From meeting needs and establishing entitlements to enforcing obligations: 1967-2004.
Kewley identified three main periods in the development of Australian social security benefits: from 1900 to 1912, from 1912 to 1939 and from 1939 to 1967 (the time of his writing). The period from 1900 to 1912 saw the introduction of Old-Age pension, Invalid Pension and the Maternity Allowance--developments which he traced in both State and Federal legislation. In so doing, he noted the constitutional issues which were later to be invoked in the period of Post-war Reconstruction, when Commonwealth welfare powers (specifically with regard to the Pharmaceutical Benefits legislation) were challenged and then became the subject of successful constitutional change through the Chifley Labor Government's 1946 Referendum. This allowed for the consolidation of the programs of child endowment, widows pension, unemployment and sickness benefits, together with the earlier programs of maternity allowance, age and invalid pension, into the characteristically Australian social security system. In addition, recognising the labour market context of these social security developments, Kewley noted that in 1945 an Australia-wide employment service was established within the Department of Employment and National Service "as an instrument of the government's declared policy of maintaining high and stable levels of employment" (Kewley 1968: 6). He concluded his assessment of the 1939-45 period:
Before hostilities in World War II had ceased, the Federal Government, partly under the influence of the world-wide clamour for social security that developed during the war, had come to assume responsibility for a wide range of social benefits (Kewley 1968: 6)
The percentage of age-eligible people in receipt of age pension increased considerably over the post-war period; this reflected changed attitudes to towards retirement and also liberalisation of the means test by the Menzies Liberal Government. In contrast, the receipt of unemployment benefit had not increased. That is, under full employment (except for three minor recessions) the unemployment benefit had not been called upon to play "a traditional role of easing the hardship of workers between changes of jobs" (Kewley 1968: 12).
Kewley noted that between 1912 and 1939 there had been unsuccessful attempts to introduce contributory schemes of social security; the Menzies Liberal Government had considered, but not implemented, such schemes in the 1950s. The Australian social security system was thus established as and remained an income and means-tested social assistance system, with financing drawn from consolidated revenue, rather than a social security system based on the contributory principle, characteristic of European countries. Kewley explained this as emanating partly from a widely held belief that "social security contributions of this type levied in other countries inevitably fall more heavily on the lower income groups than do the sources of consolidated revenue in Australia" (Kewley 1968: 9). In justifying the application of a means test to social security payments, Kewley argued that the test was free of social stigma, largely because of its generosity and because it tested "need", not "pauperism". His quotation from a then unfinished article by R I Downing ('Poverty and Social Welfare in Australia') seems to encapsulate his own view:
In this situation, the means test was brought in not so much as a test of poverty--and certainly not as a test of pauperism--but rather as a pragmatic test of need, by which total expenditure might be kept in reasonable bounds.... The typical Australian does regard cash social benefits as a right, provided he is eligible to receive them under the means test, and not as a charity dependent on the discretion of the government of the day; he accepts it as reasonable to abrogate this right in the case of people who are well enough off not to qualify under a fairly generous means test (cited by Kewley 1968: 16).
In concluding his argument about the nature of the Australian social security system, Kewley contended that unlike contributory schemes "which involve essentially a horizontal income redistribution between like people, the Australian scheme (at least in so far as government revenue is raised by progressive taxes on personal incomes) involves vertical income redistribution between the stronger members of the community and the weaker members" (Kewley 1968: 23).
But Kewley's article is far from complacent: he discussed the importance of policies determining the "relative needs of households", and he noted inconsistencies between the levels of payments to pensioners, on the one hand, and those to single people, widows with children, the unemployed and the sick, on the other. Drawing on the work of R J A Harper (1967a) he noted that 70 per cent of income units in poverty, defined in relation to income and family size, were aged persons and women with children. What policies might "raise a large proportion of those at present below the poverty line to a level above it?" he asked (Kewley 1968: 21).
That question, of course, raises a more fundamental one, namely, what are the objects of social services? ... So far as the income maintenance benefits are concerned (ie the cash benefits provided during periods of interruption or loss of income through sickness, unemployment, old age or widowhood) their prime object historically has been the relief of poverty. Is this still regarded as their prime aim? Or does the Australian community believe that other aims are more important? (Kewley 1968: 21)
Kewley's article prefigures many themes in the subsequent social security debates: the Australian system of need-based social assistance and the extent to which it has been a vehicle for vertical redistribution and poverty alleviation, compared with systems based on rights, or contributory principles (Saunders 1987b; Castles 1996); social security perceived as an entitlement rather than as a system based on discretion and conditionality (Carney and Hanks, 1986; Shaver 2001); analysis of social security for people of work-force age, placed within changing economic and labour market contexts (Saunders 1994). Kewley and most AJSI authors on social security and social welfare were policy advocates (explicit or implicit). They have uncovered inequities in income distribution, or they have criticised proposals for reform that did not address the interests and needs of low-income people, or that they perceived as inequitable or socially divisive.
In 1967 Bowen addressed the issue of income support for families with children in the United Kingdom, France, New Zealand and Australia. Like Kewley, Bowen invoked the concepts of poverty and inequality in analysing family allowance policies, but unlike Kewley, he also introduced concepts of what might be called efficiency (Goodin, Headey, Muffels and Dirven 2000): "the social and economic purpose of making some kind of social provision for children is clear; it is both to create a greater sense of justice and fairness in the community, and also to help to provide for a more efficient and sophisticated type of labour force" (Bowen 1967: 32). He did not explore further the issue of 'efficiency', focusing rather on the likelihood that children's claim on family income results in a gap between available income and what a family needs. Bowen reminded readers that the Beveridge report of 1942 advocated a universal system of children's allowances for two main reasons: to bring low wage earners with children to a national minimum; and to ensure that benefits received by families outside the workforce during periods of unemployment and disability would not exceed earnings from employment. It is interesting that these Beveridgean arguments--poverty alleviation in families with dependent children and maintaining workforce incentives--were Henderson's arguments for child endowment increase and for reform of child tax concessions, in the First Main Report of the Poverty Commission (Commission of Inquiry into Poverty, 1975). The stated purpose of children's allowance in most countries, including Britain, New Zealand and Australia, was that it should add to family incomes. However, if governments did not adjust payments to match price movements, "family allowances tended to lag in the spiral of advancing money incomes, so failing to fulfil their original purpose" (Bowen 1967: 36).
