Flash in the pan or eureka moment? What can be learned from Australia's natural experiment with basic income during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic led to widespread social and economic policy experimentation as governments sought to protect household finances while locking down economies. Cash transfers emerged as one of the most popular policy measures, leading many to reflect on new possibilities for enacting universal basic income through temporary or emergency interventions. We take Australia’s pandemic response, and particularly its Coronavirus Supplement, as an example of this broader experimentation. We analyse the Supplement through the lens of an emergency basic income, arguing the measure reflected existing institutional structures and norms, forms of national and international policy learning, and vulnerabilities in Australia’s liberalized housing and labour markets. While temporary, we consider how its apparent success might suggest ongoing policy relevance, either as a form of capitalist “crisis management” or as an alternative pathway for implementing forms of basic income.