From exclusion to dependence: Aborigines and the welfare state in Australia

Author/editor: Altman, JC, Sanders, WG
Year published: 1991
Issue no.: 1


The paper examines the changing position of Aboriginal people in relation to the Australian welfare state since European settlement. It begins by outlining the regime of exclusion that survived up to the 1950s under the auspices of the broad policy of 'protection'. It then demonstrates how, with the policy shift to assimilation and changes to social security legislation, Aborigines began to be incorporated in the Australian welfare state.

It was not until the 1970s that legislative amendment allowed for the full inclusion of Aboriginal people. This change was precipitated by the constitutional amendments in 1967 that opened up the possibility of more direct Commonwealth Government involvement in policy formation and program administration. Then, in 1972, the Whitlam Government adopted a policy of self determination for Aboriginal Australians. This policy shift resulted in the establishment of a federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the escalation of specific programs for Aboriginal people.

The 1980s saw a rapid growth of financial resources earmarked for Aboriginal people as they were both effectively included in the welfare state and as a number of special Aboriginal assistance programs began operating across a range of Commonwealth and State government departments. With this proliferation of programs, however, two broad problems arose. The first is Aboriginal dependence on welfare provisions. The second is fragmentation, duplication, overlap and inefficiency in program delivery. Both types of problems are discussed in some detail.

The paper concludes by speculating on changing future patterns of Aboriginal inclusion in the welfare state, including the role of the newly created Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, Federal: State relations in Aboriginal affairs, and recent policy shifts to mainstream welfare provisions for Aboriginal people.

A version of this discussion paper has been prepared as a chapter for the volume Social Welfare for Indigenous Peoples that is being edited by John Dixon and Robert Scheurell and is to be published by Routledge, London. The editors have kindly given permission for this chapter to be circulated as a CAEPR Discussion Paper prior to the book's publication in 1992.

ISBN: 0 7315 1159 X

ISSN:1036 1774

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