Commentary on Is the Smart State a Just State? (2003)

CPDS Home Contact Incorporating the Alienated: A Challenge to Australia's Civil Society

On 24 July 2003 a conference in Brisbane organized by Uniting Care's Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) reported on work carried out in Queensland.

This commentary provides general observations about the issues addressed, followed by an overview of the CSJ Conference proceedings supplemented by [detailed] comments on the issues raised.


Qualification: The author is not an expert on social policy issues and offers these comments as an outsider based on lengthy study of related issues.

The Smart State / Just State Conference has reported on some interesting and constructive work that has been taken in conjunction with the Centre for Social Justice.

That work seems significant because:

The conference theme was significant also because remediation of social problems appears very likely to be one of the issues which will dominate public policy debate over the next decade. This is suggested by, for example:

There may, however, be value in re-considering two key assumptions made for the CSJ Conference.

Firstly, Queensland is not a Smart State (in the sense of having 'smart' industries), and is not in any danger of becoming one under current economic strategies (see A Commentary on Smart State: Illustrating Queensland's Lack of Serious Public Policy)

The certain failure of Smart State programs to develop a modern economic capability in Queensland is significant in relation to social justice goals. For example, the poor quality of Queensland's economic specializations are a factor in under-employment (eg low wages or part time work) that can lead to social symptoms (eg housing stress). And this is a direct consequence of the weakness of Queensland's economic strategies during the 1990s and earlier . Moreover, real economic progress seems vital to create a stronger tax base, if increased public spending is to be sustainable (see About Queensland's Budgets).

Second, the assumptions made before the CSJ Conference about the methods for achieving social justice for disadvantaged groups may not be the best available because artificial social support may be the opposite of, and an obstacle to, real community development - a view which has been publicly canvassed in relation to Cape York aborigines [1].

A parallel may be drawn with artificial government 'assistance' to individual firms which is an obstacle to realistic development of an economy (see comment in Queensland's Economic Strategy),

Thus rather than seeking to give disadvantaged individuals a 'hand up' by mobilizing and coordinating external support services, a much more effective 'hand up' might be achieved by motivating and strengthening individuals within disadvantaged communities to better help (and not harm) one another so disadvantage tends not to arise in the first place. The latter is how those who are 'advantaged' achieved, and maintain, that status. It is not fair to the disadvantaged to treat them permanently as a special type of citizen - except, of course, in the case of those suffering uncorrectable disabilities.

However it is anything but easy to rebuild effective community. The Queensland's Families Department apparently recognized that the escalating number of cases of child abuse it faced meant that it could not directly manage these - so it emphasized strengthening families. But the result was inadequate [1]. It may be that real reconstruction of functioning communities requires spiritual renewal (a matter for outreach by Christian churches) rather than social programs delivered by governments.  

Key themes in other comments on issues raised at the CSJ Conference are

On social justice

  • an emphasis on responsibilities may be more constructive than an emphasis on rights;
  • positive discrimination may not be a path to social justice;
  • boosting the capabilities of families is a key requirement - and this may best be achieved by responsible and capable fellow citizens able to draw on and coordinate untargeted support resources;
  • the only way to prevent child abuse or domestic violence before it arises is to alter individual behaviour;
  • ongoing capabilities for civic entrepreneurship within a community are vital;
  • the inequality that can result, or be perpetuated, in a market economy may be largely the result of poor quality leadership;

On the role of government

  • far more changes are needed in government than those related to social policy
  • a good case can be made for universal services (eg health and education) - but financing these is going to become increasingly difficult
  • universal welfare systems benefit the affluent as well as the disadvantaged;
  • it is an unavoidable consequence of public accountability, that (a) it is difficult to mobilize support from government agencies and (b) the services that they can provide can never be adequately client responsive
  • the desirability of client involvement in initiatives to assist them means that initiatives need to be designed in such a way as not to involve public policy or resource commitments;
  • it is difficult to introduce values into public policy debates because (a) which 'values' to introduce is problematical and (b) trying to define values politically could break down the separation of church and state and have serious institutional consequences;
  • Queensland faces growing financial constraints - and these raise very complex issues

29 July 2003


Note: Complete copies of the major conference papers are [to be] available on the CSJ website.

Welcome - Councilor David Hinchcliffe
Chair of Community Policy group, Brisbane City of Council).

There is a need for partnership between the community, government and business. Justice creates a cohesive community - and is therefore smart. The focus needs to be on rights not responsibilities. [Rights vs responsibilities]. Currently community is interested in TV shows about home renewal - and is unaware of the fact that there is a massive problem of homelessness. There is also a tendency to blame the homeless - a reflection of the 'they orta' syndrome - ie it is someone else's responsibilities. In fact we ought to. The question is how. [They orta]

Reflection: Why social justice? - Noel Preston
Director, Centre for Social Justice

Social justice is an impossible possibility. But if society abandons this goal, life becomes nasty, brutish and short. Many Christian councils have emphasised social justice. The 1971 Catholic Bishop's synod concluded that acting on behalf of justice was part of preaching the gospel, and the Uniting Church recently removed discrimination against homosexuals. There is a need to recognise realities - and to be grounded in biblical authority. Relationship with God is inseparable from right relationships with others. Knowing God leads to doing justice - and this involves giving preference to the most disadvantaged. [Positive discrimination] This a reflection of agape love. Social justice is the social incarnation of the love displayed by Jesus. [Social incarnation]. The Uniting Care Charter for social justice defines it as fairness and priority for the most needy. There is a need for a new emphasis on this in economic policy - ie for a 'trickle-up policy'. Is the Smart State a Just State? Maybe. The questions are: what is the best way, what can governments do, and what partnerships are needed?

