Policy convergence or policy translation? Compulsory income management in Australia and New Zealand

Stream: Compulsory income management
Date: Tuesday, 10 September 2019
Time: 10.55 am – 12.35 pm


Scholars have long compared New Zealand and Australia because of their: institutional similarities as ‘liberal welfare states’ and former British colonies, demographic commonalities and history of sharing policy ideas. Like other countries, they have also been subject to structural pressures thought to encourage policy convergence. But just because two countries call a policy by the same name, does not necessarily convergence has occurred.

Using the example of compulsory income management (CIM), which Australia has implemented in various forms since 2007 and New Zealand adopted in 2012, this paper challenges the assumption that the only two countries subjecting benefit recipients to CIM have converged. Influenced by Hay’s (2004) typology of convergence, we focus on four of the six types of convergence - input, paradigm, legitimatory rhetoric, and policy – that he identifies.

Our qualitative analysis of government documents, press releases and other primary material finds that, although many of the same pressures and challenges were behind policy change in both countries, the policies were in fact quite different from each other. We argue that this is because the policy paradigms and legitimatory rhetoric were specific to each country’s socio-political context. The two countries have not simply emulated each other’s policies but have participated in a process of ‘policy translation’ since local context played a significant role in shaping CIM policies. In this sense, the two countries have policies that at surface level suggest greater similarity since 2012 but deeper analysis suggests that no substantive convergence is apparent.


Louise Humpage (Presenter), University of Auckland
Dr Louise Humpage is an Associate Professor in Sociology at the University of Auckland. She has written widely on indigenous affairs policy, welfare reform, citizenship, refugee policy and settlement and attitudes towards the welfare state.

Greg Marston (Presenter), University of Queensland
Dr Greg Marston is a Professor and Head of School of Social Science at the University of Queensland. His interest in applied social research has seen him focus on the impact of various social and economic policies on ordinary Australians, comparative social policy, contemporary social theory, the organisational dimensions of human service practice and the role of social policy in transitioning to a low-carbon society.