Turning to Australia, after a brief account of the introduction of child endowment in NSW in 1927 and by the Commonwealth in 1941, Bowen noted that the unindexed rate of endowment had not been increased between 1950/51 and 1962/63, over which period the consumer price index rose by 67 per cent. He concluded that "these high purposes of the 1940s, if well served by the original allowances, were being deliberately disregarded as adjustments for inflation were not being made". Like Kewley, Bowen went on to note the Melbourne Poverty Survey being carried out by the Institute of Applied Economic Research at the University of Melbourne. He discussed whether increases in children's payments would relieve poverty in the families of low-income workers and of unemployed or sick people with dependent children, and whether such increases should be universal or according to identified need. In any case, he concluded, "the rates need revision" (Bowen 1967: 40).
The work of the Melbourne Poverty Survey featured again in 1969, with the publication of "Poverty and the Widow" by the Survey's consultant statistician Alison Harcourt. Comparing poverty rates for couple, male-headed and female-headed income units, Harcourt's was the earliest of AJSI's papers on poverty to bring gender into focus. The Melbourne survey's "rediscovery of poverty" emphasised the over-representation of women-headed families in poverty, in particular women caring for dependent children, and it showed the higher incidence of children in poverty, compared with working adults (cf Cass 1988). The data in Harcourt's paper show that while the average rate of all income units in poverty in Victoria in the last half of the 1960s was 7.34 per cent, the rate for women without dependent children who were widowed, divorced or separated was 24.3 per cent, and the rate for widowed, divorced and separated women with dependent children was 27.41 per cent. In addition, while the rate of poverty for working adults was 4 per cent, for dependent children it was 6 per cent. Harcourt's paper outlined the measures required to address the poverty of women-headed families: an increase in widows pension rates; liberalisation of the means test to allow for women's greater work force participation and higher earnings; "improved child-minding services"; more "cheap housing"; a scheme to help widows return to the work force; and a campaign to encourage employers to permit more flexible hours of work. Her paper ends pungently: "I think that we should not be satisfied with the present situation, and nor should the widows" (Harcourt 1969: 58).
R.J.A. Harper, an economist at the University of Melbourne who had worked on the Melbourne Poverty Survey (Harper 1967), analysed the impact of family assistance. Noting that the Liberal Government had recently announced a review of the tax system, Harper argued that in order to consider equity and income distribution it should examine both taxation and cash social welfare payments, as both comprised the dual system of assistance to families with children. Tax deductions for dependent children were regressive, in that they gave greater assistance to higher income tax payers and no or little assistance to low-income families. Meanwhile child endowment was a flat rate of payment regardless of family income. The result was an anomalous system of family assistance.
On the one hand, child endowment is the same for a family of a particular size irrespective of their income, and, on the other, tax concessions give assistance which is greater in absolute terms the higher the income of the recipient. Yet another practice is adopted in the case of children's allowances paid to social service pensioners and beneficiaries who have dependent children: these are heavily means-tested and cut out very quickly as the income of the family increases (Harper 1972: 182).
The paper goes on to analyse two alternative proposals for change made originally by Professor C.P. Harris (Harris 1971). The first was to abolish concessional deductions for children and to replace them with tax rebates. The second was to abolish concessional deductions and to use the greater amount of tax which would then be raised to finance higher child endowment payments. Modelling several permutations of these proposals, in each case using additional revenue to increase child endowment payments, Harper concluded that greater vertical equity for families would be achieved by both, and he held that the policy choice depended on value judgements "about which there is need for more thought and public discussion" (Harper 1972: 188). The Whitlam Labor government abolished regressive tax deductions and introduced less regressive tax rebates in 1975, and the Fraser Coalition government abolished tax rebates for children and substantially increased child endowment payments (renamed Family Allowance) in 1976. Both reforms were consistent with the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry into Poverty (1975) (Cass 1988).
Schlesinger introduced a new element to social security/social welfare studies in 1973 when he highlighted a non-government welfare organisation's advocacy of a particular constituency, in this case the Council for the Single Mother and her Child (CSMC), established in 1970. Schlesinger did not deplore the increase in ex-nuptial births as a percentage of total live births in Australia (from 5.4 per cent in 1962 to 7.4 per cent in 1966). After noting that the Australian percentage was still the lowest among other English-speaking industrialised countries, he discussed how to remedy the legal, social and financial disadvantages suffered by single mothers and their children. "For many centuries the illegitimate child has been known to the law as filius nullius--nobody's child--and his mother has been the recipient of contempt, outrage and cruel disregard from the community at large" (Schlesinger 1973: 63). Schlesinger pointed out the gap in governments' income support: a pregnant unmarried woman could apply 12 weeks before the birth to the Social Services Department, and eligible applicants would receive the equivalent of unemployment benefit until the birth and for six weeks after. If she decided to keep her baby, she was then transferred to the State and Territory Child Welfare Departments that would assess her eligibility for benefits. These benefits were considerably less than those received by widowed, divorced and deserted wives under the Commonwealth's widows pension, and they had a much tighter income test, making it very difficult for a single mother to augment family income with earnings. In order to close this gap the Whitlam Labor Government introduced Supporting Mothers Benefit in 1973, a payment equal in most respects to the Widows Pension (Carney and Hanks 1986).
Whitlam's Minister for Social Security, Bill Hayden, in 1974 outlined Commonwealth plans for social welfare services, rather than social security developments (Hayden 1974). A Social Welfare Commission would be established to implement the Australian Assistance Plan, the Commonwealth's attempt to bring together at the regional level, with regular evaluation, the threads of planning, regional needs, democratic participation by welfare agencies and by individuals. The continuing inequality in the distribution of income could not be addressed through increases in wage income alone, argued Hayden; regionally planned welfare services were also essential for resource redistribution. Invoking the United Nations Declarations concerned with human and social rights, he eschewed a "casualty-clearing" approach and espoused positive "social engineering". Hayden described the Government welfare services plans as "radical". Indeed that is how they might have been perceived at the time, given the rhetorical emphasis on social rights, resource redistribution and regionalism in the planning of services.