Opening: Judy Spence
Minister for Families / ATSI Policy / Disability Services, Queensland Government

Social exclusion is a tragedy - and dealing with this is central to the ALP. More and more poverty arises from lack of employment - which gives rise to an underclass [Employment]. Seven years of harsh federal budget cuts have led families to do it tough. [Family problems]. There is a need for changes in government. [Governance]. Queensland's government has been criticized for the lack of a social agenda - but this is not so. While the federal government has 'gutted' Medicare, the state government has an extensive social justice agenda as well as a growth agenda. It is rebuilding its social agenda. Conservatives have undervalued social justice. Beattie government was elected in 1998 with 11 One Nation members - which was Queensland's most racist period [One Nation]. Many people want to give aborigines and Torres Strait islanders a fair go [Aboriginal advancement]. Government is active under the Cape York Partnerships, and has a community engagement strategy [Partnerships]. SAAP funding is important to many of the people at the conference.

The Smart State and Social Policy: Drivers, Directions and Destinations - Bruce Alcorn
Bruce Acorn, Director, Uniting Care, Queensland

We get the social justice we deserve. Queensland and other states are not much different. They are subjected to external pressures such as globalization. The challenge to social justice advocates is: fitting social justice into an already overloaded agenda; giving direction to community sector; and reconciling mission and size for the churches. Social justice can be defined as fairness. It derives from Christian principles - and requires giving priority for those in most need. Social justice is good news for the poor, and bad news for the wealthy. [Who benefits?] American Enterprise Institute (which presents libertarian position) describes social justice as 'we need a law against that'. Hayek similarly suggested that nothing destroys freedom as much as social justice - though it only destroys the freedom to be consumers. Thatcher stated that there is no such thing as society - only economics [Thatcher]. Individual justice has replaced social justice. There used to be policies to redress inequalities. [Inequalities]. Now there are tribunals to redress complaints about individual problems. Individualism has become ascendant. [Individualism]. For federal government, the challenge is to find social justice alternatives. Liberal Party emphasis individual economic freedom, not social justice (eg consider shift to paid education and subsidizes for home purchases). Communications are private not universal. Whitlam suggested that only parliament can equalize liberty. Latham sees limits to what governments can do. If social justice involves redistribution to the needy, it is not on anyone's agenda, and there are no federal drivers. At the state level, the question is whether social justice is off the agenda in the Smart State. States can not redistribute resources, but can create access to services. The Smart State concept is very unified and coordinated [Smart State]. Goal is that Queensland will diversify its economic base by investing in smart industries in order to create 21st century jobs. There is a sub-theme of creating more jobs. Does this involve a social justice concern? Queensland has invested in support for refugees, and established new policy paths for aborigines. Families Department is trying to deal with child abuse - but is forced to take role of policeman rather than dealing with disadvantage and marginalisation that produces child abuse. The problem is in the 'too hard' basket. Child abuse is concentrated in areas suffering greatest economic disadvantage. [Causes]. For the community sector the problem is to set directions. There is a need to prioritize between dealing with cases and dealing with social injustices that give rise to problems. Most examples of good practice involve dealing with casework. Community sector needs to be able to express a prophetic voice despite receiving government money. For the Church community sector (noting the Uniting Care employs 14,000 people) there is the issue raised by Tim Costello who suggested that when churches corporatise they drift from Jesus. Size is seen as a problem. Costello's way (support provided directly by church members) is easier for churches. But where advantages are perceived in being small, is it only the personal needs of those involved that are being served. Can a small group be as good at engaging with government? [Size] Destination: We can never get to social justice. To discover what is needed one needs to ask the most disadvantaged [Client involvement]. Mick Dodson, 10 years ago, suggested that social justice is what you see in the morning (basis housing, nutrition and prospects for education, jobs)

Response - Chris Sidoti
Former Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commissioner

Excellent paper. One can compare legal rights (remediation of problems) with human rights (what people want, seen within communities). There is a need to specify which groups have been marginalised. Human rights emphasise exactly those things that AEI and Hayek attack social justice for seeking. The problem is not a focus on rights, but trying to do so within a legal framework. [Legal framework] Disadvantaged need to be in control of the policies and programs to aid them. Policies and programs that do not engage the disadvantaged will be futile.  [Client involvement] Bruce Alcorn identified the absence of social justice on the national agenda. In the states the question of values is missing in the market economy ideology. Market economy provides economic value - but not equity. Free markets cause inequality. [Inequalities] The ideology of individualism reflects the failure of social justice. There is a need to insert values into public policy debates. [Values] Best way to ensure that people benefit is that they have key roles in policy development and implementation

