. I monitored the European press at the time and found overwhelming opposition to the action taken by the Australian Government (Tomlinson 2002 see also Media watch 2001). The captain of the Tampa received international human rights awards and support from many parts of the world.

In the run up to the 2002 election, Howard, Ruddock and Reith, claimed asylum seekers had thrown their children into the water in an attempt to force the Navy to let them go aboard Navy vessels. Such claims were, after the election, shown to be totally unfounded by the Report of a Senate Select Committee (23rd October 2002 Chs. 3-6). This Report investigated the Tampa, the ‘Pacific solution’ and the sinking of the SIEV X. The SIEV X was an Indonesian fishing boat with 400 asylum seekers on board. It “sank in the Indian Ocean 50-60 nautical miles south of Sunda Strait” (Kevin 2004, p. 3) with the loss of 353 lives. This area of the Indian Ocean was at the time being regularly patrolled by Australian maritime surveillance aircraft, the crews of which allegedly found no trace of the SIEV X. Tony Kevin (2004) accuses the Australian Government of employing agents responsible for the sinking.

The privatised concentration camps established in many arid parts of Australia have been the setting for hundreds of incidents of self-harm every year, many people have been driven mad by their incarceration, cells have been set on fire, asylum seekers have sewn their lips together, families have been torn apart, and riots have been ruthlessly suppressed. Australia’s oppressive treatment of asylum seekers in the camps has been criticised by a number of United Nations Committees, particularly the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), and by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) here (CERD 2005, HEROC 2005). For too long all this made little impact despite every Australian professional health association warning of the destructive impact that such indefinite incarceration was having on inmates.

Gradually refugee advocacy groups (Rural Australians for Refugees, Chilout, Spare Rooms for Refugees and many others) made an impact on public opinion. The story about the young boy Shayan Bedarae being driven mad inside a detention centre and shown on Four Corners (2001) made an appreciable dint the wall of indifference. But, after the Coalition Government was returned to office in 2004 and was given control of the Senate from July 2005 it seemed that there would be little change in asylum seeker policy. Then came Cornelia Rau, Vivian Solon, the Palmer Inquiry, the Giorgio Bills, the Prime Minister’s initial stone-walling and subsequent relaxation of some of the most punitive aspects of refugee policy.

Clearly, there are many improvements which could be made to Australia’s asylum seeker policy: the end of mandatory detention, the closure of Baxter, the end of off- shore processing, the end of detention beyond initial health and security checking (say 48 hours), the removal of the exclusion of off-shore islands from our immigration zone, the provision of Medicare and social security to asylum seekers awaiting determination of their refugee status but at least Australia seems to have turned the corner and these struggles lie ahead.

Indigenous Australians

The refusal of Howard to say sorry to the Stolen Generations reveals the extent to which this Prime Minister is committed to a white blindfold, rather than a black armband view of history. The present Government is committed to what it calls ‘practical reconciliation’ despite some equivocation in a speech at the 2005 Reconciliation Conference held at the Old Parliament House in Canberra about symbolic reconciliation (The Sunday Age 2005 Editorial 5th June).

Senator Tchen was born in China and was elected as a Liberal on One Nation Preferences in 1998 (Graham 2005). In his Valedictory Speech on the 22nd June 2005 he commented:

Under the leadership of John Howard, this government has been determined to change that situation, and we are starting to see results. We are starting to see the Indigenous community becoming reconciled to us. Reconciliation has never been about us becoming reconciled to the Indigenous community. We are here and they must become reconciled to our presence here, and that is what we are working towards. We are lifting their living standards and education standards and giving them hope so that they can become part of the Australian community as equals. That is true reconciliation—and I am glad to see that we are on our way.

Perhaps the best test of how much notice the Prime Minister is prepared to take of Indigenous aspirations is provided by the his method of consultation at a national level with elected Indigenous representatives. William Jonas, the previous Social Justice Commissioner, and Darren Dick (2004, p 11) deplore the Howard Government’s abolition of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, replacing national Indigenous elected representatives with an appointed advisory body as being in breach of Article 5 of the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination which Australia has signed and ratified. Apart from human rights issues, “what is of particular concern is the significant shift away from the recognition provided by the ATSIC Act in 1989 of the appropriateness of representative structures to maximize Indigenous participation in government decision making processes” (Jonas and Dick 2004, p 10).

