ABSTRACT

This book began as an examination of the prehistory of the welfare state constructed by the Australian Labor Party in the 1940s. The rhetoric of this welfare state as the ‘new social order’ promised during the war was reinforced by Prime Minister Ben Chifley’s characterization in 1949 of Labor’s purpose as ‘the light on the hill,’ as the ‘betterment of mankind’. The metaphor of the ‘light on the hill’ was iconic enough to provide the title for Ross McMullin’s commissioned centenary history of the party.1 My original purpose was to understand how this somewhat distinctive model developed in Australia (and in New Zealand). It is a way of providing welfare that rejected the contributory systems so common elsewhere and instead funded benefits from general taxation revenue; because it had no element of contributory insurance, receipt of benefits was heavily means-tested, and because it is means-tested the Australian model of welfare is relatively parsimonious, and popular understandings of welfare beneficiaries are frequently stigmatized.