Response: Shirley Watters
Queensland Council of Social Services

Bruce Alcorn focused on individualism versus socialisation. The interface between social and economic policy is critical eg consider Federal Budget which shifted from broad based social policy (for health and education) to individual contributions. [Universal services] The tax cuts in budget could have solved homelessness problem. Tax system does not redistribute wealth [Progressive taxes] Public housing is declining despite homelessness problem. There is a good state level policy with much more money going into child protection etc. But Queensland is playing catch up. It needs to be smarter, and have social justice on the front of its agenda. QCOSS argues for more taxation - as Queensland has only 80% of national tax levels. The ambulance tax introduced could have contributed better to social justice goals [Queensland's taxes] Australia is challenged in terms of social justice. People want this, but can not see how to achieve it at community level. Some new thinking in indigenous communities is helping to focus on welfare dependence. Noel Pearson is emphasising economic solutions to welfare. An aboriginal writer in Melbourne "Melissa ???' in Achieving Justice stresses the need for rights. The strong values base of the welfare sector is a real asset. But they are challenged in how to go about this. QCOSS represent 700 small organisations - and these can generate solutions

Workshop A: Hallmarks of a Smart Social Policy - Liz Upham and Dr Terry Davidson
CSJ and Lifeline Community Care Cairns Region respectively

[Reports on a process of civic entrepreneurship in addressing aboriginal homelessness]

Liz Upham: The Centre for Social Justice of Uniting Care has an engagement strategy. Uniting Care has 14,000 staff and helps 1 in 5 Queensland's every year. It is the biggest employer in Queensland outside government. CSJ was launched in April 2002 to advocate social justice and work internally with staff. Uniting Care held a lot of data - which needed to be brought into the public arena. Goal was to build on what the organization was already doing. A call was issued for social justice stories. [Change management] Noel Preston formulated a 'social justice' test. The major findings were that external services delivery was OK, but social justice was not part of the job. Very few examples of advocacy were not about individuals.

Terry Davidson: Social justice must come from the heart, not the brain. It is not a matter for policy. It is meaningless if one does not get one's hands dirty. It has to be ground up, not top down. Aborigines are proud people - who do have capabilities though these are differently placed. One should not say, this is what we are going to do for you. Cases always involve assisting community to do something. This requires a litmus test about who benefits - and benefits must be mutual. Many government approaches are patronizing. Justice programs for Cape York involve little input from communities. Blanket policy does not suit all situations. In Cairns 13% of population are aboriginal or Torres Strait islanders - yet Lifeline used to have no ATSI programs. It took 18 months to be accepted by indigenous communities. The recent meeting in Canberra came about because of action of women's groups who are the power behind the throne. It is women who do the work. Lifeline's programs now involve: training households; education about gambling; inhibiting youth suicide. There is a positive discrimination in employment practices [Positive discrimination] Attention is given to homelessness. Previous policy was to bus homeless out of town. Has been appointed as champion on homelessness issues. Went to political system in order to get protocols drawn up. All government agencies had charters that were supposed to be supportive - and had funding. Now there are protocols which require that they put this into effect. It is very hard to get government agencies to the table. [Mobilizing government] Social justice has to involve a state of mind, rather than policy. Uniting Care has 6 fundamental values (ie why they do things). Each is based on social justice rather than on church values, and reflect common sense. Uniting Care has embraced Christian value in a practical way. As all Uniting Care centres have the same values, why have all centres not taken a similar approach? [Civic entrepreneurship]

Participants Questions / Comments

Q: approaches to Lifeline from aboriginal communities were the starting point for initiatives, because they knew about the organization through word of mouth.

Q: Governments can not work with organisations that lack management structures and public liability insurance etc. If have large organisations then they can seed things on the ground. Lifeline is now not decentralized and this gives access to government - and the ability to prod government agencies

Q: How can one measure results? Families Department have active learning evaluation - which involves asking clients if they have noticed any improvement

Workshop B: Getting Smarter about Social Policy Options - Maureen O'Regan

[Presented findings of 'In the too hard basket - Responding to Vulnerable Children and Teenagers and the Families in the Western Corridor Region of South East Queensland']

