The Australian Assistance Plan (AAP) was an innovative programme of social welfare reform. Foreshadowed in the late 1960s, launched in 1973, and abolished in 1977, it was the subject of substantial commentary during and immediately after its brief existence. Attracting more brickbats than bouquets, the AAP was variously described as ‘a feasible and indeed exciting approach’, ‘the most random of random experiments’, ‘welfare on the cheap’, ‘a confusing program’ and ‘good news’.2 In contrast to other major initiatives of the Whitlam Labor government, it has attracted almost no scholarly analysis since the 1970s.
Forged during the Second World War and the post-war era, the modern Western welfare state was created as a bulwark against the penury associated with the twin repercussions of the First World War and later the Great Depression of the 1930s and the insecurities brought about by the second global war. The state accepted an enlarged commitment to the social and economic well-being of its citizens, propelled by a concern to ensure social stability as much as a commitment to the welfare of individuals. Most Western economies developed a mix of public and private provision of welfare, building on existing initiatives and reaching a new level of scale and maturity in the period 1945 to 1975. In Britain, William Beveridge laid down what his biographer, Jose Harris, has described ‘as a key foundation document for social welfare provision in any modern “mixed economy”, not just in the United Kingdom but also for much of the developed world’ through his 1942 Social Insurance and Allied Services report, otherwise known as the Beveridge Plan.