The State at Work, Volume 1

The State at Work, Volume 1

Public Sector Employment in Ten Western Countries

Edited by Hans-Ulrich Derlien and B. Guy Peters

Representing the most extensive research on public employment, this volume explores the radical changes that have taken place in the configuration of national public services due to a general expansion of public employment that was followed by stagnation and decreases. Part-time employment and the involvement of women also increased as a component of the public sector and were linked to the most important growth areas such as the educational, health care and personal social services sectors. The two volumes that make up this study shed important insight on these changes.

Chapter 4: Public Employment in Australia: In Competition with the Market

Helen Nelson

Subjects: economics and finance, public sector economics, politics and public policy, public policy


Helen Nelson The Australian system of government is a hybrid, born out of a federal system adapted from the USA and a parliamentary system inherited from the British colonial period. Time has produced local variations in both federal and cabinet system practice, but the inborn incompatibilities remain, as became evident in 1975 when a constitutional crisis highlighted the anomaly of a Senate that has the dual role of being an upper house in both a federal system and a system of responsible government.1 The Australian public services at Commonwealth (federal) and state levels have their origins in that British legacy. The services that evolved out of the colonial period and into the twentieth century comprised bureaucracies that, in the main, conformed in both structure and processes to the Westminster model. Broadly, the public bureaucracies developed around the notion of a career service, neutral in its politics and dedicated to providing ‘frank and fearless’ advice to the government of the day, regardless of its political make-up. Independent public service boards oversaw services in which: recruitment and promotion procedures were by merit and seniority, free of political influence; legislative provisions provided protection against arbitrary dismissal; regulations discouraged the recruitment of ‘strangers’ (outsiders) to positions above the base grade; a distinctive retirement and pension system was in place; and heads of department held the title ‘Permanent Head’. Since the 1970s, a protracted reform programme has reshaped the public sector. The very concept and nature of the public service has been redefined....

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