The question about being a smart state implies 'cleverness' where what is needed is compassionate intelligence. Vulnerable children and teenagers are those suffering neglect / abuse, or having pre-existing disabilities. Vulnerable families include those suffering trauma, grief, unemployment. The Child Protection Act of 1999 was based on the principle that all have a right to protection from harm, that families are preferred to provide support and that the state will act in other situations. [Families] The study region had the highest adverse social indicators. Study goal was to find out: current situation; what is good; what is not working; gaps; future vision. This involved engagement with service providers to discover what their understandings were - and 135 were interviewed [Change management]. Responses were very consistent. Many criticized statutory service providers (including themselves). [Bureaucracy] There was concern about lack of voice in developing policies. Outcomes included recognition of: impoverished service system; limited ability to give integrated support and care to children and teenagers; system tends to inflict further neglect, dislocation, loss, stigma and abuse on those subject to statutory protection orders; children that the system fails to notice (eg those lost in school). The big issues are (a) to work with families - eg to resource families to solve problems and boost their ability to raise children (b) improving ability to help children in crisis. [Families] Things that are not working well include: lack of specialist support; exclusions from schools; poor collaboration with schools; lack of continuous therapeutic care; full shelters; lack of capital infrastructure; crises in foster care; overstretched community centers; lack of real partnerships; and insurance / risk management. Comments in relation to government Future Directions proposal include: additional money for short term trials; ethical issues - related to providing short term resources for long term problems; mobilizing current strengths; the limited number of trials in the study region; inability of Future Directions to prevent child abuse (which causes a lot of frustration) [Rights or responsibilities]; high caseloads; and bureaucratic demands that significantly erode time and energy. Things that are missing include: universal services; capacity to support children where there are no extended families; integration of services; competencies; continuity; commitment (ie bipartisan support); and support to workers. The ideals of Future Directions can't be met in the absence of infrastructure on the ground. There is concern about the maturity of community service workers. Strengths on which to build include: networks which support collaborative efforts; practical wisdom about what is wrong; good internal cooperation; some effective interventions (eg family conferences); attention to child health - involving early intervention; working between family, school, community; alternative programs for those too troubled to be in schools; outreach to most vulnerable (eg homeless). Better policies are needed - particularly in relation to strengthening families and good quality respite.

Response by Coralie Kingston (Peak Care): There is a long way to go. All jurisdictions have similar problems. Western corridor of Brisbane is worst of the worst in Queensland. Situation is that: Queensland is under-resourced for child protection; service demand is increasing rapidly; needs are very complex; services do not match this; and services are compartmentalized. [Service integration] Commonwealth / state linkages are vital - eg in relation to income support. Queensland Government established the Forde inquiry in relation to child abuse. This had implications for services and created new requirements. There was new legislation and resources - but still the problem remains unsolved. There is a need for: a lot more money; reform of service delivery; an increased range of services for clients; and therapeutic intervention. The problem is endemic across the state.

Workshop C: Family Homelessness - Implications for smart and just policy - Peter Walsh
Queensland University of Technology

[Report on research project on Family Homelessness in Queensland]

There has been little research on this, yet homeless families are increasingly apparent - especially in the inner city. Homeless-ness can be defined in terms of lack of shelter, or more broadly in terms of lack of family support. 1996 census showed over 25,000 homeless in Queensland. Analysis of SAAP (Supported Accommodation Assistance Program) indicates: $45m pa for 195 agencies; 14% of these focus on families; 18,000 clients pa - of which 20% are families, with 73% of the latter being women with children (who total 8200 pa). Reasons for seeking protection include: domestic violence (53% of cases which involve women with children); eviction; relationship breakdown (men with children). Unmet needs included: housing and accommodation; counseling; school liaison / child care. Issues emerging: 2/3 of homeless are not using SAAP; domestic violence is most significant cause; drug and alcohol issues affect couples without children; eviction is a major issue for couples without children; financial difficulties is a major issue. Only 9% of ABS recorded homeless people are in SAAP. Limitations on SAAP services and current configurations may be a problem. Causes and risk factors in homelessness are: domestic violence; residential instability; lack of access to affordable housing; financial disadvantage; personal factors for parents (unhappy family origin, poor school performance, history of unemployment / poverty, unstable relationships, lack of support networks). The impact on children includes: behavioural problems; disrupted education; limited social interactions; health problems. The impact on parents includes: humiliation / sadness over children's suffering; fear about child protection intervention; grief and anger about loss of home; break up of families due to accommodation requirements. There are many services dealing with homelessness - but a lack of shared knowledge and difficulty in advocating policy changes. Some innovative options are documented, but it is hard to go beyond 'pilot program' stage. Family homelessness needs to become a powerful public idea (ie the basis for a policy response). [Whose policy?]

Plenary Session

Launch of Practicing what we preach - Lin Hatfield Jones
Uniting Care

Mick Dodson gave one view of social justice. Dave Andrews gave another.  This is the core of Uniting Care. It makes explicit the connection between faith and social / economic policy. Practicing what we preach presents stories of levers for change. There are two questions. How does Uniting Care (Queensland) measure up? How is it pursuing systemic social change and reform? The answer is a celebration of quality services

