3. Tackling social exclusion in South Australia



South Australia’s Social Inclusion Initiative was a government-wide, whole-system initiative designed to tackle high levels of socio-economic inequalities, increasing rates of chronic disease and disability, and the substantially poorer health of its indigenous population.





Mike Rann, leader of the opposition in South Australia, commits to tackling social issues in his address to the Australian Labor Party State Platform Convention.


New Labor government is elected in South Australia, headed by Mike Rann.


The South Australian Social Inclusion Initiative is established, with the creation of the Social Inclusion Board.


New Labor government is elected at the federal level in Australia, with Prime Minister Rudd.


Australian federal government adopts a Social Inclusion Framework.


New Labor government is elected in South Australia, led by Premier Jay Weatherill.


New Labor government of South Australia disbands the Social Inclusion Unit and mainstreams its activities.


South Australia has a population of 1.64 million, of which around 1.7% is Aboriginal. Historically, the state has lagged behind most of Australia’s other states and territories on a range of economic indicators. Its population tends to be older and poorer, with the highest rates of unemployment and lowest incomes in the country, as well as poorer health and wider health inequalities than the national average – especially among its indigenous population.

The intervention

In 2000, there were growing concerns around social justice in South Australia, due to a rise in high-profile problems such as homelessness, drug use, poverty and widening inequalities. In response, Mike Rann, then leader of the opposition, committed to make a ‘change for the better’ if elected, by establishing the South Australian Social Inclusion Initiative (SII) modelled on the UK’s Social Exclusion Unit. Rann’s party did come to power in 2002 and set up the SII to facilitate a government-wide approach to social inclusion and exclusion.

The SII aimed to provide the South Australian government with innovative ways to address complex social issues and develop joined-up, cross-government social inclusion policies and services. It was led by the independent Social Inclusion Board, which sat outside the government’s departmental system and reported directly to the head of government (the Premier). For each priority area, an inter-ministerial committee was established to monitor progress, solve problems and maintain momentum. All integrated policies were presented to and approved by the Cabinet and funded by the Treasury.

The board initially focused on the priority areas of drug misuse, homelessness and school retention, later looking at Aboriginal health and wellbeing, youth offending, mental health, and disability. These areas received almost AU$80m in new funding during the first five years.

One successful activity was the Innovative Community Action Network (ICAN), which worked to improve school retention by developing innovative, accredited learning opportunities in non-traditional out-of-school settings. Another was the government’s Common Ground programme, which invested in new housing developments for homeless people, providing affordable, long-term accommodation and on-site support services, working alongside not-for-profit partners.

At a state level, the South Australia strategic plan included specific cross-departmental social inclusion targets in an effort to mainstream social inclusion and sustain progress when specific SII funding ceased.


Although the SII reportedly incorporated a robust monitoring process, no official reports or formal evaluations have been published. However, some of the SII’s individual programmes were written up or presented as conference papers and the WHO’s Social Exclusion Knowledge Network commissioned a case study of the SII process.

Cross-sector working

The SII served as a catalyst for change, bringing government departments together to remove barriers to intersectoral working. This was partly achieved by encouraging a culture of teamwork across agencies, which helped to break down siloed thinking. The SII also helped build consensus among the various stakeholders on the importance of social inclusion, in an attempt to sustain progress when specific SII funding ceased.

Determinants of health

The SII was credited with raising the profile of the wider determinants of health., Some of its programmes demonstrated impressive outcomes and were adopted elsewhere in the country or mainstreamed. For example, ICAN and related programmes were associated with an increase in school retention from 67% in 1999 to 86% in 2011. Homelessness programmes were linked to a 5% decline in homelessness between 2001 and 2006, bucking the national trend.


South Australia’s success prompted the 2007 incoming federal government to develop a social inclusion strategy for Australia as a whole. The federal government subsequently established the national Social Inclusion Unit to coordinate a government-wide approach to social inclusion through research and analysis, and set up the Australian Social Inclusion Board.

Lessons learned

What worked well

  • There was high-level political commitment in South Australia’s state government, complemented by high-profile champions and leaders, in the form of the chair of the independent board and associated board members, who were respected figures and experts in the area.
  • The Premier delegated formal power and authority to the Social Inclusion Board. This enabled the board to intervene across the system to achieve change.
  • The involvement of the Treasury ensured that the SII programmes were adequately resourced.
  • When SII programmes were developed, a bottom-up approach to community engagement ensured that the programmes addressed issues of importance to the communities and developed solutions grounded in reality.
  • The inclusion of specific social inclusion targets in the South Australia strategic plan translated into performance agreements for chief executives of government departments.

What worked less well

  • Despite efforts to sell the programme across government, some departments viewed the SII as ‘additional’ work and were unwilling or unable to support it. Similarly, some agencies struggled to fund SII activities through their existing budgets. The Social Inclusion Board and its members could have paid greater attention to building capacity and knowledge on how best to deliver intersectoral work.
  • The traditional annual budget cycle hampered departments’ abilities to make long-term plans. This limited the extent to which departments could promote and sustain joined-up working across government.
  • Despite providing increased funding for social policies, the Rann government’s SII was criticised for its coercive stance, which focused on ‘assertively’ addressing problem behaviour in specific individuals and groups, as opposed to the systemic determinants of their problems. A related criticism was that it failed to widen its focus to encourage broader cultural change, in order to address the beliefs, attitudes and actions of those doing the excluding.,
  • Despite the improvements, the gap between South Australia’s average levels of inequality and the national levels had not changed by the time Rann left office. Some characterised this as a failure of the SII to tackle economic disadvantage, although the Rann government considered wealth redistribution to be the federal government’s remit.

Implications for the UK

Reducing inequalities is a priority in the UK and this case study provides useful lessons for UK actors concerned with implementing joined-up, government-wide approaches to working with socially excluded individuals – for example:

  • High-level political leadership, as well as delegated power and authority, is needed to drive a government-wide approach.
  • High-level champions can be powerful advocates for change.
  • Bottom-up community engagement is essential for identifying problems and their solutions.
  • A mechanism for resourcing new programmes is critical to ensuring partner organisations have the capacity to work differently.
  • Adopting measurable targets helps embed accountability across government and facilitate a long-term focus.
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