Wage-earners' welfare after economic reform: Refurbishing, retrenching or hollowing out social protection in Australia and New zealand?

Shaun Wilson*, Benjamin Spies-Butcher, Adam Stebbing, Susan St John

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


Australia and New Zealand developed distinctive 'wage-earner welfare states', with social protection largely delivered through high breadwinner basic incomes and residual social policies. Market reforms then pursued in both countries during the 1980s and 1990s retrenched important elements of the Antipodean model. Our article offers a novel characterization of major reforms to both welfare states from the mid-1990s to the early 2010s. We focus on industrial relations, as a form of wage-earner welfare, and expansions to social provision for families and retirees that may be viewed as responding to the evolving needs of wage-earners as family patterns diversify and populations age. Policy reversals complicate the picture of the long-term path of industrial relations. Voters rejected the Employment Contracts Act in New Zealand in 2000 and WorkChoices in Australia in 2007, with incoming labour governments moderating policy to favour wage-earner expectations of decent wages and fair bargaining. Alongside this, governments expanded both paternalistic social policies and private social provision. We argue these changes taken together produced a 'hollowing out' of wage-earner welfare in both countries, accompanied by increasingly stratified welfare, which marginalizes and stigmatizes many outside the workforce. But, we also note persistent differences, reflecting the more radical and 'pure' New Zealand experiment, its relatively centralized politics and stronger liberal tradition. Hence, Australia retains more progressive taxation and family support less connected with employment status, while making greater use of tax expenditures to support private welfare.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)623-646
Number of pages24
JournalSocial Policy and Administration
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


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