Insights from workshops

Participants Comments

Reports from Workshops

Panel: Perspectives on Social Policy and Social Justice in Queensland

Kevin Cocks
Queensland Advocacy Inc

Civil and legal rights are vital - but Australia's constitution contained no Bill of Rights because it would have prevented discrimination against aborigines and Chinese. Human rights are moral rights. Abuse and neglect is excused as someone exercising their rights. People with disabilities are viewed from a moral viewpoint as either innocent or guilty. From a scientific viewpoint they are either to be cured or hidden. Genetics hopes to eliminate disability - but this is impossible because most disabilities are caused by trauma. People with disabilities are not seen to be fully human - and thus to deserve fewer goods and services. A similar view has shaped public policy towards migrants. In Queensland there is a long tradition of emphasizing low taxes, low expenditure and limited services. Services are provided on the basis of limited resources rather than need [Queensland taxes]. But neglect leads to compounding costs - thus creating a case for early intervention. Intellectual disabilities affect 12-15% of prisoners - but only 3-4% of the general population. A similar disproportion applies to incarceration of indigenous peoples. Overcoming such problems requires that people with experience of them make policy.  [Client involvement]

Brenda-Ann Parfitt
Lifeline Community Care, North Queensland

Rural communities are highly interconnected - but there is a lack of support infrastructure. Thus initiatives that come out of legislation (such as those related to support for those suffering domestic violence) may be impossible to implement - and this leads to cynicism. People want good community - but do not see what government policy is on about

Associate Professor Boni Robertson
Gumurri Centre
Griffith University

There is a problem in meaningful policy formulation. In indigenous family violence forum's ministers always asked the men not the women what was needed. Governments are focused on economic sustainability - and will not finance programs otherwise. Resources are needed to ensure human sustainability. Is the smart state a just state? Every election community is promised that government will get tough on crime - so there is more emphasis on corrections than on rehabilitation. The challenge is to address reasons that offences occur in the first place. Family breakdown (etc) contribute to youth vulnerability. Yet Queensland has far more facilities for corrections, than it does for youth. There is a need to focus on reality not rhetoric. Policies and programs can be based on buzz works - and yet make no real difference [Governance]. Family fragmentation is a big issue - yet it is essential to address ramifications of history or else there can be no reconciliation. Aborigines have suppressed trauma - though men want to forget this. Changes in morality are stressing families through preventing parents from disciplining children.

Professor Ross Homel
School of Criminology and Criminal Justice
Griffith University

Queensland is getting smarter but has a long way to go. Being smarter will lead to socially just outcomes. A lot of progress has been made over the past 12-15 years. Government initiatives will help eg (a) Queensland Health's Family Visiting program - which is based on US and local research -, though there is an implementation gap (b) Positive Parenting program - which is popular and has benefits if followed up (c) Police Beats and (d) spending on prevention by some departments is now 20%. Early intervention is best morally.  Many programs are not being evaluated for effectiveness - and some programs have made things worse. In the US get tough programs have increased crime rates. There is no substitute for hard heads. On the ground research is essential.

Elizabeth Fraser
Social Policy Unit
Department of Premier and Cabinet

Consultation and community engagement is an ongoing issue. Effective outcomes require: evaluation; attention to implementation gap; and strong community advocacy. The social policy context for public sector has been changing. Key concepts for social justice are: equity; participation; access. There is also a need for accountability, and to be clear what the problem is, who is responsible, how funding will be provided. This may seem bureaucratic - but is necessary. [Bureaucracy] Everyone wants social justice outcomes but it is hard to find initiatives that would work - especially when there are different views of what is required. Evidence is essential. Division of policy into social, economic and other domains is artificial - and there is a need for an holistic approach. There is now a shift from reactive social welfare to proactive empowerment - though welfare is always a part of the equation. Emphasis is increasingly given to education, prevention, social capital, community capacity building. This poses many challenges for agencies. There are often requests for central agencies to broker across 'silos'. Complex intergovernmental arrangements make the problem even harder. There is a need for engagement between community, business and government - as well as collaboration between service providers and clients. Role of government is to implement policy at the level of programs and policy. There is a need to be honest about what is being achieved. Accountabilities are onerous - but are necessary to ensure that what is happening is understood.

Participants questions / comments

Detailed Comments

Rights or responsibilities

David Hinchcliffe suggested that social justice requires a primary emphasis on rights rather than responsibilities. However this is only an assumption.

An emphasis on responsibilities by friends, family and communities associated with disadvantaged individuals may well be a critical factor in social justice because it would ensure that the disadvantaged live in a supportive social and economic environment. It is (for example) the only way to prevent rather than respond to violence and abuse.  Thus perhaps more attention needs to be directed not towards supporting the disadvantaged directly, but towards strengthening their family, friends and neighbours and instilling a 'put others first' ethical ideal.

Note: A debate about whether changes in individual responsibility (Noel Pearson [1]) or social rights (Mick Dodson [1]) would bring more benefit to indigenous peoples seemed to come down to the question of whether the goal was to strengthen the position of the people or the position of traditional cultures.

Professor Homel pointed out that early intervention is best to prevent crime. However there is no earlier intervention possible than a 'put-others-first' ethical ideal embedded in the conscience of a potential offender and of those in her environment.

They orta

David Hinchcliffe also suggested that it is common to deflect responsibility by arguing that 'they orta' (do such-and-such). However the term is usually employed to deflect responsibility from communities onto government, rather than the other way around as David Hinchcliffe implied.

