Reflections on the Woodhouse Legacy for the 21st Century
The Sir Owen Woodhouse legacy has been a ‘paradigm shift’ in the thinking around compensation for accidents, prevention and rehabilitation. The 1967 report provided a no-fault compensation benchmark blueprint for New Zealand, and the subsequent ACC legislation has been much admired, if not fully adopted by other countries. A paradigm shift has been described as "a disjunctive process associated with periodic discontinuities in policy” (Hall 1993: 279). It requires the world is viewed in a different way and thus paradigm changes are painful, resisted, and often subject to reversionary changes. Nevertheless, they are the way in which progress is made.
Enduringly today, the Woodhouse principles and thinking are relevant to the next paradigm shift in welfare. The necessary widespread welfare reforms require relinquishing 19th century thinking to embrace a modern inclusive wellbeing-focused welfare state fit for the evolving role of women, work, and uncertainty in the 21st century. The lesson since the ACC scheme began is that old thinking dies hard. Clear guiding principles can be easily lost. To see the Owen Woodhouse vision embodied in a new unified welfare system will require eternal vigilance, deep education of policy makers and the public, and a resolve not to slip back into habitual thinking.
Susan St John is an Associate Professor at the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Business and Economics, to read her profile click here.