Service Australia Logo

Aboriginality of people getting payments not recorded

After DSS stopped recording the number of Aboriginal people receiving payments, the shadow minister criticised the department and asked about people missing out.

Many social security officers have expressed to me their doubts that Aborigines are receiving proper entitlements … 

Don Grimes, Shadow Minister for Social Security, 1982, p 3
Attachment Size
don-grime-ss-bulletin.pdf 235.13 KB
Attachment Size
don-grime-ss-bulletin-plaintext.docx 50.67 KB
About the artefact

The Department of Social Security (DSS) stopped recording the number of Aboriginal people receiving payments in 1977.  

In this 1982 press release, Shadow Minister for Social Services, Don Grimes, called on the department to start collecting statistics again.  

Grimes also raised the issue of Double Orphan Pension being denied to Aboriginal grandparents. 

Keeping statistics on Aboriginal people receiving payments 

In the 1950s and 1960s, the government collected information on the Aboriginality of applicants for government payments. This information was used to uphold racially discriminatory clauses in the Social Services Act which excluded Aboriginal people from being eligible for most payments. When these discriminatory clauses were removed in 1966, this collection of data about Aboriginal recipients also stopped.  

In the mid-1970s, DSS began publishing some data on the Aboriginality of Unemployment Benefit recipients. This stopped in May 1977. 

Don Grimes found the lack of data concerning. He said that DSS staff knew firsthand some people were missing out on payments, but the extent of the problem was unknown. He also said that the 1978 National Aborigines Congress supported DSS collecting information about Aboriginal recipients, but DSS didn’t change their processes. 

In this excerpt, Grimes asked if there would be more years of ‘inertia and apathy’ or if the Minister for Social Security would ensure there was a way for Aboriginal people to self-identify when claiming payments. 

Grimes wasn’t the first to express concern about the lack of data collection about Aboriginal people. The Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs had raised the issue with DSS officials in 1973. In 1979, Dr Douglas Everingham had asked the government about the lack of data in the House of Representatives.  

Denial of Double Orphan Pension to Aboriginal grandmothers 

In the press release, Grimes also raised the case of 2 grandmothers in Western Australia who had become guardians of their grandchildren after their sons died unexpectedly.  

They were denied Double Orphan Pension as they were not able to find their daughters-in-law.  

Grimes argued the law should be changed to recognise and support the grandmothers’ sacrifice in keeping families together.  

Paying social security benefits to Aboriginal grandparents for the ‘custody, care and control’ of their abandoned or orphaned grandchildren was a recurring issue. It was reported as early as 1967

Source details

Grimes was Shadow Minister for Social Security and Veterans’ Affairs when this press release was prepared. He was Senator for Tasmania from 1974 to 1987. Grimes went on to become Minister for Social Security from 1983 to 1984, then Minister for Community Services until 1987.  

You can access a copy of the Social Security Bulletin press release on the Parliament of Australia ParlInfo website. 


Grimes D (December 1982) ‘Invalid pensions not “settled down”’, Social Security Bulletin, Department of Social Security.  

You might also be interested in