Positive discrimination

While it may appear to promote social justice, positive discrimination may actually have the reverse effect in the long term. For example, in Malaysia there was long a policy of positive discrimination in favour of native Malays - a policy which was recently abandoned [1] reportedly because it merely encouraged the beneficiaries to be lazy.

Furthermore the effect of welfare assistance has periodically been seen to create dependency, perhaps for the same reasons that government attempts to 'assist' firms may merely weaken their position. For example:

In a similar way foreign aid has recently been seen to have had the reverse of its intended effect in the Pacific [1] - because it arguably created bloated institutions to exploit the aid and these had limited capability to do what was really required.

It is the author's hypothesis that positive support can be provided to disadvantaged groups but that this requires (a) addressing whole communities (b) targeting goals that are real (economically and in other ways) (c) developing serious institutions and (d) the use of methods which do not embroil those affected in political game-playing.

Social incarnation of Jesus' love

Is it possible for there to be a 'social' (collective?) incarnation of Jesus' love as Noel Preston suggested? - given

The way in which Christ-ian teachings may have translated indirectly into material prosperity are speculated in Cultural Foundations of Western Dominance - in which the separation between church and state has a critically important role.


Minister Spence highlighted poor employment prospects as a source of social disadvantage. In this respect it is necessary to recognize that under-employment (low wage, part-time, casual) can be as significant as unemployment - and that both can be linked to the poor quality of Queensland's economic strategies


Minister Spence suggested that families are 'doing it tough' as the result of cuts to social spending.

However surely the breakdown of relationships (and of families) is as significant as any other cause (eg see Moral Foundations of Individual Liberty).

Maureen O'Regan pointed out that the basic principle of the Child Protection Act is that families are preferred to support children but that the state will act when it fails.

This may be a major deficiency.  Surely the breakdown of families is the core problem which needs to be corrected, as only when individuals receive effective social and economic support from responsible friends, family, employers and communities are they likely to achieve real and sustained social justice.

Consistent with this Ms O'Regan suggested wisely that the big issue is to boost the ability of families to solve problems and raise children. However the best way to achieve this may not be through coordinated external services, but though:


Minister Spence suggested a need for change in government in relation to social policy. However the need for such change seems far broader (see The Crisis in Australian Governance).

The need for change in governments can be illustrated by Professor Robertson's observations about what was seen as an over-emphasis by government on economic sustainability, and a tendency towards rhetoric which has limited reality.

Firstly serious problems have emerged over the past 10-15 years in understanding the role of government. As a response to requirements for improved economic performance, governments have been increasingly conceived to be have to be business-like and focused on narrow commercial goals. This is resulted from a serious failure to understand the nature of the economic challenge - and has also contributed to ineffectual governance.

Alternative view: The primary role of government should be to create a framework for effective social and economic transactions amongst members of a community, and the secondary role should be to provide goods and services that members of the community cannot themselves do within that framework. The latter implies that, for example, governments' activities will often be directed to achieving ends which are different to those which would be the normal result of community and market processes. Economic considerations are important, but in the areas where government is involved they often can not be the only important aspect.

Secondly it needs to be recognized that governments' ability to turn political rhetoric into reality has been eroded seriously by politically-driven 'reforms' of public administration whose effect has been to value ideological support over technical competence and experience (see Towards Good Government in Queensland).  

To get real results rather than rhetoric from government it is essential to remove political pressure on the public service (eg by restoring something like the Westminster tradition to provide career protection for professionals) otherwise almost all are likely to be provided are flattering assessments and paper shuffling.

A second example of the need for change in government arises from comments to the Forum about difficulties in 'breaking down the silos' in government, and the difficulties that Terry Davidson found in gaining the participation of government agencies in a civic entrepreneurship endeavour (even though those agencies had mandates and funding to participate).

Government agencies are traditionally coordinated through the activities of the chief executive's agency and through those responsible for their budgets. Any other forms of coordination (eg on a regional basis) are intrinsically harder - because they are not required for authorization or funding of the agencies' mainstream activities. Informal collaboration and coordination within government depends on the ability of staff to take such initiatives. Unfortunately 'reforms' to government over the past 10-15 years (see above) have tended to be based on enforcing politically-idealized policies and 'processes' (ie paper shuffling) rather than on building on 'people' - and the result has been to limit motivation and scope for realistic collaboration initiatives

One Nation

Minister Spence suggested that the political support gained by One Nation reflected Queensland's most racist era. However a more likely view is that One Nation gained support in the late 1990s as a reflection of the adverse social consequences of defective economic strategies over the previous decade. Democratic legitimacy then gave those affected (ie marginal rural, coastal and metropolitan communities) the opportunity to understand their problems which had previously been denied to them [see Client involvement].

Aboriginal advancement

It is undoubtedly true, as Minister Spence suggested, that many people want to give aborigines and Torres Strait islanders a fair go - but the main requirement may be for the latter to consider the behavioral and institutional implications of culture (see The Challenge of Aboriginal Advancement).


Minister Spence drew attention to the Cape York partnerships and community engagement programs. Such efforts depend on how capable the state is of providing the quality of support that is needed.

