Policy positions

Policy positions

In our commitment to social justice and human rights, the AASW advocates for key social issues and the profession at many levels, including responding and presenting evidence to government inquiries and royal commissions.

The AASW has advocated with, and in support of, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across a broad range of issues. Some key concerns have been the rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in Out of Home Care, the Cashless Welfare Card, criminal justice, Close the Gap targets, Australia Day and Constitutional Recognition. We are particularly concerned at the potential creation of a second Stolen Generation as a result of current Child Protection policies, and a lack of supported, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander -led responses to historical and present issues.

AASW’s Policy Position on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Issues

Social workers have a long and proud tradition of working with older Australians in supporting positive and healthy ageing, addressing issues of social injustice and advocating for system reforms. We work to raise awareness of the unique needs of older people as citizens as well as care recipients, who are often vulnerable to abuse across multiple domains of life. Our work is based on the strong commitment that every person has the right to wellbeing, self-fulfilment and self-determination, in keeping with the principles underpinning the AASW’s Code of Ethics. Our advocacy aligns with the 1991 United Nations Principles for Older Persons, which are Independence, Participation, Care, Self-Fulfilment and Dignity. We have contributed to inquiries about elder abuse, the Aged Care Workforce Strategy, and the quality of care in residential aged care facilities.

Social workers, in a variety of practice contexts, need to be able to promote child wellbeing and to assess and respond to the needs of children and families through direct practice and through working for structural changes. The AASW acknowledges the need to consider child wellbeing and protection within the broader social and political context. Responding and working in partnership with children, young people and families requires an understanding of the inter-related nature of child wellbeing, abuse and neglect with issues such as poverty, domestic violence, drug and alcohol misuse, disability, colonisation and the intergenerational impacts of the Stolen Generation, homelessness, education, health and mental health. The social work platform outlines how the social work profession generally and the AASW specifically works to address the complexity and diversity of the issues facing Australian children and families (Australian Association of Social Workers National Social Policy Committee, 2013). Our work is based on the core values outlined in the Code of Ethics, of Respect for Persons, Social Justice and Professional Integrity, and is informed by the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child and the Sustainable Development Goals. The AASW is a significant voice in public policy on child protection and children’s well-being.

In line with our strategic plan and the Code of Ethics the AASW is deeply committed to working towards a sustainable and socially just environment through individual, cultural and structural change. As social workers, we work with communities who are hardest hit by climate change and we appreciate that while climate change is affecting the entire population, the social, health and economic burden is falling most heavily on already vulnerable people.

Disability represents the larger and more complex interaction between an individual with impairment and the structures and processes of society. It is not ‘physical, cognitive or sensory impairments that cause disability, but rather the way in which societies fail to accommodate natural aspects of difference between people’. Therefore, social workers adopt a person-in-environment approach that includes a focus on the structural and cultural factors that may negatively impact on an individual’s ability to engage with the social world.

The social work profession is committed to maximising the wellbeing of individuals, families, groups, communities and society. We consider that individual and societal wellbeing is underpinned by socially inclusive communities that emphasise principles of social justice and respect for human dignity and human rights. These values are in complete accord with the disability advocacy movement and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which both inform the NDIS (AASW, 2016).

The AASW ascribes to the belief that the abuse of alcohol and other drugs are public health concerns, as opposed to criminal justice, and consequently takes a harm minimisation approach to policy work. We work from the principles of social justice and human rights. These principles suggest that adequate, recovery-based care must be offered in treatment, and holistic, systemic preventative measures be built into public services.

The AASW takes the view that domestic and family violence is a gendered crime and predominately perpetrated by men against women. Although acknowledging other forms of violence, the predominant societal issue is one of violence against women, which is rooted in the unequal place of women in society. Our work to highlight and address all forms of family violence is based on the three values underpinning our Code of Ethics: Respect for Persons, Social Justice and Professional Integrity. It is aligned with the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. In this policy area, we have advocated for changes to the Family Law System, privacy provisions in My Health Record, and maintained awareness of the wider systemic links between mental health, homelessness and family violence.

The AASW wishes to acknowledge the effects of domestic and family violence on children. Every child whose mother is abused is affected in some way and if nothing is done with young children, then these can become the next generation of perpetrators (AASW Policy and Advocacy, 2015).