However, the Whitlam government decided in 1975 to abolish the Social Welfare Commission, and the incoming Fraser Coalition Government implemented that decision. In 1976 Harris argued that rights-based income security and health insurance programs under the Labor Government (such as the promised removal of the means test on age pensions for persons aged 70 and over, and Medibank) were inefficient and wasteful. Given the Poverty Commission's highlighting of the extent of poverty in Australia, Harris argued, means-tested programs, based on individual need not on social rights, would be more effective in reducing poverty. Similarly, argued Harris, a Medibank program based on individual need would have made health care more accessible while using fewer resources. He commended the Fraser Government's Family Allowance reform, arguing that the abolition of tax concessions and the increase in cash benefits would redistribute to families with the lowest incomes.
Following the release of the First Main Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Poverty (1975) a number of articles considered the recommended Guaranteed Minimum Income scheme (GMI). Saunders (1976) conceded that a GMI would be simple, with its automatic application through the tax system (so that individuals need not apply to the social security department for assistance). However, it would not address the categorical needs embedded in social security criteria and in existing payments. If the GMI were set at the poverty line, this would require a very high proportional tax rate of 50 per cent. In the Commission's preferred proposal the GMI would be set below the poverty line and particular categories of vulnerable individuals and families would be allocated additional welfare assistance. This would require a lower (40 per cent) tax rate, but the GMI would no longer be an across-the board solution to the poverty problem. Saunders doubted whether it was possible both to simplify the tax system and to integrate tax and social security. In particular, to simplify the tax system would complicate and reduce the flexible instruments available to use the tax system for redistributive purposes. In addition, because of increased rates of both average and marginal tax rates, such a GMI might also lead to work disincentive effects. Further, integration of the two systems must solve the problems of different definitions of income, different concepts of the income unit, and different assessment periods. The conclusion of the article was that partial integration (with all the disadvantages of inflexibility identified) at a rate of GMI below the poverty line would still require the use of categories of need in the social security system and additional assistance for the lowest income individuals and families. Saunders therefore recommended that the existing social security system be used as the framework for reform, moving to harmonisation, rather than integration of the tax and social security systems.
The Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry into Poverty, Ronald Henderson, upheld the Australian tradition of basing welfare payments on needs when he criticised the recommendations of the Woodhouse Report on accident and sickness compensation and of the Hancock Report on National Superannuation; both had based their schemes on earnings-related contributions. Earners of high income would receive most compensation, low-income earners, the unemployed and the aged the least, Henderson pointed out. And Hancock's earnings-related pension (set at 30 per cent of average weekly earnings) would cut age pensions loose from income maintenance programs for other vulnerable groups, including invalids, unemployed and sick people, large families and Aboriginal people. Turning to Saunders' comments on the GMI, Henderson recommended that Australia continue its income maintenance payments on a needs basis, extending and improving the existing system of pensions and benefits while moving forward to the GMI. Henderson reminded readers of his Report's argument that the state should give direct additional income support and services to families with the highest levels of poverty after housing costs: the long-term unemployed; women-headed families; people in need of affordable public housing. Henderson's resounding claim for the principle of need rejected the principle implied by earnings-related schemes: that benefits should be earned. The tenor of the articles published in the 1960s and 70s was that to base social security payments on need was 'the Australian way'; it is apparent in the articles I have discussed that how this was to be done was deeply contested.
Articles published in the AJSI in the 1980s began to take into account the increase in the unemployment rate, the extent of long-term unemployment, the high unemployment rates of young people, and the vulnerability of various low income groups to poverty, especially sole parent and their children. It became more common to argue that social security income support for people of workforce age was necessary but not sufficient to improve the income security, well-being and future opportunities of recipients. For example, Charlesworth in 1982 considered income maintenance for single mothers. Nine years after the introduction of Supporting Mothers Benefit, she examined the Department of Social Security data on its recipients over the period 1974-79. Critics had predicted that the benefit would encourage more adolescents to take on the care of their ex-nuptial children; Charlesworth showed that this had not happened. However, the data revealed that a majority of the "never married" sub-group of mothers needed to receive the benefit on a long-term basis; between fifty and sixty per cent of those never married mothers granted the benefit in 1973 were still getting it six years later. Charlesworth surmised that probably there were two sub-groups of mothers: those relying on the benefit for a significant period of child raising, and those for whom it was a temporary supplement. Concerned about the generally lower standard of living among single mothers, Charlesworth argued that although the Supporting Parent's Benefit (as it was renamed in 1977 by the Fraser Government when fathers became eligible) "broke new ground in supporting a seriously disadvantaged group of parents and children, its limitations and inadequacies are becoming increasingly evident" (1982: 150). She put forward for consideration an increase in financial support in real terms and retraining programs. She suggested assistance with home purchase, to help recipients become self-supporting and to be less mobile than they had been in insecure and non-affordable housing. Two categories of financial support for sole parents--the Supporting Parents Benefit and the Widows Pension--should be combined as a single category. Charlesworth's concerns were among those discussed in the Third Issues Paper of the Labor Government's Social Security Review of 1986-88 (Raymond, 1987), which was followed by changes to policy. In 1989 the Sole Parent Pension was introduced, amalgamating Supporting Parents Benefit and Widows Pension; and the Jobs, Education and Training Program (JET) was introduced for sole parents (Whiteford 2001).
Young people's welfare interests were also considered in a 1982 paper by Carney on the social security arrangements for unemployed young people aged 16-18 and on the States' Children's Courts and other children's services. Carney found that while there had been a substantial increase in both the numbers of unemployed youth and the duration of their unemployment, the base rate of their benefit had not been increased since 1975. In addition, while there had been a liberalisation of the unemployment benefit income test in 1980, extending the area of the 50 per cent taper zone, the upper limit of the taper (at which benefit was reduced dollar for dollar of earnings) remained. A young person could undertake only a relatively small amount of part-time work before incurring a 100 per cent benefit withdrawal rate. The purpose of the low taper was to maintain the recipient's incentive to find full-time work, but at the expense of the social security principle of poverty alleviation. The policy seemed to Carney to assume that young people would be able to draw on family support, even though research showed that young unemployed people living away from the parental home were one of the key groups in poverty (using the Henderson Poverty Line). The assumption, Carney argued, ignored the facts that many families did not have the resources to support their unemployed youth and that many young people left the family home because of interpersonal conflicts and their aspirations to be independent. He concluded that the elimination of poverty should become the central goal of young people's income support (Carney 1982).
