Social Work: Alison McClelland

Alison McClelland BA (1968) GDip Social Studies (1969) was made a Member in the General Division of the Order of Australia in 2017 for significant service to the community through contributions to the development, monitoring and analysis or social policy, and to education.

What do you do?

I am currently chair of Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand and have recently completed five years as a Commissioner of the Productivity Commission. Prior to that I held senior positions in government, academia and the community sector as well as membership of numerous government advisory committees having also worked on an honorary basis with the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), including as Policy Advisor on economics and tax, Board Member and Deputy President.

What are some of the highlights of your career so far?

Some of the highlights for me so far include:

  • Contributions to tax policy debates and changes in the 1980s and 1990s
  • Assistance to the Minister for Social Security on reforms to income support particularly aimed at reducing child poverty in the mid to late 1980s
  • Working on inequalities in health through the National Health Strategy
  • Responsibility for the production of “A Fairer Victoria” – the Victorian Government’s annual budget commitment to reducing poverty
  • Co-editing three editions of “Understanding for Action: Social Policy in Australia”

What drew you to your area of expertise?

My work in social research and social policy was prompted by the fact that I had studied both economics and social work at university in the late 1960s. My first employment was as a case worker for Presbyterian Social Services in 1970 and involved placing children in care, often because their parent lacked child care, housing and other supports. I wanted to use my economics to demonstrate that it was more cost effective, and certainly better for the children’s futures, to use resources to provide services and assistance to enable families to stay together. Thus, I undertook a Masters of Arts (Social Work) examining how such an analysis could be applied to welfare policies under the guidance of Len Tierny.

What motivates you?

My interest in analysing and development policies that improve opportunities for people with few resources to act again poverty and inequality, has been my main motivation throughout my working life.  Hearing social workers, such as Connie Benn, talk about poverty, learning from the social history subject about how campaigners improved social conditions for working people, and from economics, understanding how changed economic settings can be important for people’s lives, were all important lessons I took  from my university experiences.

Who motivated you at University?

Len Tierny was particularly important in reinforcing my belief that social workers should understand economics more.  His work (and book) on how lack of income meant that too many children were in care was seminal alongside the interest in social policy he engendered.

What excites you about the future?

I am excited about the opportunities to work with great organisations such as Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand and the Brotherhood of St Laurence. These organisations combine work on the ground to provide immediate help to individuals and families with the research, policy and advocacy work which will enable broader change in society. A combination that is essential to the social work profession.