Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

The Smart State and social policy: drivers, directions and destinations

By Bruce Alcorn - posted Friday, 8 August 2003

While the idea of a fair go is part of Australian folklore, the reality of social justice, understood as fairness combined with priority for those most in need, may be disappearing.

While only a few politicians in Australia have repeated Margaret Thatcher's famous line that "there is no such thing as society", individual economic freedom has come to be endorsed as a paramount virtue, to the detriment of social reform.

In the name of individual economic freedom - as a defining virtue - the current federal government has intentionally:

  • boosted the growth of education that is purchased, rather than provided by the state;
  • subsidised the purchase of home ownership at the expense of public housing;
  • subsidised the growth of health care that is purchased, versus the provision of universal health care;
  • defined the provision of communication infrastructure as a private investment opportunity, rather than a basic investment in social provision for all.

The Federal Labor Party responds in like vein. The language of individual economic choice has progressively displaced the notion of fair distribution of society's resources and opportunities, as Labor tries to appeal to the "aspirant" class.

Indeed there's now almost a convergence of views around the mantra that government intervention is to be avoided rather than used in the pursuit of social justice.

It is fair to say that at the federal level, social justice in terms of redistribution of resources is well and truly off the agenda. The government is heading in another direction altogether by enhancing the development of a two-tier system, and the Labor Party is still trying to establish meaningful policy frameworks within a "third way" approach.

It is not difficult to conclude that there are social justice dampeners rather than drivers at the national level. We need a different approach, one that takes seriously trickle-up (rather than trickle-down) economics, recognising that when the poorest benefit so does society as a whole.

For a state government wanting to advance a social justice agenda or a community group looking for encouragement from government, social justice has to be done without much help from the coalition government and without much policy leadership from the federal Labor opposition.


At the state level, governments are now working in an atmosphere of being "overloaded", with a diminished capacity to invest in the provision of services to the most marginalised and disadvantaged. In Queensland, the Smart State is not able to effect large-scale redistribution of resources through the tax system and/or the social security system, powers held by the federal government. However, the state government's role in creating access to opportunities and services is vital.

Queensland's ability to cope with providing social services to the most marginalised is shown by the State Department of Families' struggle to cope with the increasing pressures on it to prevent and redress child abuse.

Yet, the Smart State has made initiatives to provide fairness to the marginalised and disadvantaged:

  • Despite the approach to refugees exhibited by the federal government, the Queensland government has invested in programs for those on Temporary Protection Visas and asylum seekers.
  • Despite the federal push to privatise all tiers of education, the Queensland government has come out with a position that recognises the key role of public education in the social justice agenda.
  • Despite the chaos surrounding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policy at federal level, the Queensland government has dared to seek out new policy paths and articulate a new direction.

Nonetheless we need to strengthen the apparatus of government to ensure the Smart State is a just state. For instance, within the Smart State we have an Advisory Council on Biotechnology that is very influential within government. Maybe it's time for an Advisory Council on smarter social policy.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. All

This is an extract from the keynote speech delivered at the UnitingCare Centre for Social Justice Inaugural Conference, 24th July, 2003 "Is the Smart State a Just State?"

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Bruce Alcorn is the Director of UnitingCare Queensland, the Community Service arm of the Uniting Church in Australia.

Related Links
UnitingCare Centre for Social Justice
Article Tools
Comment Comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy