Introduction to Social Policy
Social policy deals with the ways in which the human wants for work, safety, education, wellbeing and health are met by societies across the world (Hoggett, 2001). Social policies address the manner of responding to the global challenge of globalization, poverty and migration along with social, economic and demographic changes. It also analyses the roles performed by national governments, civil society, the family, market and international organizations in providing support and services from infancy to old age of an individual. In other words, social policy consists of the principles, legislations, guidelines and activities that impact the quality of life and living conditions of a person (Jimenez, Pasztor, Chambers & Fujii, 2014). This report throws light on the development of social policies in Australia over a period of time.
Development of Social Policies in Australia
The lives and choices of Australians have been drastically affected by the changes in the social policy over time (Carson & Kerr, 2017). Social policy related areas have witnessed many examples of past policy activism. In health and disability area, it includes the introduction of Medibank and Medicare in the 1970s and 1980s and recently National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in 2013. This resulted in the changes in the distribution of costs of health care in Australia and manner of providing and funding assistance to people with disability along with increase in the access to health care. Now the families were saved from facing large healthcare bills or to prove that they are poor for receiving free treatments from the public hospitals. This significantly resulted in visible changes in the living standards of the Australians and succeeded in ensuring equality in access to the healthcare services. For women, children and families, the important changes include the introduction of Child Endowment in 1941, payments for single parents in 1970s, Family Allowance in 1976, family planning in the 1960s, expansion of childcare in 1980s and paid parental leave in the year 2011 (McClelland, 2014).
The operations of indigenous communities were intervened by Howard government in Australia is a worthy illustration of highly contested policy. The Racial Discrimination Act was suspended, the permit system was removed and the welfare payments for parents were detained. In the 1980s, anti-discrimination legislation was introduced at both state and Commonwealth levels which resulted in enlarging the rights of minority groups. Nowadays, the policies focus on the developing of working capacity of people along with expecting larger category of individuals to be in paid work including people with disability and women.
In the year 1894, minimum wages laws were introduced in Australia. Moreover, ‘Harvester Judgement’, which was a basic wage judgement in Australia, was introduced in the year 1907. These acts provided power to determine working conditions and minimum wages to the court. The social reformers and trade unionists in Australia succeeded their battle for justified wage prescriptions. The ‘family wage’ policy was objected by Liberals in Australia and was attempted to be undermined. It was believed that the labor market was distorted by the pay floor and resulted in creating a moral hazard i.e. favored single men without the responsibilities of family in wage policy. For the purpose of restraining wages, child benefits were introduced in 1941. The ‘welfare state’ of Australia was created with the introduction of pension for widows and sickness and employment benefits in the year 1942 and 1945.
Working Nation was a social policy in the form of formal statement which was released in the year 1994 after a policy review regarding unemployment problem in Australia. It contained various proposals in detail for the purpose of reducing unemployment. It also covered actions regarding the promotion of regional development, introduction of Job Compact which promised the employment of people who have been unemployed for a period over eighteen months, changes in industrial relations and changes to the procedure of income support (Howard, 2001).
With the election of liberal government in Australia in 1996, the expansion of private sector was promoted instead of universality in social services. Attempts were made to bring a complete division between the private and public sectors in the areas of social welfare with the help of tax concessions introduced in 1996 in the form of Private Health Insurance Debate. Moreover, Goods and Services Tax (GST) dominated tax changes in the year 2000. The wage structure was further deregulated by Workplace Relations Amendment Act 2005, also known as Work Choices, along with the elimination of employment laws that were related to unfair discharges (Sheldon & Junor, 2006). The Work Choices legislation was based on the principal thrust to individualized employment relations, with the effect of marginalizing industrial tribunals and trade unions.
The global financial crises assisted Australia to enter into a new stage of social democracy. In the year 2007, the Rudd government came into power. For the purpose of stimulating the economy, Rudd government turned to Keynesian policies in the time of recession (Aulich & Evans, 2010).
In the year 2009, The Fair Work Act assisted in reversing the unpopular policies of the labor market from 1990s and provided the workers with safe employment conditions (Forsyth & Smart, 2009). In other words, the rights rescinded by Work Choices were restored to the Australian workers and they were provided with the legal right to appeal against unfair and harsh discharges from their workplace. This led to the encouragement of collective bargaining and the wages started to reflect the desires of the low paid and relative living standards. There also have been unassertive reforms under labor to the welfare system in healthcare, aged pensions, labor’s social inclusion agenda and paid maternity leave. Disability Care Australia and National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) was introduced for the purpose of supporting 4,60,000 Australians suffering from permanent disability (Stephens,Cullen & Massey, 2014). The key priority for labor also included the strengthening of the national health service of Australia which has been split among the various tiers of government and on state lines for a long time. Reforms to delivery, organization and funding of health services leads towards the requirement of state, commonwealth and territory governments for working together for the purpose of improving healthcare services.
Australia suffers from relatively high poverty levels in comparison with other advanced economies. There is no even distribution of risk of poverty within the society. Higher risk of poverty is suffered by people such as adults with disability, sole parents, unemployed and indigenous people. Therefore, social security payments are required to be increased for the purpose of improving Australia’s position in international poverty league table.
The social policies have performed an important role in Australia and have significantly affected the choices and lives of the Australians over a period of time. Such policies have been prepared by taking into consideration the various needs of the people residing in Australia such as favorable working conditions with justified payments and access to the appropriate healthcare facilities (Philips, 2007). They also aim at education and child protection by providing various benefits to the parents in the form of leaves, introducing Child Endowment and expanding childcare. Australia has come a long way by constantly improving the social policies in accordance with the needs of the people. However, it still has scope for further identifying the human needs for security, work, well-being and health and taking steps for meeting them by formulating appropriate social policies.
Aulich, C. & Evans, M. (2010). The Rudd Government: Australian Commonwealth Administration 2007 – 2010. ANU E Press.
Carson, E. & Kerr, L. (2017). Australian Social Policy and the Human Services. Cambridge University Press.
Forsyth, A., & Smart, H. (2009). Third party intervention reconsidered: Promoting cooperative workplace relations in the new 'fair work' system. Australian Journal of Labour Law, 22, 117-146.
Hoggett, P. (2001). Agency, rationality and social policy. Journal of social policy, 30(1), 37-56.
Howard, C. (2001). Bureaucrats in the social policy process: administrative policy entrepreneurs and the case of Working Nation. Australian Journal of Public Administration, 60(3), 56-65.
Jimenez, J., Pasztor, E. M., Chambers, R. M. & Fujii, C. P. (2014). Social Policy and Social Change: Toward the Creation of Social and Economic Justice. SAGE Publications.
McClelland, A. (2014). Social Policy in Australia: Understanding for Action. Oxford University Press.
Philips, R. (2007). Generational Change and Social Policy Challenges: Australia and South Korea. Sydney University Press.
Sheldon, P., & Junor, A. (2006). Australian HRM and the Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Act 2005. Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, 44(2), 153-170.
Stephens, A., Cullen, J., & Massey, L. (2014). Will the National Disability Insurance Scheme improve the lives of those most in need? Effective service delivery for people with acquired brain injury and other disabilities in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Australian Journal of Public Administration, 73(2), 260-270.