The essence of ‘practical reconciliation’ is the provision of at least basic health, nutrition, sanitation, education and community services. No non-racist would oppose Indigenous Australians being assisted to gain access to decent shelter, nutrition, clean drinking water, safe sanitation facilities, appropriate community and educational infrastructure. Such a happy outcome has not occurred, however, despite 8 years of Howard’s ‘practical reconciliation’ policy (McMullen 2004, Savage 2004, Tomlinson 2004[a]). Altman and Hunter (2003 [a]) compared Indigenous employment, education, income, housing and health in 1991, 1996 and 2001 and concluded that the position of Indigenous Australians relative to other Australians has hardly altered except that they were doing better prior to 1996 when John Howard imposed his ‘practical reconciliation’ on them. The Howard Government is busy increasing pressure on Indigenous people through its Shared Responsibility Agreements and expanded ‘mutual obligation’ programs (Karvelas 2004). If mutual obligation was really mutual, it would be incumbent on the Government to ensure Indigenous and non-Indigenous health profiles were on a par.

On average Indigenous Australians die 20 years younger than other Australians and this statistic has remained virtually unchanged for two decades (Jonas 2003 Appendix 1, Table 5). In Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, three-quarters of Indigenous male and two-thirds of Indigenous female deaths occurred before the age of 65 years compared with one-quarter of male and one-sixth of female deaths of all Australians (ABS and AIHW 2003, p183). Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR 2004) points out that “the Indigenous health crisis is both solvable and preventable. In similar countries, such as New Zealand, the US and Canada, the health of Indigenous peoples has been rapidly improved by determined government action over the last 25 years” (See also Jonas 2003 Appendix 1, p 5). Research in the Northern Territory (Condon, Barnes, Cunningham and Smith 2004) in the period 1967-2000, demonstrates the gap between the average age of death of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people is widening, particularly for those in their middle age. Henry, Houston, and Mooney (2004) writing in the Medical Journal of Australia assert that the Australian healthcare system is institutionally racist (See also Taylor 2001).

If this Government was serious about providing the practical assistance which Aborigines require, it would do all in its power to ensure the obstacles in the way of Aboriginal people obtaining land titles to their traditional land were removed. However as CERD (2005) found, it has done little to address the land rights issues condemned in earlier reports (European Network for Indigenous Australian Rights 2005). Sections of the Liberal Party aim to weaken the Wik legislation (Maiden 2005). “Senator Minchin endorsed a motion passed yesterday (26th June) by the Liberal Party’s federal council in Canberra that calls on the government to reform the Native Title Act to make it ‘more timely and user-friendly for local governments, pastoralists and miners’ and ‘less open to abuse’ by claimants” Breusch and Taylor (2005). Any such move by the Government would fly in the face of the United Nation’s criticism of Australia. More extensive criticism of this Government’s Indigenous policies can be found at (Tomlinson 2003 Ch. 6, Tomlinson 2005 [a], 2004 [a])

Social insecurity

From 1908 until 1987 there was a gradual expansion in range of social security benefits provided by Australian governments. Admittedly Asians were not paid until 1940 and, with the exception of child endowment introduced in 1942, Aborigines were not paid social security benefits or pensions until the 1960s in the cities and towns and not until the 1970s in remote Australia. There was not a vast difference between Labor and Liberal administrations in this area of social policy. Castles’ (1985, 1994) description of the system of income support as the ‘workers welfare state was an accurate one. Yet, in 2001, Castles reviewing the cutbacks in social security and industrial protection which had occurred in the previous decade, suggests:

the McClure Report will complete the process of tearing down the edifice of Australia’s distinctive welfare state. What will remain will be a system of mean, discretionary and moralistically charged benefits, wholly inappropriate to an advanced democratic nation (p.29).

Since 1987, eligibility for social security has become increasingly targeted, more selective, more rigidly policed, and more obligations have been added (Tomlinson 2003, 2004 [b]). John Howard has honed such tactics into an art form. Social security benefits are targeted to those whom the government has decided should be paid. Complexity, stigma, system failure and recipients’ lack of sophisticated knowledge about bureaucracies results in many eligible people not receiving their proper entitlements. The Brotherhood of St Laurence and St Vincent de Paul 2003 report entitled Much Obliged asserts that people who become long-term unemployed have so much of their time taken up just meeting the obligations imposed on them by the Government that they don’t have time to find work: the report concludes the mutual obligation regime “is failing the most disadvantaged job seekers. Overall the system operates…not as ‘welfare to work’ but ‘welfare as work’ (Ziguras, Dufty and Considine 2003, p.43)”.

