Reforming Indigenous welfare policy: Salutary lessons and future challenges for Australia from the US experience

Author/editor: Daly, A, Smith, D
Year published: 2002
Issue no.: 241


Welfare reform in the USA began in the late 1980s and accelerated with the passage of the Welfare Reform Act in 1996. Welfare rolls have been cut dramatically. In contrast, welfare reform that incorporates the needs and entitlements of Indigenous Australians has only recently gained momentum and the welfare changes in Australia have been minor. Indigenous Australians are one of the groups disproportionately represented among welfare recipients and there has been intense debate about the best way of dealing with this problem. This paper examines the changes which have taken place in the USA, especially with respect to Native Americans, and considers the salutary lessons-both positive and negative-for welfare reform that focuses on Indigenous Australians. It summarises key relevant differences and similarities in the two social security systems and Indigenous population characteristics, and then identifes a set of important policy and economic conundrums that appear to have resonance in Australia. These include:

  • the nexus between Indigenous welfare dependence and economic development;
  • the roles of education and work in facilitating sustained exits from welfare;
  • the role of time limits on eligibility for receipt of welfare and employment outcomes;
  • the question of how to sustain post-welfare Indigenous employment;
  • the issue of where the focus for policy and service delivery should lie—with individuals, families or their immediate communities; and
  • the potential impacts of welfare reform on Indigenous families.

The paper concludes by considering the potential implications of policy transfer between the two countries, and draws out some key lessons and future challenges for reforming Indigenous welfare in Australia.

ISBN: 0 7315 5616 X

ISSN:1036 1774

Updated:  21 May 2009/Responsible Officer:  Centre Director/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications