The changing nature of work and implications for families

Address by Dr Brian Babington, Chief Executive Officer, Families Australia
at the Families Australia National Policy Forum
held at the Department of Social Services, Canberra, 29 October 2018

Welcome, I’m Brian Babington, Chief Executive Officer of Families Australia. I wish to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land we are meeting on, the Ngunnawal people. I wish to acknowledge and pay respects to their continuing culture and the contribution they make to the life of this city and this region. I would also like to acknowledge and welcome other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may be attending today’s event. I wish to thank the Department of Social Services for hosting us today.

Families Australia works to build a nation in which all families, irrespective of their form, enjoy the greatest possible wellbeing. We have a differential focus on families experiencing the greatest marginalisation and vulnerability.

Within that area of focus, we try to do three main things: we work to support national policy on child safety and wellbeing; we support efforts to improve the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; and, we highlight new and emerging trends that are likely to impact families and which will require innovative policy responses.

Today’s policy forum focuses on the last point. Over the past year, Families Australia has worked closely with Department of Social Services, the Department of Jobs and Small Business, and the Australian National University to understand better how the changing nature of work is impacting families.

As you know, new technologies and globalisation are already having significant impacts on work. Reports, enquiries, consultancies, and media reports have proliferated that focus attention on this so-called fourth industrial revolution.

There are challenges for all sectors of society. For public policy, the challenge is to understand how the changing nature of work will affect key areas of activity such as welfare support, family services, education, aged care, and childcare, to name a few.

Some of the key questions include: What should be the role of government? What should be the roles of business and employers? How will employment patterns shift across social strata? What are the implications for people with little, no, or episodic employment and their families? What will be the impacts on broader family networks, for example, older family members and young people seeking employment?

These and other questions about the changing nature of work are being asked with ever greater frequency and concern.

Last month, the Senate Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers recommended that the Australian Government develop a long-term plan to prepare workers, business and the economy for coming technological change.

Earlier this month, the World Bank launched its 2019 World Development Report entitled ‘The Changing Nature of Work’. The report concluded that ‘Investing in human capital must be a priority for governments in order for workers to build the skills in demand in the labor market. In addition, governments need to enhance social protection and extend it to all people in society, irrespective of the terms on which they work.’

Today’s forum is an opportunity to explore some of these issues in greater depth, to advance our shared understanding, and help chart the future agenda for policy thinking.

Over the coming year, Families Australia and ANU plan to bring together a range of key players from government, business, research, and non-government sectors to explore the issues and perhaps help to chart ways to assist decision-makers shape and successfully navigate the future of work, including its impact on families.

It’s now my great pleasure to introduce our lead speaker. Professor Lyndall Strazdins is a Clinical Psychologist and Director at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Research School of Population Health, the Australian National University. She recently finished an ARC awarded Future Fellowship investigating time as a resource for health and leads the work and family component of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, a study of 10,000 families, and serves as a scientific consultant to local and Federal Government. Lyndall’s research focuses on contemporary predicaments of work and care and their health and equity consequences, viewing health as inter-linked within families. More recently, she has been developing an analysis of time as a social determinant of health, seeking to understand the significance of time as a resource, like money, which structures power relations and gender inequality and peoples’ capacity to be healthy.