This report takes as its starting point the view that the nature of any social institution. including a system of income security, is better understood if it is seen in historical depth and historical context. A definitive history of the Australian social security system remains to be written, although the calendar of major events and legislative changes are documented in the writings of Professor T H Kewley and in various publications released by the Commonwealth Department of Social Security. In relation to the subject matter of this report, for example, to know that moral provisions were enacted in 1908, said by the Minister responsible in 1971 to have fallen into disuse and (nearly all) repealed in 1974, is to know very little. The reality of a statutory provision owes much to those who administer it – judges, ministers and public servants and the present paper concentrates on what the administrators did with the provisions, and why they did those things. The moral provisions discussed in the report were never as monstrous in practice as might have been imagined, but they serve to raise the question of the ethical standards and purposes that they brought to the system of income security, and of the obligations imposed on the people who make claims on it. If honest acceptable answers to such questions cannot be found it may be that we are acting as the blind instruments of economic forces at best, or of prejudice at worst.