The Australian Basic Income Lab organised its inaugural national workshop on Friday 10 December 2021.
Hosted by the School of Social & Political Sciences, University of Sydney, the workshop focused on the topic of ‘Basic Income after COVID-19 – Social Security, Work & Wealth’.
Recordings of all sessions are available to stream, in video and/or audio format, below.
The Australian Basic Income Lab (ABI) is an initiative of the University of Sydney, Macquarie University & the Australian National University.
About the workshop
Over the past decade proposals for a universal basic income have gained growing political and policy attention internationally. Trials have been undertaken in both high income countries and across the Global South, with a variety of aims from reducing poverty to aiding employment and wellbeing. Following the outbreak of COVID-19, countries around the world implemented strong public health measures, accompanied by large public spending packages, many of which echoed elements of a basic income. This workshop seeks to take stock of basic income debates in Australia in the context of growing international attention and the COVID-19 experience, and in the leadup to Australia hosting the 2022 Basic Income Earth Conference.
The workshop is organised around three key themes:
1. Basic Income, Poverty and Conditionality
2. Basic Income and the Future of Work
3. Basic Income, Wealth Inequality and Macroeconomic management
Session I: Basic Income, Poverty and Conditionality
The element of Australia’s COVID-19 response that most closely resembled a Basic Income was the COVID-19 Supplement given in the first wave of lockdowns, which significantly increased payments for those on JobSeeker. The scheme accompanied the suspension of mutual obligations and a significant relaxation of means-testing. Initially set to roughly bring income support payments to around the poverty line, the Supplement was gradually reduced and then withdrawn as COVID-19 health measures were relaxed. While a number of payment supplements were introduced as COVID-19 cases rose again in mid-2021, the Supplement was not. This session will discuss the significance of COVID-19 lockdown measures and what can be learnt for advancing social security reform.
Maiy Azize, Deputy Director, Anglicare Australia
Prof Greg Marston, University of Queensland
Dr Tjanara Goreng Goreng, Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Australian National University
Kristin O’Connell & Jay Coonan, Anti-Poverty Centre
Chair: Dr Elise Klein, ABI Co-Director
Session II: Basic Income and the Future of Work
Internationally many basic income advocates see the policy as primarily responding to the challenges of automation and unemployment. These concerns are echoed by growing employment insecurity, through casual and ‘gig’ employment and entrenched underemployment. Alternatively, many critics, well represented within Australia’s union movement, have been cautious of efforts to create a benefit system as an alternative to securing good quality jobs. The COVID-19 response separated economic assistance between the COVID-19 Supplement, which was paid directly to individuals, and JobKeeper, a model championed by the union movement, which attempted to maintain a connection between recipients and employers by funding businesses rather than workers directly. Both schemes wrestled with interactions in the existing policy architecture, with schemes creating potential disincentives and leaving many ineligible. Moreover, what the COVID-19 experience has bought to bear on the gendered division of labour more generally, needs sustained attention and policy action. In New Zealand, where similar schemes were introduced, the Labour Government is looking to entrench a permanent employment insurance scheme, a proposal receiving significant criticism from welfare and anti-poverty activists for excluding the most marginalised, especially those providing the bulk of unpaid labour. This session will draw on the COVID-19 experience to explore the limits and possibilities for work and employment in the context of Australia’s strong wage earner traditions.
Alison Pennington, Senior Economist, Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute
Assoc Prof Shaun Wilson, Macquarie University
Dr Susan Maury, Policy and Research Specialist, Good Shepherd
Tim Kennedy, National Secretary, United Workers Union
Chair: Dr Troy Henderson, ABI Co-Director
Session III: Basic Income, Wealth Inequality and Macroeconomic Management
A striking feature of recent decades is growing inequality within rich countries driven by wage stagnation alongside rising asset prices. In Australia, the pattern reflects support for asset-based welfare, particularly tax incentives for housing and superannuation. While often understood in generational terms, locking out younger people from secure housing as jobs also become less secure, it also reinforces traditional cleavages by exaggerating the impacts of parental resources and stable market incomes. To the surprise of many, while the economy shrank during the COVID-19 crisis, house prices resumed their upward trend as monetary and fiscal policy acted in concert to secure liquidity. This session explores the implications of basic income for managing inequality and macroeconomic stability in an asset economy, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 experience.
Prof Lisa Adkins, University of Sydney & ABI Chair, Prof Martijn Konings, University of Sydney, & Dr Gareth Bryant, University of Sydney & ABI Co-Director
Prof Miranda Stewart, University of Melbourne
Prof John Quiggin, University of Queensland
Warwick Smith, Co-Founder & Economist, The Castlemaine Institute
Chair: Assoc Prof Ben Spies-Butcher, ABI Co-Director