In practice some problems have been identified [1], and it is reasonable to suspect that such difficulties are intrinsic because of the constraints of public accountability (see Bureaucracy; Governance; and Public Service Champions for Aboriginal Communities?).

Who benefits?

Bruce Alcorn suggested that social justice is good news for the poor, but bad news for the rich. However surely the question of who benefits from 'social justice' depends on how it is done and how successful it is?

If a social justice initiative fails, no one benefits (eg measures which create dependency on ongoing wealth transfer can be both incapacitating for the disadvantaged, and costly for the relatively wealthy).

Success in boosting the position of the less affluent may be costly for the wealthy.

For example, export led industrialization promoted massive improvement of position of poorer communities in Asia because it allowed them to challenge the wealthier nations in North America and Europe - and it put the latter under intense pressure to change their economies.

However those who are wealthy can benefit from a welfare system both indirectly (eg because it promotes social harmony) and also directly (eg because it provides a safety net which facilitates entrepreneurial (ie economic risk-taking) activities which contribute to their wealth). Furthermore measures which can enable the less affluent to boost their incomes can increase aggregate demand, and provide spin-offs for the relatively wealthy.


An Internet search suggested that Mrs Thatcher was not quoted very accurately.

"I think we've been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it's the government's job to cope with it. 'I have a problem, I'll get a grant.' 'I'm homeless, the government must house me.' They're casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It's our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There's no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation." Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, talking to Women's Own magazine, October 3 1987


Bruce Alcorn suggested that measures to promote equality have declined.  However it is the author's understanding that while inequality of earned income has increased, government transfer payments to the poorest have increased significantly and been more tightly targeted - so that overall inequality has not increased (though the numbers of middle income earners have been significantly reduced).  

Chris Sidoti argued that free markets cause inequality - and there seems little doubt that such markets can reinforce the effect of pre-existing advantages and disadvantages even though:

However the problem may be that advantages and disadvantages can be systemic. For example, they may  relate to:

The absence of effective leadership in overcoming such systemic obstacles (which provide insuperable obstacles to individuals and isolated enterprises) may be an important reason that disadvantage is perpetuated in some cases. Moreover there may be universally unevaluated consequences of 'good' international business practices which contribute to ensuring the competent economic leadership tends not to emerge in marginalized communities (see Non-Western countries and the difficulties they face, and also Queensland's Weak Parliament which speculates about the cause of relatively autocratic and ineffectual governance in Queensland).


Bruce Alcorn suggested (probably correctly) that individualism has become ascendant. However, if so, this feature is likely to be the result not only of the values he identified, but of a loss of traditional ethical ideals (see Moral foundations of individual liberty). Moreover, in societies with institutions such as those in Australia (which are not universal), individual action can be extremely productive (see Cultural foundations of Western dominance)

Child Abuse

Bruce Alcorn noted that child abuse is concentrated in areas that suffer greatest economic disadvantage. This implies that the solution to child abuse and the solution to regional economic disadvantage are likely to be the same. However it does not prove that child abuse causes economic disadvantage (or the reverse), or clarify what complex of causes might explain both.


A case for large organizations was made by Bruce Alcorn in terms of effectiveness, and engagement with government.

In considering this, the real question is whether just outcomes are best achieved by collective service delivery or by motivating and strengthening individuals to better help one another. If service delivery is the key, then size and negotiation with government will be critical. However if individual motivations and capabilities are the key, then smaller groups may be favoured, and engagement with government envisaged in terms of voting, and developing ideas for public policy through membership of associations.

Client involvement

Chris Sidoti and Kevin Cocks argued that the disadvantaged need to be in control of the policies and programs that assist them. This is an admirable and highly desirable goal.

Example: The case for involving the disadvantaged in activities that assist them can be illustrated by the failure of successive Queensland Governments to involve business and community leaders in the development of the four strategies for economic change that were prepared as 'political' statements in the 1980s and 1990s (see Defects in Economic Strategy, Tactics and Outcomes). The resulting grassroots failure to understand the situation and take the practical steps required to cope led to economic failures, unemployment / underemployment  and social stresses in marginal rural, coastal and metropolitan regions and this in turn led to the political instability associated with the One Nation phenomenon.

However this requirement implies that policies and programs be designed which do not involve: complex public policy issues; or government resources

Why: A client of Queensland's foster care system stated to the CSJ Conference that speakers were hard for her to understand because they were not talking plain English.

This illustrates a fundamental issue because rationality (ie modeling reality in terms of abstract concepts) works well at the level of individuals because they encounter quite a simple reality. Social and economic systems (which are dealt with by governments and academics) involve far more complex issues - which only become simple enough for human understanding through the development of concepts that have no daily relevance to individuals. This system works (to the extent that it does) because these two worlds are kept separate so that each is simple enough for rationality to work (eg by a system of law, by money as a means for exchange and measure of value, by democratic representatives who gain specialist insights into the more complex concepts).

