Indigenous Australians and the rules of the social security system: universalism, apppropriateness, and justice




Sanders, Will

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Canberra, ACT : Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR), The Australian National University


Noel Pearson has recently argued that inclusion in a 'passive' welfare system, over the last thirty years, has been to the detriment of Aboriginal society. This paper approaches the inclusion of Aboriginal people in the social security system from a slightly different perspective, while taking seriously Pearson's concerns. It argues that, despite norms and aspirations of universalism, rules within the social security system are social constructs derived from and intended for the particular social and economic circumstances of the dominant society. When those rules are applied to the very different social and economic circumstances of minority groups, such as Indigenous Australians, major issues of adaptation and interpretation arise. This paper draws on research experience spanning 20 years on relations between Indigenous Australians and the social security system to illustrate the degree to which adaptation has occurred, in the pursuit of realism. However it also argues current relations between the social security system and Indigenous Australians are not just and fair because the rules of the system do not equally reflect Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples' social and economic circumstances.



Indigenous Australians, social security systems, socioeconomic conditions




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Open Access

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