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DSS reflects on 50 years of social security

In 1991, DSS published histories of service delivery in a staff newsletter and annual report. Both pieces included information about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicing.

Presently, [Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander] clients are experiencing unequalled levels of service delivery and policy development ...

Lorraine Randall in Jumbunna, 1991, p 7
About the artefact

The Department of Social Security (DSS) celebrated 50 years of delivering social services in 1991. 

The 2 excerpts here marked the occasion. They are Aboriginal woman and DSS Director Lorraine Randall’s article for the staff newsletter Jumbunna: Let’s Talk Together and a section of the DSS 1991 annual report. 

Randall’s history highlighting difficulties for communities 

DSS published the quarterly newsletter Jumbunna from 1983 to 1991 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff. It aimed to: 

  • tell staff about changes to services and payments
  • share stories and tips from Aboriginal Liaison Officers
  • provide training and staff development. 

In the feature article of this issue, Randall gives a brief history of DSS from 1941 through to 1991. She notes policy changes over time, reminding staff of the difficulties Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander customers have faced.  

For example, Randall explains how the government had denied Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people access to payments and services. She highlights that it wasn’t until the 1970s that many people got their payments directly. 

Jumbunna (1991) clip
Timeline in Jumbunna, 1991

Randall drew on her experiences and knowledge of the department’s history in her other work, also reflected in her report on the JET Program in Alice Springs.

Annual report’s early history of social services 

The annual report included a special section on the history of the department. It discussed how people’s attitudes towards social services changed over time, beginning in the 1940s. During the Second World War, people started to see government help as an individual right.

The report explained how the Social Services Consolidation Act 1947 excluded specific people from this right. This included Aboriginal people, who were excluded until the 1960s.


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicing  

As well as discussing Aboriginal eligibility for government payments, the report listed servicing changes throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

The authors wrote about the DSS Aboriginal Unit, which started in 1976, and the Aboriginal Liaison program, which became national in 1978.

A later section described how the government’s 1988 social justice policy affected DSS practices. It led to DSS taking a more ‘active approach’ to communication and providing targeted services. This included a strategy to improve access for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander customers and marketing materials with Aboriginal artwork.


Further reflections on the department’s history  

This annual report is an example of DSS looking back on its programs, services and policies in the early 1990s. The report reflected that for many years people saw the department as ‘formal and on occasions, severe’.  

Discrimination highlighted in both sources 

The report and newsletter both show DSS acknowledging discriminatory service delivery. However, Randall’s article is an Aboriginal perspective on the department’s past practices and reflects more deeply on the impact of these policies.

Source details

This Jumbunna issue also contains a wide range of articles and many photos of DSS staff and customers. It includes articles about the Community Development Employment Projects program, interpreter services, and the Community Agents Program expansion. It also covers stories of Aboriginal Liaison Officers in Tasmania and the Remote Visiting Team.

Original copies of Jumbunna are held in the Department of Social Services library, the National Library of Australia and by AIATSIS.

The full DSS annual report is available on the National Library of Australia Trove website.


Permission to reproduce the article in Jumbunna by Lorraine Randall was granted by her daughter Itumathunga Randall.


Department of Social Security (December 1991) ‘Part three: a history of the Department of Social Security 1941–1991’, Annual report 1990–91, Department of Social Security, Australian Government.

Randall L for Department of Social Security (December 1991) ‘Social security celebrates 50 years’, Jumbunna: Let’s Talk Together.

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