Social policy in COVID-19: understanding fiscal stimulus measures in Australia
The Morrison Coalition government responded to the social and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic with new fiscal stimulus measures. These measures illuminate the new macroeconomic role of the welfare state during crises, as the temporary expansion of social policies – including JobKeeper, JobSeeker, HomeBuilder and the Early Release of Superannuation – formed a key part of the economic response to the crisis. Policy debates around fiscal stimulus have largely focused on Keynesian and neoliberal accounts of macroeconomic management, yet unresolved issues arise when applying these to understanding responses to both the GFC and COVID-19. These issues may stem from structural changes emphasised by the financialisation literature, which highlights the growing importance of households to systemic stability, as the capacity of conventional monetary and fiscal policies to stabilise the economy is reduced. Drawing on this literature, my thesis assesses an alternative account of the macroeconomic role of the welfare state and examines the usefulness of financialisation in understanding social policy responses to the COVID-19 crisis in Australia. In doing so, I aim to map the policy response and develop a preliminary analysis of how it continued, broke with, or transformed neoliberal welfare governance in Australia. Using a three-pronged methodology, combining policy mapping, frame analysis and public data analysis, this thesis seeks to identify the extent to which Keynesian, neoliberal or financialised logics are evident in policy design and implementation, their framing and representation in official discourse and their emerging social and economic impacts. It finds that financialisation offers useful insights into the Australian welfare state’s role in macroeconomic management, where the COVID-19 crisis neither prompted a return of Keynesianism, nor marks the endurance of neoliberalism, however, is consistent with the transformation of the Australian welfare state to a more financialised model.