The disadvantaged can only engage in policy debates in a meaningful way (ie with some measure of equality) is after an extensive education process - by which stage they can no longer be regarded as 'disadvantaged'

In any case public accountability procedures make meaningful involvement in determining public policy directions or resource allocation impractical (eg financial controls and processes to ensure that decisions about policy directions are exclusively made by elected representatives).

An indicative-planning methodology which might enable client involvement in developing initiatives that might overcome disadvantage without involvement in complex policy issues or control of public resources is suggested in Developing a Regional Industry Cluster (though this process would require extensive adjustment in dealing with non-economic initiatives)

Legal framework

The alternative to trying to focus on rights within a legal framework (ie a framework in which all individuals are seen to be equal subject to law) to which Chris Sidoti objected is that the framework for doing this must become a social hierarchy of some sort (as in tribal societies or East Asia). Such an hierarchy in itself has major implications for social justice, and the kind of economic models that can be used (eg a rule of law is essential to create a simple environment in which individuals do not have to second guess the reactions of the powerful and can thus use individual rationality for problem solving).


Chris Sidoti suggested that there is a need to introduce values into public policy debates.

This suggestion touches on an an important issue because a widespread breakdown in the ethical ideals which traditionally supported moral interpersonal relationships seems to have contributed to social dysfunctions (See Moral foundations of individual liberty)

However it is by no means clear what values should be introduced, as the modern (ie rational and scientific) and post-modern philosophical trends which have contributed to the breakdown of traditional ethical ideals are themselves in trouble.

For example the post-modern view, that 'truth' is merely a matter of social preference which has political implications, seems to have contributed to a breakdown in the technical competence of key institutions and to have made it impossible to challenge political authoritarianism (see Eroding the West's Foundations).

Even more significant would be that trying to make decisions about values through political debates would break down the separation of church and state - a separation which has been critical to the existence of  a system of law and government that assumed individual liberty and to the political and economic benefits of that liberty (Again see Moral foundations of individual liberty)

Universal Services

Shirley Watters suggested the need for some services (such as health and education) to be provided universally and freely rather than on a user-pays basis (with concessions for the disadvantaged).

There seems a good theoretical case for this because:

However it is by no means easy to put this into practice, noting problems such as:

Financing such services might be made more feasible by:

Progressive taxes

Progressive taxes to redistribute income were advocated by Shirley Watters. This mechanism is an important conventional and very direct route to the redistribution of income and wealth. However, as noted above, there are limits to which it is possible to impose high tax rates  in a globalised economic environment.

Queensland's Taxes

Shirley Watters argued for an increase in state taxation. This question was explored in some detail at QCU Government Revenue and Spending Forum. One conclusion was that Commonwealth tax revenues (and Federal - State financial arrangements) were more significant than state taxes in increasing revenue in Queensland. 

However the issue is very complex, and Queensland faces increasingly serious financial difficulties for which raising tax rates seem unlikely to provide much of a solution (see About Queensland's Budgets)  

Change management

The engagement strategy for managing change in Uniting Care that Liz Upham identified compares very favourably with process of 'reform' applied to the Queensland public sector (see Towards Good Government in Queensland).

However the essence of effective strategic change is a focus initially on what is happening in the environment that the organization needs to respond to - and this input to the process appears only partially adequate (ie 'big picture' considerations were apparently sketchy).

Example: Liz Upham reported research into how problems affecting vulnerable children and families might be addressed by interviews with service providers. This provided practical experience but needs to be supplemented with broader inputs if anything but evolutionary changes to those services is to be proposed. Given practitioners' reported concerns about service inadequacy and noting budgetary constraints, it is fairly clear that a quantum shift in strategy is needed.

Some of the comments outlined in this document might be considered as additional inputs.

Civic entrepreneurship

Terry Davidson noted that only in Cairns had initiatives been taken to provide ATSI support programs - though all Lifeline Centres had similar values. It can be noted that a study of success factors in Gladstone's progress several years ago suggested that it was absence of a strong government presence - and the consequent requirement for community to work together - that enable major progress to be made. Cairns can be expected to benefit from the same phenomenon.

Australians seem to have a high reliance on authorities to take such initiatives (perhaps reflecting a colonial past and government or foreign investor led development). In the US by contrast, members of the community seem to see themselves a responsible principals, rather than dependent subordinates.

In interpreting the significance of the Cairns' experience, it needs to be recognized that:


In considering perception of defects in the activities of statutory service providers that Maureen O'Regan reported on, it needs to be recognized that there problems are (to some degree) intrinsic and unable to be removed because they are a product of the dynamics of the political and public administrative process (eg see Why are bureaucrats bureaucratic? which is based on Queensland's experience in developing and implementing economic programs over a decade).  

While improvement will be possible, it should never be assumed that a perfect system is possible.

Service integration

The only way in which services can be integrated as Coralie Kingston suggested is if responsibility for doing this resides with families or individuals within the community (see also Governance).

Whose policy?

A need was identified for homelessness to become the basis for a 'public idea' which leads to policy changes. This is undoubtedly so, but the policy changes that are most needed may not be in government (see above)