Unemployed people face compulsory ‘work for the dole’ and other ‘mutual obligations’. If they fail to meet the totality of Government requirements they can have their social security payments suspended for up to 6 months. Such breaching has a number of socially destructive effects (Schooneveldt 2004). But this has been a harbinger for cutbacks facing single parents and disability support pensioners announced in the 2005/6 Australian Budget (Galvin 2004, Tomlinson 2005[b]). From July 2006 Australians applying for either of these payments will be drawn into the Howard Government’s mutual obligation quagmire.

Presently, someone applying for a Disability Support Pension has to establish that, because of a permanent incapacity, they are not capable of working 30 hours a week. They are then entitled to a pension, for as long as their serious impairment continues. If they work part-time, their means test is more generous than that of the Newstart unemployment payment and allows them to work full-time during periods when they are well enough to do so.

At the present time, a sole parent caring for a child under 16 years of age whose income and assets are under the specified amount can obtain a Parenting Payment. If they work part-time, their means test is more generous than Newstart and allows them to work full-time for short periods when they don’t have parenting responsibilities.

From July next year, once the youngest child of an applicant for Parenting Payment turns six, they will be moved to the “enhanced” Newstart and be required to seek at least 15 hours work a week. Applicants for a Disability Support Pension after July 2006, will, if they are considered capable of working 15 hours a week at award rates, go straight on to Newstart. If they are deemed to be incapable of working 15 hours a week at award rates, they will go to the ‘enhanced’ Newstart payment. The ‘enhancement of Newstart’ is simply Orwellian double speak for the abolition of benefit continuity.

From July next year sole parents living on Howard’s Animal Farm, with a child over six, will be paid $20 less per week than at present and new applicants for a disability support payment will lose $40 a week compared with present payments. Both lone parents and those with a disability will be subjected to all the subtleties that Centrelink’s “mutual obligation” enforcers can muster.

Because the means test for Newstart is calculated on fortnightly income and the means test for the other two payments are calculated over a considerably longer period, shifting lone parents and those with disabilities onto Newstart means they will gain less from any employment they obtain. Those working 15 hours a week will lose up to $93 a week according to the Australian Council of Social Services (2005).

Australia over the last two decades has been converted from a reasonably caring, mixed economy with a frugal but comprehensive social security safety net into a country where private provision, “individualisation of risk” (Lerner, Clark & Needham 1999, p. 11) and a “do it yourself welfare state” (Klein & Millar cited in Page 1998, p.307) is the order of the day. The Government has intensified the rhetoric about the evils of “welfare dependency” as a way to decrease the legitimacy of claims for government assistance. In doing so, it has foisted the obligation to support those in financial need back onto families.

Private health, education and welfare

Since the Liberal Coalition Government came to power in 1996 there has been a dramatic decline in the percentage of visits to the doctor which have been bulk-billed. Howard even declared that it was never the intention that everyone should be bulk- billed under Medicare (Schubert 2003 p.1). Public hospital waiting lists have lengthened and the public system is facing a major funding crisis (McQueen 2004). The dental health scheme for low income earners was abolished in the first Howard Budget. Yet the Government subsidises the dental health services of people with top of the range private health insurance. One-third of the cost of private health insurance is now subsidised by the Government. The majority of Australians with private health cover are those on above average wages and the $3 billion which goes to subsidise their health insurance would be better spent on shortening the elective surgery waiting lists of public hospitals.

Private schools are getting an increasing amount of government funds and students are paying considerably more in fees in universities and technical colleges. For-profit childcare is increasing whist community-based child care is declining. More and more of the welfare sector is being privatised. Australians have been subject to increasing inequalities in income and wealth distribution during the last two decades due in large part to a general acceptance of economic fundamentalist ideas and governments’ enthusiasm for deregulation and globalism (Goonan 2005). Michael Costello (2003), former Secretary of the Department of Industrial Relations, succinctly summed up the changes occurring in Australia when he wrote “If you were hard up, you used to get a hand-up from government. Now you get the back of its hand.”

