Emergence and Growth of Social Work Discipline in Pacific Region

Emergence and Growth of Social Work Discipline in Pacific Region

The various countries in the Pacific region are Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Brunei, Fiji, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Marshall Island, Nauru, Niue, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Somoa and so on. Australia, New Zealand and Fiji are some of the
countries where social services or welfare programmes are organized under a particular Department and not fragmented between the several ministries like the remaining Pacific nations. The present section will make effort to describe how social work as a discipline has emerged in these three countries and grown significantly.


Australia is located in Oceania, between the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific Ocean. It is the sixth largest country in the world and is the smallest continental land mass. It is an old country for indigenous Australians with a history of some seventy thousand years. The formal beginning of this state was in the late eighteen century as a British penal colony.

Australia, a federal parliamentary democracy, is an independent self-governing state and a member of the Commonwealth nations. The constitution of Australia, which became effective in 1901, is based on British parliamentary traditions, and includes elements of   the United States system. It has 7,686,850 square kilometers of area (of which 68,920 square kilometers are water) with 20 millions of population (2005 estimate).

It’s population density is very low i.e. 2.6 persons per sq km as compared to South Korea’s at 480 persons per sq km or Japan’s at 336 persons per sq km or UK’s at 244 persons per sq km. Australia has six states—New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania,
Victoria, and Western Australia—and two territories— the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. It is one of the most urbanized countries in the world; less than 15 percent of the population lives in rural areas. According to 2005 estimates, the number
of births per 1,000 is 12.3 and the number of deaths 7.4 per 1,000; the infant mortality rate per 1,000 live births is nearly 4.7; life expectancy at birth is estimated at 80.4 years (77.5 years for men, 83.4 years for women); and literacy rate is 100 percent. It is a multicultural society, with a strong historical reliance on immigration.

In 1990s, in Australia, fifty percent of the population had at least one parent born overseas. English is the official language of this country, but the other commonly used languages are Italian, Greek, Cantonese, Arabic (including Lebanese), Mandarin, and Spanish.

In  addition, more than 50,000 people speak an indigenous language. The major religious groups are comprised of 27 percent Roman Catholics, 21 per cent Anglicans, 20 per cent other Christian denominations, and the 32 per cent are remaining.

There is debate about the beginning of social work in Australia. Marchant (1985) writes Australian social work historians such as Lawrence (1965), Martin (1983), and Dickey (1980) have concentrated on professional associations, ignoring social activists,  particularly women, who pre-date professional social work. Hughes (1998), too, notes the lack of denominational institutions in social welfare histories. The general history of Catholic welfare endeavors has been neglected more than it should. According to Kennedy (1985), Charity Warfare during1887 to 1898 is an important landmark in the beginning of social work in Australia. In fact, the real starting period was 1830s to early 20th centuries,
when Catholics developed denominational services for the care of children, education, services for women, services for the sick and destitute, family welfare services, social justice and advocacy issues.

In 1929, during the Great Depression, when Australia too experienced high levels of unemployment, poverty, associated ill health and misery like many other European countries, the formal social work emerged.

The institutes such as the New South Wales Board of Social Study & Training and in Melbourne, the Victorian Institute of Almoners were established for first time for
social work education. By 1939, there were total five institutions in this regard: three general schools and two training hospital almoners, in only three of the six States (Napier and George, 2001). The Second World War created a demand for social workers to deal with some of the consequences of war. Social work at this time was seen as an important occupation and demand exceeded supply. By the end of 1950s, social work education was well established in the University sector. There were professional social work education in the University of Sydney, University of Melbourne, University of Adelaide, University of Western Australia and University of Queensland.

The period between 1960s and 1980s is remarkable for several incidents. For instance, it was noticed in the late 1960s that there was an increase in the social protests and a growth of liberation or rights movements of groups such as women immigrants, aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, lesbians and gay men to bring a macro level or structural change in the society. With the power of Labor government in the early 1970s and influence of Marxism, paradigm shift took place to radical or critical or structural social work where focus was given more on social justice. The demise of the Labor government in the mid 1970s again reduced the opportunities for social work at the macro level (Phillips and Irwin, 2005). In the mid 1970s, another important issue occurred for diverse social work courses in the Universities and applications for professional membership from the immigrant social workers. There was a need of standard setting for qualification of
professional membership and accreditation of social work programmes. Hence, in 1974, the document Minimum Educational Requirements was made for the establishment of ‘National Council of Social Welfare’. By 1975, there were 11 schools of social work covering all States, with total enrolments of 2363 students.

In the mid 1980s, Australian social work started getting influence of the economic rationalism, managerialism and privatization. From the beginning of 1990s, in Australia, the privatization of human services industries continued to increase more and more and posed particular challenges for social work due to diversification and on going de professionalization of the labor force in human services. The focus on privatization of education and the overall reduction in public funding for Universities also affected the schools of social work. In 2004 the number of Schools of Social Work increased to twenty two.

It is estimated that there are 1000 students are graduated per year, yet social workers make up only a small fraction of the human service workforce in Australia (Camilleri, 2005). In the field of literature, Australian publishing textbooks and monographs in
social work and social policy are sufficient now. Several journals such as Australian Social Work, Contemporary Social Work Education, Advances in Social Work and Welfare Education, and Women in Welfare Education are published regularly (Napier and George, 2001).

Though social work profession has grown much in Australia, still it is a disparate occupation.

New Zealand:

New Zealand (in Maori, Aotearoa, “Land of the Long White Cloud”), an independent island country in the South Pacific Ocean, is situated about 1,600 km (1,000 mi) southeast of Australia. It is comprised of two large islands—the North and South islands—separated by the narrow Cook Strait and numerous smaller islands. The first settlers in New Zealand were Maori, Polynesian people who arrived about 1,000 years ago.

European settlement did not begin until the 1820s. British sovereignty was established under the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi – a pact between Maori chiefs and the British government over land rights. Today approximately 72 per cent of New Zealanders are of European (specifically British) descent, over 15 per cent are Maori and 13 per cent are others. New Zealand is a parliamentary democracy within the Commonwealth of Nations. The head of state is the British monarch. In 2001 the population of the country was 3,864,129, with an overall density of about 14 people per sq km (37 per sq mi). Half of these people lived in the four largest cities and 87 per cent were urbanized. English and Maori are the major languages spoken in New Zealand. Christianity dominates irrespective among the European and indigenous people. Life expectancy rate is very high i.e. for men 77 years and for women 81 years. New Zealand’s economy is heavily dependent on the agricultural sector (Encarta Encyclopedia, 2002).

There was no provision for professional social work education until 1949 in New Zealand. The Senate of the University of New Zealand, which exists no more after 1961, approved plans to start a School of social work in 1947. The then Labor Minister for Education,
Peter Fraser, was unsympathetic to these idea and the name of this school had to be changed as ‘School of Social Science’. The school finally gained acceptance in 1949 and the British academics, practitioners and New Zealanders who had studied social work in Britain
guided the same .