Other matters pertinent to youth unemployment and income support were raised by Meredith Edwards in 1985, in an issue of the AJSI on youth unemployment. Pointing to the high levels of young people's unemployment, to their relatively low levels of participation in tertiary education, and to the complexity of social security income support and education allowances for young people, Edwards argued that there were, in effect, disincentives for the young to continue their education and training, especially for those from low income families (Edwards 1985). Her proposals for reform stopped short of a single youth allowance, but they were intended to move public policy towards making education and training at least as financially attractive as unemployment. As an adviser on Youth Allowances in the Office of Youth Affairs from 1983-85, Edwards contributed substantially to the reform of income support for young people; she has since documented that reform process (Edwards, Howard and Miller 2001).
In the same issue that carried Edwards' paper, Marie Coleman (who had been Chair of the Whitlam Government's Social Welfare Commission from 1973-76 and then Director of the Commonwealth Office of Child Care) noted the gaps in social security provision for older displaced workers, and called for programs of employment, education and training to recognise different phases of the life-course and differences in regional needs (Coleman 1985). Travers used international literature and Australian historical evidence from the 1930s Depression to examine whether unemployment for young people necessarily disadvantaged their future job searching. Was there an inevitable downward spiral of disadvantage? Travers concluded that the answer to this question lay not in the characteristics of individuals, but in the economic, political and social structures in which their lives continued. He argued that the long-term fate of the former unemployed was contingent upon policy choices. Commitment to a policy of full employment, he concluded, was essential to avoiding a downward trail in the later lives of the unemployed.
In the context of the Social Security Review established by the Hawke Labor Government in 1986, Saunders again considered the needs-based, income-testing orthodoxy of the Australian social security system. Responding to the government's evident interest in retrenching social expenditure (especially welfare expenditure), Saunders argued that it would not necessarily alleviate poverty if the government were to increase income-testing. To move further towards a residual income support system would also be politically divisive, he argued, in that it would drive a wedge between welfare recipients and those who saw themselves as tax donors to the welfare state. Saunders argued that all expenditures, that is, both direct social expenditures and indirect tax expenditures, should be considered in a social security review. He pointed out the 'vertical inequity' that would be revealed by this wider review: while direct income-tested social expenditures were withdrawn for low income people as their earned income increases (even modestly), indirect tax expenditures benefit higher income groups and are more generous the higher the income. A wider review framework was necessary if the government were to reform social welfare and social security for the long term (Saunders 1987).
John Burgess saw the Labor Government's social policy initiatives--including social security, family income support, occupational superannuation, tax policy and Medicare--in the framework of the Government/ACTU Accord (Burgess 1988). The Accord had included real welfare gains, he conceded. Primarily they were an inducement to consensus on wages policy, with non-wage "social wage" measures (family income support, Medicare, superannuation, tax relief) rewarding and offsetting wage constraint. He pointed to weaknesses in two measures: the indexation of pensions and benefits to rises in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the pegging of the single rate of pension to 25 per cent of average male weekly earnings. Because of the wage policy trade-offs under the Accord, and because of the lag in indexation to the CPI (which may not reflect appropriately the expenditures of low income people), neither measure would deliver the intended increase in benefits. He proposed alternative criteria for adjusting benefits. While specifically attentive to social security, Burgess's paper was an example of social policy analysis that places social policy in the context of wages and tax policies, the key characteristic of the Accord (Smyth and Cass 1998).
Following Saunders' questioning of means-testing, Carney in 1987 examined from the standpoint of social security administration the re-introduction of an assets test on pensions after its abandonment in the period 1976-1984. He argued that, if "welfare objectives" were to be held in view, the law should allow more administrative discretions. For example, the re-introduced test on assets should employ a more flexible definition of an income-generating asset. Otherwise, hardship could be imposed (Carney 1987). Carney became an architect of the reforms of the Social Security Act on which the Labor government embarked in 1988 towards the conclusion of the Social Security Review. It should be the Act's educative purpose, Carney argued, to declare "a notion of social rights to participation in society. This is a positive, reciprocal relationship between citizen and state in which both sides have rights and obligations in furthering participation in core social, economic and community activities" (Carney 1990: 103). From the Labor Government's Statement of Social Justice Carney drew four precepts of a charter of basic rights of citizenship (using the Marshallian concept) in social security:
Equality of Civil Rights
Fair and Equal Access to Essential Services
Carney advocated that social security legislation should cement social justice rights in the welfare field by conferring positive access to welfare. His paper thus foreshadowed the rights/obligations debates of recent years. In highlighting the value of 'participation' in economy, society and community, he used a key word of the social security debates (in the AJS1 and elsewhere) in the late 1990s and especially from 2000.
In the 1990s, the AJSI published many articles on unemployment, income support and education/labour market programs, thus engaging with the policies of both Labor (until 1996) and Coalition (from 1996) Governments. Edwards had argued that reform of income support for young people should favour increased educational retention (Edwards 1985). However, according to Judith Bessant, Labor's reforms of income support and education policies had increased young people's dependence and further disempowered them (Bessant 1993). Bessant took issue with proposals made in the Fourth Issues Paper of the Social Security Review (Cass, 1988c) that income support for unemployed people should encourage their "active" participation in education and training and thus raise their employment opportunities. Extending the period of young people's participation in education, she argued, had also extended their dependency; it had also marginalised a "substratum of disadvantaged young" who could not meet the expectations of the "middle and upper class culture" of educational institutions (Bessant 1993: 100). At the same time, those so marginalised had been subjected to the stringent conditions of social security eligibility. Bessant described Labor's youth policies as strategies to keep unemployment figures down by keeping youth longer in school; the education system was being fashioned to the needs of the corporate sector and to national priorities. Youth policy, she concluded, must be based on analysis of changing employment patterns, and of structural changes in the economy, in the workplace and in society.
The effect of social security income support for unemployed people was the theme of two articles co-authored by Brian Dollery (Dollery and Webster 1995, Dollery and Fletcher 1997). The first looked at the impact of the "generosity" of unemployment benefits on the measured unemployment rate of three recipient groups; the second examined the effects of income tests and effective marginal tax rates on part-time employment incentives for young recipients in four low-income occupations. Finding that the replacement ratio of unemployment benefits for single males over 21 years (in addition to other tests) showed significant but small effects on the unemployment rate, the authors concluded that the unemployment rate for this particular group could not be explained as an effect of welfare's 'disincentives'. For married men with a dependent spouse the disincentive effects of unemployment benefit were still significant, but considerably weaker; while for married men with a dependent spouse and two dependent children the effect was not significant. Concluding that unemployment benefits were not a major determinant of unemployment in Australia, the authors urged policy makers "to accentuate the positive role of unemployment benefits in facilitating structural change in the Australian economy and reducing the attendant social hardship" (Dollery and Webster 1995: 7).
