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Review examines Australia’s social security system

The Social Security Review reported on improving Australia’s social security system and recommended policy changes to government. The review influenced decisions throughout the 1990s.

Significantly, this policy is a response to the aspirations and preferences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Bettina Cass for Social Security Review, 1988, p 252
About the artefact

In the late 1980s, the government set up the Social Security Review to examine Australia’s social security system. The review then published a report with their recommendations about social security for unemployed people in 1988. This excerpt is the chapter about unemployment and reliance on government payments in Aboriginal communities.

Due to a poor labour market at this time, there often were no jobs for people in remote communities. This led to many people getting Unemployment Benefit for long stretches. The report said this long-term use of Unemployment Benefit, which was meant to be short-term help, was considered ‘inconsistent with the focus of the [social security] system’.

The report made recommendations about changing Unemployment Benefit as well as about policies and programs to help people find work.

Recommendations to change Unemployment Benefit  

The review recommended changing Unemployment Benefit. The government hadn’t changed the payment since it began in 1945.

It suggested replacing it with 4 targeted payments based on someone’s stage of working life. The report said these payments would work better with the government’s range of programs to improve the labour market.

The government went on to partly implement this recommendation. They introduced Job Search Allowance and Newstart Allowance in 1991 to replace Unemployment Benefit.

Recommendations to strengthen remote labour markets

One recommendation to reduce people’s reliance on payments was to increase employment opportunities in regional and remote communities.

The report pointed to the government’s comprehensive Aboriginal Employment Development Policy. It said implementing the policy would support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to retrain and re-enter the workforce.

It also recommended the government continue the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) program. CDEP allowed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to work on government-funded projects in their own communities.

While these projects would be important, the report said it was vital to ‘protect individual rights to standard income support arrangements ... [when] needs are not adequately met by such projects’.

Influence on future programs and legislation

The government implemented many of the report’s recommendations in the following years.

The Department of Social Security (DSS) began several programs that helped Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people access work as well as social security.

They began the Jobs, Education and Training (JET) Program in 1989. The aim of JET was to help women re-enter the workforce after having children. While it was for all Australians, DSS promoted it widely to Aboriginal parents.

DSS also began the Support Network for Aboriginal Parents (SNAP) Program in 1988. SNAP aimed to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families’ awareness of and engagement with DSS.

Around the same time, the government rewrote the Social Security Act, passing a new version in 1991. In response to recommendations from this report, the government would go on to make many changes to the new version of the Act.

Source details

In February 1986, Minister for Social Security, Brian Howe, established the Social Security Review. Academic Bettina Cass was the Consultant Director of the review and worked with staff from the Department of Social Security.

As part of the review, 6 issues papers and 31 research and discussion papers were published. This report, often called the ‘Cass review’, was issues paper 4. It was one of the more influential papers of the review.

The review drew on research, consultation and the work of other recent important reports led by Aboriginal researchers, including the Miller report published in 1985 and the Remote Area Task Force report from 1986.


Permission to include this excerpt was granted by Emeritus Professor Bettina Cass AO FASSA.


Cass B (1988) Social security review: income support for the unemployed in Australia: towards a more active system, Australian Government, Canberra.