Consistent with the values stated in our Code of Ethics the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Sustainable Development Goals, the AASW supports a fully funded, comprehensive and inclusive Medicare system. Human rights and social justice cannot be achievable in a user-pays system, which results in further-entrenched inequality and disadvantage. Social workers bring a unique, non-medical perspective to health care, with a cultural, systems, person-in-environment focus. We endorse the growing acceptance of the principle that people can exercise informed choice over the services that they will receive. Empowering people to exercise control in their lives is consistent with a rights-based approach to human wellbeing and promotes the principle of self-determination that social work has long upheld. Nevertheless, we understand that ensuring that individuals can exercise choice will not automatically overcome the structural causes of injustice. Such long-term change relies on the work towards broader social goals that has been described above (AASW, 2017).

The principles and aspirations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international covenants focus on the right to adequate, appropriate and affordable housing. The right of individuals and families to have social connections and a sense of place is recognised by the World Health Organisation as a social determinant of health (Lonne, 2008). The AASW states a commitment to Social Justice and Human Rights in our Code of Ethics, the most basic of these being the right to stable, safe and appropriate shelter and housing. The AASW works to maintain awareness of the wider systemic links between homelessness, mental health, family violence, and other public health issues.

The AASW has an extensive history of advocating for adequate income support and welfare payments. The United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states that all people have the right to social security, to an adequate standard of living, and “to the continuous improvement of living conditions” (United Nations, 1976). In accordance with our values of Respect for Persons, Social Justice and Human Rights, we have consistently advocated for an increase in income support payments, to lift them above the poverty line. We have campaigned against the “robodebt” scheme, cashless debit card, drug-testing for welfare recipients, and repeated punitive federal budgets.

The AASW has advocated, and continues to advocate, for a human rights approach to mental health care. This is in keeping with Goal 3 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which addresses “good health and well-being”, Target 3.4 specifically addressing the promotion of mental health. It also aligns with the three core values in The AASW’s Code of Ethics: Respect for Persons, Social Justice, and Professional Integrity. Social workers maintain a dual focus in their work, appreciating the needs of the people they work with, while also understanding the systemic and cultural issues that contribute to their illness. The United Nations Human Rights Commission writes that, “in the case of mental health, determinants include low socioeconomic status, violence and abuse, adverse childhood experiences, [and] early childhood development.” (United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2017).

The AASW ascribes to the principles of mental health care set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We welcome the adopted resolution of the Human Rights Council in July 2016, which seeks to embed a human-rights, rather than deficit-based, framework into international formulations of mental health care. This resolution highlights that forced medication and deprivation of liberty in the treatment of experiencing mental issues is a contravention of their human rights.

The AASW Code of Ethics includes a commitment to respect for human dignity and worth, and to social justice and human rights. These principles underpin our support of the elimination of the policies of mandatory detention, and other forms of harsh, punitive or discriminatory treatment of people seeking asylum and refugees. They apply to our advocacy for humane treatment and adequate support for people in onshore as well as offshore processing centres, and in the community. Our work aligns with multiple United Nations conventions, including the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (AASW, 2012).

The AASW has advocated successfully for the removal of children from offshore detention facilities. We continue to advocate for the closure of all offshore detention, and demand that all Australian Commonwealth governments into the future fulfill their obligations as signatories of the above mentioned Human Rights Conventions, among others.

Social work is a tertiary qualified profession recognised internationally that pursues social justice and human rights. Social workers aim to enhance the quality of life of every member of society and empower them to develop their full potential. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversity are central to the profession, and are underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and Indigenous knowledges. Professional social workers consider the relationship between biological, psychological, social and cultural factors and how they influence a person’s health, wellbeing and development. Social workers work with individuals, families, groups and communities. They maintain a dual focus on improving human wellbeing; and identifying and addressing any external issues (known as systemic or structural issues) that detract from wellbeing, such as inequality, injustice and discrimination.

Voluntary Assisted Dying is an ethically and legally complex issue with significant professional and personal considerations for social workers. While there are a range of views within the professional social work community, all practice in this space needs to be driven by the appropriate legal and ethical frameworks, including the relevant legislation and the AASW’s Code of Ethics.

Professional social workers are employed in a wide range of health settings working with individuals and families in acute care settings, palliative care, and long term care providing a range of supports around issues such as end-of-life and grief and loss. They are directly involved in socio-legal issues and ethical decision making, for example: advanced care planning, enduring power of attorneys, end-of-life decision making and planning, cessation of medical interventions and organ donation. As members of interdisciplinary teams, social workers play a significant role in addressing the social and emotional aspects and impacts of a person’s condition. This also includes providing supports to family members and loved ones. Therefore, Voluntary Assisted Dying is of relevance to social workers and within their scope of practice.