Dollery and Fletcher calculated effective marginal tax rates and potential "poverty traps" for young unemployed people (18 years old, both singles and couples) who were in receipt of benefits and who were employed part-time in four low paid occupations. They found that there was a strong disincentive effect for part-time employment for single people and especially for couples. These results corroborated other studies that showed large numbers of unemployment beneficiaries working within the free area of their benefit income test (Whiteford et al. 1989a). They were also consistent with research that linked the low participation rates of the spouses of unemployed men to the social security couple income test then in place (Bradbury 1993). The authors brought these results to bear on the recommendations of the Working Nation White Paper (Commonwealth of Australia 1994). The White Paper had recommended removing the 100 per cent cut-off and introducing a 70 per cent taper; and it proposed applying the spouse income test only when the partner had sufficient earned income to preclude them from an allowance. Dollery and Fletcher predicted that, if implemented, the changes would give greater incentive to unemployed people to increase their hours of part-time work. However, the changes would not eliminate entirely the effective marginal tax rates that were a disincentive to seek employment. This dilemma is endemic to income-tested welfare payments.
Travers and Richardson focused on these problems of income-tested income support in 1995. They argued that it was a political, not merely a technical, judgment to identify 'those most in need' of full or part benefit. Those ruled ineligible, particularly at the margins, are likely to feel aggrieved and resentful. By drawing attention to their concept "full income", Travers and Richardson illustrated the political nature of income definitions and their application to social security eligibility under the income test. Beyond cash income, "full income" includes a range of receipts conducive to well-being, including the value of non-employed time, the imputed value of owner-occupied housing, and gifts in kind. If "full income" were taken into account, the location of individuals and families in the distribution of income would depend on their circumstances--for example, on whether they have more or less non-employed time or on whether they live in owner-occupied housing. The authors compared a hypothetical payment to low-income families using the existing measure of income and a measure of "full income". They showed how the two lowest income quintiles would differ in their eligibility for payment under the two contrasting income definitions. While the authors were not proposing that the "full income measure" be used for deciding eligibility (which would be intolerably intrusive), they intended to highlight "the value-laden nature of the whole targeting enterprise" (Travers and Richardson 1995: 347). Targeting welfare benefits is a blunt political instrument, they insist, not a precise technical tool.
In the 1990s, AJSI articles covered not only unemployment and income support, but also the ways that the social security system assumed or encouraged certain forms of family and household. Thus Suzanne Lambert in 1994 explored whether the forms of income support contributed: to the increasing incidence of sole parenthood over the period 1974-1990, to the increasing proportion of sole parents in receipt of income support, and to the increased periods of time over which a sub-group of sole parents were reliant on income support. Examining Australian data and research studies, Lambert concluded that the sole parent pension was not primarily responsible for either the rise in sole parenthood or the pattern of receipt of sole parent benefit. The level of economic activity and increased rates of unemployment, rather than the level and availability of income support, were the major determinants of variations over time in sole parents' reliance on income support. Lambert noted that her conclusions were consistent with studies of the United States Aid for Families with Dependent Children. However, she pointed to problems not yet solved by Australian policy: the high levels of poverty experienced by sole parents and their children, and the difficulties experienced by a sub-group of parents in leaving income support. Income tests should be made more liberal, she argued, to encourage part-time employment, and to improve the recipients' long-term earning capacity. An effective policy required a strong economy with good job growth, if the economic circumstances of sole parents and their children were to be improved through parents' participation in the labour market. Thus Lambert converged with Travers' (1985) conclusion about youth unemployment--that a political commitment to full employment was essential to welfare programs aimed at certain vulnerable sectors of the population.
Maureen Baker addressed from a comparative perspective the issue of policies for sole parents and for low income partnered mothers (Baker 1998). Examining the historical development of policies for lone parents in the Canadian Provinces and federal government, Baker noted that there has been much less emphasis on payments for care-giving in Canada, compared with Australian policies for sole parents (sole parents pension) and low income partnered women (parenting allowance). Canadian policy assumed the dual-earner family, and paid maternity leave and child-care policies were developed accordingly. By contrast, Australian policy had exempted women caring for children up to sixteen years of age from the activity test imposed on applicants for unemployment benefits. However, the Australian remnants of a male breadwinner norm in family policy militated against women's interests as paid workers. The Australian social security payment for care-giving left low income mothers outside the workforce for considerable periods of time and thus vulnerable to poverty (as were their children). Such mothers were subject to the risk of future labour market marginalisation.
Examining social security and welfare policy changes over the 1980s and 1990s, Cora Vellekoop Baldock saw a trend to privatisation in the mechanisms of a "complex interventionist state", that is, the state drawing further on the resources of families, particularly on the resources of women. Baldock saw this trend in a number of the Labor Government's programs: in its income-testing of family allowance; in the Child Support Scheme that enforced maintenance payments for children from non-custodial to custodial parents; in parental income-testing of students' eligibility for AUSTUDY; in the administrative targeting of eligibility under the Home and Community Care Program; and in the activity test for unemployed people. The "complex interventionist state" operated not only through increased scrutiny of family income and means but also through the state's greater reliance on family (usually women's) unpaid resources (Baldock 1994).
The AJSI at the end of the 1990s, and in particular in the period 2000-2004, published a number of papers on the concept of "mutual obligation". The Howard Coalition Government's reforms of welfare and employment services emphasised the principle of "mutual obligation"; and the Interim and Final Reports of the Reference Group on Welfare Reform (2000a, 2000b; also known as the McClure Reports) provoked comment on the related concept "participation". The meaning of both concepts was open to debate. The six years from 1999 to 2004 saw a debate about the ways in which the Australian social security system and welfare state moved from 'entitlement' to 'obligation', in the words of Clement Macintyre (Macintyre 1999), or from 'citizenship' to 'social engineering' (Shaver 2001). Some authors sensed a rupture with past welfare state certainties, and they sought to identify a turning point. Other papers, however, pointed to continuities with past welfare principles, as well as to ruptures.