Assaults on worker’s entitlements

In faded photo, like a dream,
A locomotive under steam
Rolls with the ranks of marching feet
And union banners on the street….

They won the eight-hour working day,
They won our right to honest pay,
Victorious their banners shone,
How dare we lose what they have won? (Warner 1997)

At the 2002 Social Change Conference, I pointed out that:

Howard provided a clear warning to informed Australia that he wished to replicate the New Zealand economic fundamentalist experiment.

Unfortunately, too few Australian voters had read Jane Kelsey’s 1995 analysis:

By 1995, after a decade of radical structural change, New Zealand had become a highly unstable and polarised society. It’s under-skilled, under-employed, low wage, low inflation, high exchange rate, export-driven economy was totally exposed to international economic forces (p.350).

Job insecurity has increased; the Government is determined to weaken the fair dismissal legislation. The officially recognised unemployment level has dropped below 6% but if people who are underemployed, discouraged unemployed and disguised unemployed are taken into account the real level of unemployment is in the order of 12 to 18% of people of working age. Unemployment and the weakening of the social security safety net are real issues for low-income wage earners because people in the bottom 30% of income distribution are the ones most likely to experience periodic unemployment interspersed with short stints in casualised, part- time and precarious employment.

Captains of industry are gaining disproportionate rewards – the ratio between Chief Executive Officers’ salaries and those of workers has risen from 3 times workers’ salaries in the 1970s to 74 times workers’ salaries in 2002 (Shields, O’Donnell and O’Brien 2003). Increasingly arduous work “flexibility” arrangements are being imposed. The industrial arbitration commission and the union movement are constantly challenged by Government attempts to impose a draconian industrial relations regime.

The Australian Services Union Victoria ASU [Vic] (2005) has set out some of the changes which it claims the Prime Minister, Treasurer and the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations have publicly announced, namely:

  • Create a single national unitary industrial relations system;
  • Increase the number of workers on individual contracts;
  • Slow or freeze increases in minimum wages;
  • Abolish many guaranteed conditions available to workers through the award system;
  • Make it easier for employers to dismiss workers particularly those in small businesses;
  • Reduce the AIRC’s role in setting minimum wages and conditions and resolving disputes;
  • More closely link pay rises for workers to productivity improvements in their workplace;
  • Encourage more workers to become ‘independent contractors’;
  • Restrict the capacity of unions to enter workplaces; and
  • Severely restrict the operation of unions in the building industry.

Supporters of the recent Howard Government’s industrial relations changes seem oblivious to the life experiences of low paid workers’ revealed in the Australian Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union’s (LHMU) submission to the Senate Inquiry into Poverty (2003). There is very little recognition of the demoralisation that follows in the wake of working full-time yet still being in poverty, or only being able to gain casualised, poorly renumerated, precarious employment.

Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and Pre-emptive War

In response to the attack on the World Towers in New York the Howard Government has passed draconian legislation which allows ASIO agents to hold people in custody for a week if they believe they might know something about a terrorist activity. That person can be jailed for five years for refusing to answer questions. If they tell anyone about what happens to them this is a further offence. (Media watch 2005, Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network 2004). By any measure the ‘war on terror’ legislation is a significant erosion of the civil liberties of Australians (Stephen 2005).

Since coming to office The Howard Government has taken part in the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. The latter war was waged without any mandate from the United Nations. Both wars are ongoing.

Alternative approaches

Under the previous Labor Government, low paid workers were compensated for declining real income from employment by increases in the social wage. The current conservative Howard Liberal Coalition Government recently elected for a fourth term and now with ‘control’ of both houses of the parliament has assaulted the social wage. The universality of Medicare has been weakened, the dental service for low- income earners abolished, and the social security safety-net has been undermined. The 2005/6 Budget outlined the Government’s determination to get single parents back into the workforce once their youngest child is at school. Likewise, it has reinvigorated attempts to move people off disability pensions onto unemployment benefits with onerous ‘mutual obligation’ requirements (Galvin 2004, Ziguras, Dufty and Considine 2003). Since coming to office in 1996, this Government has undermined the dignity and rights of Indigenous Australians and asylum seekers.

