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Australia's disabling income support system: tracing the history of the disability pension from 1908 to today

Jennifer Mays,

Academic Literature


This article is based on a historical-comparative policy and discourse analysis of the principles underpinning the Australian disability income support system. It determines that these principles rely on a conception of disability that sustains a system of coercion and paternalism that perpetuates disability; this is referred to as disablism. The article examines the construction of disability in Australian income support across four major historical epochs spanning the period 1908-2007. Contextualisation of the policy trajectory and discourses of the contemporary disability pension regime for the time period 2008-now is also provided. The system was found to have perpetuated disablism through the generation of disability categories on the basis of normalcy and ableness as a condition of citizenship. Two major themes were found to have interacted with the ideology of disablism. The first theme - Commonwealth authority - set the tone for legitimising the regulation of disabled citizens. The second theme - conservative sanctioned paternalism and coercion - reflected the tensions between the paternalistic concern for income support provision while attempting to prevent idleness and welfare dependency. This article argues that a non-disabling provision based on social citizenship, rather than responsible or productive citizenship, counters the tendency for authoritarian and paternal approaches. Adapted from the source document.

Publication information

Journal/Publication : Australian Journal of Social Issues

Domain/s: Economic participation

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