Macintyre examined what he saw as shift from entitlement to obligation in the provision of welfare, for example in the Howard Government's "work for the dole" scheme in 1997. The official philosophy of "work for the dole" was articulated by Dr David Kemp, the Minister responsible for the scheme: "Many Australians believe that it is fair and reasonable that those being supported by the community should make a contribution in return" (quoted in Macintyre 1999: 106). Mutual obligation had always been part of the Australian welfare system, argued Macintyre, but the current administration of the term had shifted responsibility from the community providing welfare to the individual receiving it.
Patricia Harris criticised the final McClure Report for emphasising the necessity for welfare beneficiaries to participate in a range of designated activities (Harris 2000). Similar stringent strategies--that is, demanding, rapid "welfare to work" programs--were evident in other English-speaking countries, in particular the USA. While a range of activities might be prescribed as satisfying the conditions for participation, programs tended to privilege market activity. In the welfare reform proclamations of Government and in the McClure Report, Harris observed, there was a rhetorical emphasis on "self-sufficiency" in the "active society", and on "paying your dues" to the community, as featured in the "work for the dole" program. Harris discerned in these phrases a local/associational/ voluntary model of society, a model that deflected attention from the broader structural and economic factors affecting market participation. The implicit model moved significantly from the older welfare tradition that emphasised recipients' rights.
Jeremy Moss investigated "the ethics and politics of Mutual Obligation" in 2000. Though 'mutual obligation' made a claim based on "fairness"--that recipients of benefits should "give something back" to fulfil their social contract--the unemployed had not freely entered the mutual obligation contract, and governments' 'mutual obligation' to the unemployed was dishonoured to the extent that its unemployment programs were in fact punitive (Moss 2000).
Taking as her point of historical departure the limited concepts of social citizenship embedded in Australia's peculiar welfare heritage, Shaver argued that the terms of the citizen-state relationship had been subjected to a fundamental value shift by contemporary welfare reform (Shaver 2001). She examined how the Interim and Final Reports of the Reference group on Welfare Reform reframed the social security system as a "participation support system". Thus welfare was becoming less a social right (albeit an income-tested one) and more a support conditional on the recipient meeting obligations on pain of severe penalties. At the same time, income support for the unemployed and for parents was being linked to services tailored to individual needs and circumstances. To Shaver, this was "a shift from the treatment of the claimant as a sovereign individual to the imposition of supervision over her behaviour and actions" (2001: 287). She saw a basic contradiction between the inequalities embodied in such paternalist income support and the equality of status and dignity constituting social policy citizenship.
In 2002 the AJSI devoted a special issue to the policy implications of "Mutual Obligation" which had its origins in a Workshop on Mutual Obligation and Welfare States in Transition co-sponsored by the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia and the University of Sydney in 2001. The theme was the changing obligations and entitlements of people of workforce age as they deal with unemployment and joblessness.
Alison McClelland asked what responsibilities would fall on the Coalition government if it adopted the proposals of the McClure Report. Governments have three welfare responsibilities, in her view: to protect the vulnerable, to develop capacity to function in the contemporary risk-ridden environment, and to promote social cohesion. Mutual obligation, as commonly understood, might reduce the likelihood of governments meeting these responsibilities, she argued, pointing to the Commonwealth's harsh administration of breaches of recipients' obligations. So too might 'mutual obligation' weaken the capacity building role of governments--the extent to which they assist individuals, families and communities to function effectively in a changing environment--if welfare practices constrain rather than enlarge people's choices. A policy focus on individual behaviour and motivation would move governments away from building the capacity of education, training and employment programs and other institutions (McClelland 2002).
Valerie Braithwaite, Moira Gatens and Deborah Mitchell (Braithwaite et al. 2002) emphasised the problem of contemporary risk lying behind the call for welfare reform. They contrasted Mead's approach to welfare reform through enforcement of mutual obligation and an approach--more compatible with Marshallian social principles--linking both citizenship entitlement and obligation. Finally, they proposed equitable and effective ways of understanding mutual obligation and protecting against risk in line with values of harmony, not divisiveness.
Bettina Cass and Deborah Brennan examined the contested uses of the concept of 'community' in Commonwealth government programs such as 'Strengthening Families and Communities' and the 'Community-Business' Initiative, in the interim and final McClure Reports and in the Government's response to these reports. Finding seven uses of "community", they argued that although the term implies consensus and identity of interest and although it invokes communitarian principles and practices, in its political and policy usages the term is frequently divisive, and hostile to autonomous, civil institutions. 'Community' in this policy discourse masks a trend to greater individualised contractualism in welfare policy and administration. Divisively, the term often implies a community of tax-payers who support the welfare dependent; it implies a tension between the contributors to and the takers from the citizenry. The paper asked: How might the idea of community be more fruitfully adapted to welfare reform through capacity-building? (Cass and Brennan 2002)
Some answers to this question were provided by authors considering innovations in the delivery of employment services. Citing the precedent of the Community Development Employment Program schemes (CDEP), Rowse argued that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are in a position to plan, monitor and control innovative support systems, including education, training and employment programs. This must be the focus of effective welfare reform in Indigenous communities (Rowse 2002). The administration of employment services in the Job Network was the theme of Terry Carney and Gaby Ramia's paper (Carney and Ramia 2002). Outlining the findings of an extensive empirical study, they detailed the complexity of the ways in which labour market services are delivered to disadvantaged job seekers. Their findings voiced the experiences of unemployed people negotiating the intricacies of Job Network service providers and of Centrelink and running the risk of breaching the mutual obligation provisions in the process. Tony Eardley discussed the effects of competition in the quasi-market of non-profit employment services operating within the Job Network. He concluded with the observation: "It is not at all clear at this stage that the services available through the Job Network can be seen as fulfilling an obligation by government or society to people involuntarily out of work in return for the intensification of requirements and constraints placed on job seekers' behaviour" (Eardley 2002: 312).
