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The Growth of the Australian Basic Income Movement (Forward to the book, “Implementing a Basic Income in Australia”)

This is a draft version of my forward to the book, Implementing a Basic Income in Australia: Pathways Forward edited by Elise Klein, Jennifer Mays, and Tim Dunlop New York: Palgrave-Macmillan 2019

Back in 1999, when I first started following international developments on Basic Income (BI), not much was going on in Australia. Allan McDonald had been writing about BI in the newsletter for a group called Organisation Advocating Support Income Studies in Australia (OASIS-Australia), but when he stepped down in 2002, no one was available to take over.

But over the last several years, interest in BI in Australia has picked up greatly. Australians inside and outside of academia are producing a lot of research and literature on it, and that work is beginning to have a major impact on politics. Australia’s two major parties might not yet be ready to endorse BI, but they can no longer ignore it. And in fact, the Australian Greens, a party that often holds the balance-of-power in Australia’s federal Upper House, have officially adopted BI as party policy.

Australia has become not simply one of the countries where BI is regularly discussed, but very possibly a major world centre for UBI activity. One sign is that the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN), the only worldwide BI network, has selected Australia for the location of its 2020 conference.

Another sign became obvious to me in 2017 when Elise Klein invited me to come to Australia to speak at a BI conference. Members of Basic Income Guarantee Australia (BIGA) took the opportunity to set me up for as many talks or meetings as I could do in the time I had. That turned out to be a whirlwind of seven appearances in four days in three cities—Canberra, Sydney, and Melbourne. I spoke with members of parliament, with members of the media, with academics, and with university students. I slept on a train and on a plane, and I managed to stay awake for all or most of the two-day, BI research conference in Melbourne, where I learned a lot and had the chance to meet many of the authors of this book. I was impressed by the breadth and depth of BI work going on in Australia.

A third sign that Australia has become a major world centre for BI research can be found in the publication of the book, Implementing a Basic Income in Australia: Pathways Forward edited by Elise Klein, Jennifer Mays, and Tim Dunlop (Palgrave Macmillan 2019). It includes a dozen authors from fields as diverse as Anthropology, Development, Economics, Geography, Journalism, Political Economy, Political Science, Public Health, Social Work, and Sociology. It addresses major empirical and philosophical issues of implementing BI in Australia. Although all or most of the chapters are written in a way that will be interesting to an international audience, parts of the book’s focus is on issues that will be especially interesting in the Australian context, such as the specific problems and opportunities for BI in very remote areas as well as its value as a tool to counter the effects of Australian settler colonialism.

The book pays special attention to the political barriers in the way of implementation of BI in Australia and to the opportunities and prospects for political strategies to move BI forward. These include proposals to start with group-focused transfers, such as BI for young people; proposals for how community groups, professionals, and activists can effectively advocate for BI; and proposals for fitting BI into the existing welfare system.

Although these lessons come from the Australian context, the value of this book for the BI movement all over the world needs to be appreciated. It’s a book about implementation—an issue that needs much more analysis by the global BI researchers and activists. Social, economic, and political strategies for BI need to be explored in different ways in every conceivable context. Comparative analysis of different strategies in different contexts is how we’ll truly learn what works and what doesn’t, and this book provides a valuable contribution to that effort.

The book is an excellent read and a valuable resource for researchers, students and anyone interested in BI.

-Karl Widerquist, Doha, Qatar, December 8, 2018

Table of contents (14 chapters)

  • Introduction: Implementing a Basic Income in Australia

Pages 1-20

Klein, Elise (et al.)

  • Basic Income in Australia: Implementation Challenges

Pages 23-43

Marston, Greg

  • Basic Income in the Current Climate: If Australia Can Implement Other Universal Provisions, Then Why Not a Basic Income?

Pages 45-68

Mays, Jennifer

  • Feminist Perspectives on Basic Income

Pages 69-85

Cox, Eva

  • Basic Income and Cultural Participation for Remote-Living Indigenous Australians

Pages 87-109

Altman, Jon (et al.)

  • Diversion Ahead? Change Is Needed but That Doesn’t Mean That Basic Income Is the Answer

Pages 111-126

Bowman, Dina (et al.)

  • Finding a Political Strategy for a Basic Income in Australia

Pages 129-145

Hollo, Tim

  • Basic or Universal? Pathways for a Universal Basic Income

Pages 147-161

Quiggin, John

  • Stepping Stones to an Australian Basic Income

Pages 163-178

Spies-Butcher, Ben (et al.)

  • What About Young People? Why a Basic Income for Young People Matters

Pages 179-198

Kaighin, Jenny

  • Situating a Basic Income Alongside Paid Work Policies

Pages 199-213

Scott, Andrew

  • Social Work, Human Services and Basic Income

Pages 215-235

Ablett, Phillip (et al.)

  • Basic Income in Canada: Lessons Learned and Challenges Ahead

Pages 237-257

Mulvale, James P. (et al.)

  • Concluding Remarks and an Invitation

Pages 259-262

Klein, Elise (et al.)

Elise Klein

Elise Klein

About Karl Widerquist

Karl Widerquist has written 981 articles.

Karl Widerquist is an Associate Professor of political philosophy at SFS-Qatar, Georgetown University, specializing in distributive justice—the ethics of who has what. Much of his work involves Universal Basic Income (UBI). He is a co-founder of the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network (USBIG). He served as co-chair of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) for 7 years, and now serves as vice-chair. He was the Editor of the USBIG NewsFlash for 15 years and of the BIEN NewsFlash for 4 years. He is a cofounder of BIEN’s news website, Basic Income News, the main source of just-the-facts reporting on UBI worldwide. He is a cofounder and editor of the journal Basic Income Studies, the only academic journal devoted to research on UBI. Widerquist has published several books and many articles on UBI both in academic journals and in the popular media. He has appeared on or been quoted by many major media outlets, such as NPR’s On Point, NPR’s Marketplace, PRI’s the World, CNBC, Al-Jazeera, 538, Vice, Dissent, the New York Times, Forbes, the Financial Times, and the Atlantic Monthly, which called him “a leader of the worldwide basic income movement.” Widerquist holds two doctorates—one in Political Theory form Oxford University (2006) and one in Economics from the City University of New York (1996). He has published seven books, including Prehistoric Myths in Modern Political Philosophy (Edinburgh University Press 2017, coauthored by Grant S. McCall) and Independence, Propertylessness, and Basic Income: A Theory of Freedom as the Power to Say No (Palgrave Macmillan 2013). He has published more than a twenty scholarly articles and book chapters. Most Karl Widerquist’s writing is available on his “Selected Works” website ( More information about him is available on his BIEN profile and on Wikipedia. He writes the blog "the Indepentarian" for Basic Income News.

The views expressed in this Op-Ed piece are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of Basic Income News or BIEN. BIEN and Basic Income News do not endorse any particular policy, but Basic Income News welcomes discussion from all points of view in its Op-Ed section.

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