‘Human becomings’ in neoliberal welfare policy: representations of childhood in Australian and New Zealand discourses regarding compulsory income management

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


Compulsory Income Management (CIM) is a policy that sees a portion of welfare recipients’ social security payments quarantined, such that funds can only be spent on life ‘essentials’. CIM was first introduced to Australia – and, indeed, the world – in 2007 as part of the Northern Territory Emergency Response. It was purportedly designed to address child abuse and neglect in indigenous communities by limiting access to alcohol and illicit drugs. A comparable policy, Money Management, was introduced to New Zealand in 2012. While Money Management did not explicitly respond to child mistreatment, it targeting young people (16-18yrs) and positioned government contractors as quasi-guardians to these disadvantaged teens.

While concerns about children and young people were thus prominent in official justifications of CIM in both countries, few comprehensive and systematic discourse analyses have been conducted to investigate these tropes or examine their significance. This paper responds to this gap in the literature by presenting a comparative critical discourse analysis of Australian and New Zealand Parliamentary Debates at the introduction of CIM, focusing on representations of and arguments concerning young people and their families. It shows that the Australian and New Zealand debates adopted markedly different tones, but that these contrasting discourses were nonetheless underpinned by a common view of young people as vulnerable ‘human becomings’ and future (neoliberal) workers. The significance and implications of this underpinning are interrogated and discussed.


Michelle Peterie (Presenter), University of Queensland
Dr Michelle Peterie is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the University of Queensland’s School of Social Sciences and current co-convener of The Australian Sociological Association’s Sociology of Emotions and Affect Thematic Group. Michelle completed her PhD at the University of Sydney, examining bureaucratic violence in immigration detention facilities. Her current research concerns the socio-emotional impacts of punitive policies and discourses, particularly those targeting refugees, Indigenous Australians and the unemployed. Michelle’s work has been published in Australian and international journals and submitted as evidence at legal hearings.