Much of the talk about 'mutual obligation' refers confidently to 'welfare dependency' as a psychological disability of the unemployed and of others who rely on social security payments. Paul Henman and Julia Perry (2002) uncovered the complexity of social, demographic, economic and labour market trends since the mid 1970s. They argued that partly because increased levels of unemployment and partly because of some equitable and progressive changes to the social security system since the mid 1980s, in particular those extending income support eligibility, there were more categories of the population relying on income support for certain periods of their life. Emphasising the underlying labour market determinants of joblessness, the authors doubted the usefulness of 'welfare dependency' as a description of those receiving income support. Their paper thus put in question one of the keywords of welfare reform discourse. In another article Henman refuted three myths of current discussion: that the welfare system is anachronistic and in disrepair; that welfare recipients rather than underlying economic and labour market conditions need to be the policy focus; and that the previous social security system imposed no obligations on recipients. Arguing against all three propositions, he urged policy-makers to attend to those social and economic programs that influence job growth and income (Henman 2002).
Should we conceive recipients of income support as inactive and as marginal to the labour force and to other forms of participation? Saunders examined the extent to which three categories of income support recipients (those receiving Newstart Allowance, Parenting Payment and Disability Support Pension) were participating in either paid work or voluntary activity, using the Customer Participation Survey undertaken for the Department of Family and Community Services. He found that about one in five income support recipients are working (paid and unpaid), "albeit often in insecure, poorly paid and temporary jobs" (Saunders 2002: 356): 22 per cent in paid work, 19 per cent in volunteer work. Participation in paid work diminished with age. Between 24 and 28 per cent of those aged 18-49 were participating in paid work, compared with 10 per cent for those aged 50 and over. Participation in volunteer work increased with age. Men had a slightly higher paid work participation rate than women, but women's rate of participation in volunteer work was considerably higher than men's. Having a dependent child under three years depressed paid and volunteer work participation, but recipients with children older than three participated at rates considerably higher than the average. An ongoing medical condition depressed rates of both forms of participation, but 15 per cent of those with a medical condition continued to be involved in paid work and 17 per cent in volunteer work. What do these findings suggest? Saunders noted that employed recipients tended to be in insecure temporary jobs, while those participating in volunteer work were in welfare and community, education, sports/recreation, religious organisations, and in health--"welfare work being performed by welfare recipients for welfare purposes" (Saunders 2002: 354). Paid work may remove people from the income support system relatively quickly. Those who combine income support and earnings to make a viable income may still be trapped in a form of dependency, even though they are active participants in the labour market.
What are the attitudes of Australian people to unemployment and to unemployed people? According to Tony Eardley and George Matheson, it is not clear whether public attitudes support a policy towards unemployed people that had become increasingly conditional on their job search effort and/or on their engagement in the work for the dole program (Eardley and Matheson 2000). Compared with people in some other countries, Australians place a lot of responsibility on unemployed people to seek work; however, the poll data say little about their views on activity testing or on the enforcement of mutual obligation. There has been considerable public support for the work for the dole program, especially for young unemployed people, but the polls on this topic did not ask respondents what they knew or expected of this program. The authors concluded that while a majority of Australians appeared to oppose greater public expenditure specifically on unemployment policy, they still expected governments to address unemployment and to support unemployed people.
How does 'mutual obligation' apply to people receiving income support because they are in some way disabled? This question is likely to arise from July 2005, when the Senate debates a Government Bill to administer more stringently eligibility for Disability Support Pension. According to Rose Galvin, such welfare reform arguments as the McClure reports and the Department of Family and Community Services' Australians Working Together imagine disability as if it were not so much a medical and physical problem as a state of social exclusion caused by lack of access to employment and social resources. She argued that the changes in the Disability Reform Bill are likely to worsen poverty and social exclusion for people classified as disabled (Galvin 2004).
It is surprising that in one Journal we can find such a comprehensive history of the social policy issues debated in Australia since 1967, though there is relatively little on retirement income support including superannuation. The AJSI has concentrated on discussion of income support policies for people of work force age and for children, and on appraising such documents of reform as the Reports of the Commission of Inquiry into Poverty of the 1970s, the Social Security Review of the 1980s and the Reference group on Welfare Reform of the 2000s. My review of the articles points to continuous attention to the Australian system of income support and of means-tested social security directed to poverty alleviation, the topics raised by Kewley in 1968. There has been much disagreement about how to administer income support fairly and efficiently and about how to alleviate poverty. Whether there have been ruptures in the Australian income support tradition, and what policy decisions mark these ruptures, have also been topics of debate. Arguably, the most important changes have been from treating income support as an income-tested entitlement (a right) to a system based on conditionality and more stringent enforcement of obligations. However, the extent and justification of this change have been provocatively and passionately debated. In the pages of the AJSI, authors have applied and discussed most of the moral criteria for welfare identified by Goodin et al (2000): reducing poverty; promoting equality, promoting integration, promoting autonomy. These articles have provided not just a lens on their times; they were part of the construction of their times.
Baker, M. (1998) 'Poverty, ideology and employability: Canadian and Australian policies for low-income mothers', AJSI, 33(4), 355-377.
Baldock, C.V. (1994) 'The family and the Australian welfare state', AJSI, 29(2), 105-119.
Bessant, J. (1993) 'Policy paradoxes: the disempowerment of young people under the Labor Government, 1983-91', AJSI, 28(2), 87-105.
Bowen, I. (1967) 'Labour administration and social security', AJSI, 3(2), 32-40.
Bradbury, B. (1993) 'Family assistance and the incomes of low wage families over the 1980s', Social Security Journal, March, 3-17.
Braithwaite, V., Gatens, M. & Mitchell, D. (2002) 'If mutual obligation is the answer, what is the question?' AJSI, 37(3), 225-245.
Burgess, J. (1988) 'The Accord, wages policy and social security', AJSI, 23(2), 129-141.
Carney, T. (1982) 'Social welfare: availability and delivery of services and benefits for children', AJSI, 17(2), 93-120.
Carney, T. (1987) 'Assets testing: problems in reconciling economic, welfare and legal perspectives when defining assets', AJSI, 22(3), 498-515.
Carney, T. (1990) 'The Social Security Act: just another Act or a blueprint for social justice?' AJSI, 25(2), 103-119.
Carney, T. and Hanks, P. (1986) Australian Social Security Law, Policy and Administration, Oxford University Press.
Carney, T. & Ramia, G. (2002) 'Mutuality, Mead & McClure: more 'Big M'S' for the unemployed?' AJSI, 37(3), 277-300.
Cass, B. (1988a) 'Redistribution to children and to mothers. A history of child endowment and family allowances'. In C. Baldock and B. Cass (eds) Women, Social Welfare and the State in Australia, Sydney, George Allen and Unwin, 54-88.