It would be possible to return to the middle ground of industrial relations, respect the judicial independence of the Arbitration Commission, control the private press monopolies which are forever pushing pro-business agendas, start investing in people’s education, reinvigorate the public health system, move to humane asylum seeker policies, come to a decent agreement with the original owners of this country, forgo the desire to attack other countries, adopt less abusive controls on suspected terrorists which embody all the traditional legal protections Australians have enjoyed and develop a progressive social security system. I will examine just one of these alternative policies.

Selective, categorical, targeted welfare, with its imposed obligations and breaching has failed to ensure that all Australians in severe financial need are assisted. Many fall through the holes in the existing safety net. The Howard Government has demonstrated that it can generate sufficient downward envy to support the removal of any group of people from the system of social protection (Tomlinson 1999). The alternative is to move towards a universal system of income support; under such a system, because everyone benefits, entitlements are much harder to erode (Goodin & Le Grand 1987).

There have been many universal income guarantees proposed since that of Thomas Paine in 1795 (Cunliffe and Erreygers 2004, Van Trier 1995). The first book length proposal for a British Basic Income was that of Dennis Milner in 1920. A number of Basic Income schemes have been proposed for Australia (Basic Income Guarantee Australia [BIGA]) and in other parts of the world (Basic Income Earth Network [BIEN]).

A Basic Income would ensure that income support was in the form of a truly universal payment to all as a right of citizenship/permanent residence. It is a far cry from the present Australian Government’s prescription for what it terms “welfare reform” with its enforced obligations, highly targeted benefits and tighter surveillance of recipients. Under a Basic Income there would no work or any other social requirement (Tomlinson, Harrington & Schooneveldt 2004).

In 1992 Robert Goodin described a Basic Income as a minimally presumptuous social welfare policy; in the sense that it presumes nothing about and asks nothing from the recipient. Rather the justification for receipt of benefits relies solely upon the duty that the collective owes to the individual citizen. In our case, this means that the Australian state owes each permanent resident the right to sufficient income to sustain a modest life. Basic Income advocates believe it is not necessary to compel people to work or make other contributions because the overwhelming majority of people will do so out of their sense of social solidarity with the collective.

Some researchers (Whiteford 1981) have argued that if a Basic Income was put in place workers would stay away from work in droves. Whereas other researchers have argued the exact opposite (Widerquist 2004, Van Parijs 1997, Tomlinson 2003). The only study conducted in Australia into the impact on work willingness (where low-income families were provided with a guaranteed minimum income), showed these families experienced no decline in work willingness (Liffman 1978). Van Parijs (1992, p.229) claims that because a Basic Income is paid, irrespective of all other sources of income, it can be used by those who desire work as a wage subsidy; yet, because it provides sufficient income on which to live, it does not compel any potential worker to work under conditions which that worker finds unacceptable.

Another feature about a Basic Income is that it is paid to each and every individual resident. In Australia, means-tested eligibility for most social welfare benefits uses the family as the unit to be assessed. A Basic Income because it is paid universally has no means or asset test and is paid to the individual. In some suggested Basic Income schemes, children living at home would get a lower rate of payment than adults.

Much of the argument about the efficiency of a Basic Income has concentrated on the supply of benefits, in the least stigmatising fashion, to all who need them. A Basic Income regime does away with the need for the entire government income support surveillance apparatus, creating savings to government expenditure. Exponents of a secure and equitable income support system therefore regard a Basic Income as politically efficient.

There are broader aspects of efficiency that can and should be mounted in support of an unconditional Basic Income.

  • A Basic Income requires the least interference in the lives of citizens.
  • It supplies all permanent residents with equal assistance.
  • It is the most inclusive form of income support payment and the most secure, thus enhancing citizenship.
  • It provides sufficient income to allow people to explore their creative capacity.
  • It removes many of the obstacles to a reinvigoration of industrial, technical and computing infrastructure.

It allows the State a fuller understanding of the impact of its other social wage policies.A universal Basic Income is not a utopian idea. It is an efficient, affordable way to ensure no Australian permanent resident remains in poverty. However, a Basic Income is just that – an unconditional universal income guarantee. It delivers an income floor without impeding productivity. It is a vast improvement on categorical, selective social services. It is an advance on all social insurance and private provision schemes which invariably result in the “individualisation of risk” and as a result create a “do it yourself welfare state”.


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