A Short history of basic income in
Australia and New Zealand

An Australian History of Basic Income (PDF, 23KB)

The idea of a Basic Income is not new. Van Trier (1995) noted that in 1920 Dennis Milner published one the early British books on the idea of a Basic Income, which Milner called Minimum Income, and it was largely ignored. Milner (1920) called for a minimum income to apply to all citizens, man, woman and child, without conditions or deductions (p.19) and his arguments, which he called ‘a business proposition’ are remarkably similar to those used today, eighty odd years later (Tomlinson, 2000). Milner noted in his preface that he had chosen intentionally to eliminate ‘all speculations on justice and ethics’ so as to leave his proposal uncluttered and simple (Milner, 1920, p.6). Thus right from the conception of a Basic Income, there has been some lack of discussion of the ethical issues.

View the entire book from Milner and other papers on Basic Income of historical interest.

Some Australian and New Zealand historical perspectives on Basic Income

These New Zealand links come courtesy of Universal Basic Income New Zealand (UBINZ) Universal Basic Income New Zealand (UBINZ) Linked to another web site

History of Universal Basic Income New Zealand

In September 1991, Michael Goldsmith organised a Saturday conference on Basic Income proposals at the University of Waikato. The name ‘Universal Basic Income’ was used in Keith Rankin's paper, presented to that conference. This paper gained widespread publicity following Rankin's interview with Kathryn Asare on National Radio. The paper, The Universal Welfare State; incorporating proposals for a Universal Basic Income  Linked to another web site, was widely circulated before publication. It was eventually published as a Policy Discussion Paper by the Economics Department of the University of Auckland. A slightly modified version was published in the April 1992 issue of the New Zealand Political Review.

The organisation UBINZ was formed in Palmerston North subsequent to the April 1992 publication of Rankin's article. The UBI name has since come to be a generic term in New Zealand for tax-benefit reforms that provide an unconditional social income to individuals.

Through the efforts of Rendall Conwell and Ian Ritchie, UBINZ became a national network. UBINZ has organised two national conferences (1996, 1998; both in Wellington) on Universal Basic Income. Following the 1996 conference, Helen Marsh established a website (see August 1996 newsletter) with UBINZ material and basic income links. The present website extends Helen's pioneering work, in publishing the UBINZ conference papers, and in establishing simple home pages for UBI activists.

UBINZ has been grateful for the financial support it has received from The Prince Albert College Fund of the Methodist Church of New Zealand.

Following is an excerpt from Oasis-Australia’s Allan McDonald writing on A Support Income System for Australia:

Universal Income Support

Universal income support in various guises has been under consideration for a number of years. It was suggested by the Henry George League in the 1920's, and by Cole and Mead in Oxford in the 1930's. The concept was given a push along by Milton Friedman, with his principle of Negative Income Tax, and Lady Rhys-Williams, with her proposal for a Social Dividend, in the 1940's. In Australia the most notable proposal was the Henderson proposal for a Guaranteed Minimum Income (GMI). This was a major recommendation from the Royal Commission into Poverty, established in 1972 under the chairmanship of Professor Ronald Henderson.

In all these proposals the "universal" nature of the income support was qualified by being directly or indirectly subject to means test. Negative income tax, for example, is directly subject to means test. i.e. the level of income support (negative income tax) is determined after assessment of personal income. The social dividend proposal, on the other hand, envisages payment to all, but the income support is ‘clawed back from those not in need through the taxation system. The income support is indirectly subject to means test through the income tax system, and requires very high rates of income tax. The Henderson proposal for a GMI embraced aspects of both negative income tax and a social dividend.

In the late 1970's, with an economic and technological environment embracing high levels of unemployment, there was an awareness by proponents of universality that existing proposals for means tested universal income support were not appropriate. It was recognised, and is now widely accepted, that means testing of income support leads to disincentives to work, and to welfare dependency.

This awareness of the inherent weakness of means testing income support led to studies into the viability and practicability of delivering universal income support free of means test.

Non means tested universal income support at a level sufficient to provide a basic standard of living would be enormously expensive if it were to replace social welfare transfer payments and be additional to existing personal income. Such a proposal would be financially and politically unacceptable. There was an obvious need to develop proposals which could be financially viable and administratively practical.

Two such proposals were developed, based on two quite separate approaches:

In the UK a proposal was developed by the Citizens Income Research Group (CIRG), (previously the Basic Income Research Group [BIRG]), for a ‘partial’ universal income, i.e. a universal income less than sufficient to provide a basic standard of living, but one which would be financially viable without very high rates of income tax. Although it would require some topping up in the early years, it is envisaged it could grow to a realistic level. This proposal would be administratively simple to introduce, and has received support in Europe through the Basic Income European Network (BIEN).

In Australia a proposal for a universal support income free of means test, and at a level which would provide a basic standard of living without high income tax rates has been developed by the author of this paper. This proposal was the subject matter of a Master's Thesis and a book entitled ‘Unemployment Forever? or a support income system and work for all’. In this proposal an additional principle was introduced - the principle that the support income is to be a replacement for part or all of present income, both personal and transfer income, and not additional to existing personal income.

Incorporation of this principle may lead to greater administrative complexity, but the principle has three quite distinct features that are relevant to today's economic and social environment.

For generalised and more detailed historical information on Basic Income visit the Items of Interest section of this website.

Contact BIGA

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From overseas: + 61 7 3138 4612
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From overseas: + 61 7 3138 0296

Email: swhs.enquiries@qut.edu.au or directly contact BIGA’s web site administrator Greg Marston.