Cass, B. (1988b) 'The feminisation of poverty'.. In E.A. Grosz,
M. de Lepervanche, and B. Caine (eds) Crossing Boundaries, Feminisms and the Critique of Knowledges, Sydney, Allen and Unwin, 110-128.
Cass, B. (1988c) Income Support for the Unemployed: Towards a More Active System, Social Security Review Issues Paper No 4, Canberra, AGPS.
Cass, B. & Brennan, D. (2002) 'Communities of support or communities of surveillance and enforcement in welfare reform debates', AJSI, 37(3), 247-262.
Castles, F.G. (1996) 'Needs-based strategies of social protection in Australia and New Zealand'. in G Esping-Andersen (ed) Welfare States in Transition: National Adaptations in Global Economies, London, Sage, 88-115.
Charlesworth, S. (1982) 'Monitoring income maintenance policies for single mothers', AJSI, 17(2), 135-154.
Coleman, M. (1985) 'Unemployment and the future of social policy', AJSI, 20(1), 3-11.
Commission of Inquiry into Poverty, (1975) First Main Report: Poverty in Australia, Canberra, AGPS.
Commonwealth of Australia (1994) Working Nation: White Paper on Employment and Growth, Canberra, AGPS.
Dollery, B. & Fletcher, M. (1997) 'Using budget constraints to illustrate poverty traps: the case of young part-time workers in Australia', AJSI, 32(2), 159-180.
Dollery, B. & Webster, S. (1995) 'Unemployment benefits and unemployment in Australia, 1950-89', AJSI, 30(1), 1-9.
Eardley, T. (2002) 'Mutual obligation and the job network: the effect of competition on the role of non-profit employment services', AJSI, 37(3), 301-314.
Eardley, T. & Matheson, G. (2000) 'Australian attitudes to unemployment and unemployed people', AJSI, 35 (3), 181-202.
Edwards, M. (1985) 'Youth allowances: incentive and reform', AJSI, 20(1), 35-55.
Edwards, M., Howard, C. and Miller, R. (2001) Social Policy, Public Policy, Sydney, Allen and Unwin.
Galvin, R. (2004) 'Can welfare reform make disability disappear?' AJSI, 39(3), 343-355.
Goodin, R.E., Headey, B., Muffels, R. and Dirven, H.J. (2000) The Real Worlds of Welfare Capitalism, Cambridge University Press.
Harcourt, A. (1969) 'Poverty and the widow', AJSI, 4(2), 49-59.
Harper, R.J.A. (1967) 'Survey of living conditions in Melbourne-1966', Economic Record, June.
Harper, R.J.A. (1972) 'Family assistance and redistribution of income', AJSI, 7(3), 177-189.
Harris, C.P. (1971) 'Family allowances in Australia for children under sixteen years of age', AJSI, 6(3), 202-209.
Harris, P. (2000) 'Participation and the new welfare', AJSI, 35(4), 279-300.
Hayden, B. (1974) 'Planning and integration of welfare services: an Australian Government viewpoint', AJSI, 9(1), 3-10.
Henman, P. (2002) 'Myths of welfare reform', AJSI, 37(1), 71-84.
Henman, P. & Perry, J. (2002) 'Welfare dependency? A critical analysis of changes in welfare recipient numbers', AJSI, 37(3), 315-335.
Kewley, T.H. (1968) 'Social security in Australia: some policy issues', AJSI, 3(3), 4-24.
Kewley, T.H. (1969) Australia's Welfare State: The Development of Social Security Benefits, Melbourne, Macmillan of Australia.
Kewley, T.H. (1973) Social Security in Australia 1900-72, 2nd Edition, Sydney University Press.
Kewley, T.H. (1980) Australian Social Security Today, Sydney University Press.
Lambert, S. (1994) 'Sole parent income support: cause or cure of sole parent poverty', AJSI, 29(1), 75-97.
McClelland, A. (2002) 'Mutual obligation and the welfare responsibilities of government', AJSI, 37(3), 209-224.
MacIntyre, C. (1999) 'From entitlement to obligation in the Australian welfare state', AJSI, 34(2), 103-118.
Moss, J. (2001) 'The ethics and politics of mutual obligation', AJSI, 36(1), 1-14.
Raymond, J. (1987) Bringing up Children Alone: Policies for Sole Parents, Social Security Review Issues Paper No 3, Canberra, AGPS.
Reference Group on Welfare Reform (2000a) Participation Support for a More Equitable Society: Interim Report, March, Canberra, AGPS.
Reference Group on Welfare Reform (2000b) Participation Support for a More Equitable Society: Final Report, July, Canberra, AGPS.
Rowse, T. (2002) 'McClure's 'Mutual Obligation' and Pearson's 'Reciprocity': can they be reconciled?' AJSI, 37(3), 263-276.
Saunders, P. (1976) 'A guaranteed minimum income scheme for Australia? Some problems', AJSI, 11(3), 174-186.
Saunders, P. (1987) 'An agenda for social security in the years ahead' AJSI, 22(2), 409-423
Saunders, P. (1994) Welfare and Inequality, Cambridge University Press
Saunders, P. (2002) 'Working for the dole: patterns of paid and volunteer work among income support recipients', AJSI, 37(4), 337-362.
Schlesinger, B. (1973) 'Unmarried mothers in Australia', AJSI, 8(1), 58-69.
Shaver, S. (2001) 'Australian welfare reform: From citizenship to social engineering', Australian Journal of Social Issues, 36(3), 277-293.
Smyth, P. and Cass, B. (eds) (1998) Contesting the Australian Way: States, Markets and Civil Society, Cambridge University Press
Travers, P. (1985) 'Unemployment and the downward trail. Does unemployment have permanent effects?' AJSI, 20(1), 12-22.
Travers, P. & Richardson, S. (1995) 'The elusive quest for 'those most in need", AJSI, 30(3), 335-349.
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Bettina Cass is Professor of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Sydney. Her research analyses citizenship and participation in the interactions of families, labour markets and social policy. Her publications include the gendered dimensions of paid and unpaid work; the interconnections of family care-giving and employment; comparative studies of family policies, social security and tax policies and labour market transformations in Australia and similar countries.
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|Publication:||Australian Journal of Social Issues|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2005|
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