SAP203 Week 9
How government works and social policy
This lecture
Understanding the way this country is governed is a key
area of practice knowledge for an effective community
services worker. Our focus is on being able to describe
• The Australian Federal Constitution
• Federalism
• Roles and processes of parliament
• The Executive
• Ministers
• The Public Service
The purpose of knowing this is to focus advocacy
Need to know
Policy shaping and decision making occurs within different parts of the
system of government.
All policy practitioners need to know
• who the responsible minister is,
• which government department is responsible for their policy area,
• which public servants are key to the policy development,
• what the government agenda is,
• who in the parliament is sympathetic to the policy advocates
position if change is occurring.
Assessment 3 and assessment 4 require you to know this material
Liberal democracy
•Australian institutions of government are developed within the
tradition of ‘liberal democracy,’ an approach to governing that
developed between 17th and 19th centuries in Europe. It
captures two sets of ideas that are in continuing tension:
liberalism and democracy.
•Liberalism supports free markets and promotes the freedom of
individuals to shape their own lives, yet it values order, so
markets can prosper, but neither authoritarian or arbitrary
power of a single ruler nor the tyranny of many groups. Rather
power that is controlled and held in check through a written
constitution. Separation of politics from markets and church
•Democracy values a government that is responsive and
accountable to citizens, governs for the common good ( meets
needs of citizens) and citizens have freedom to engage in
political activity . Values the notion of the public. Democracy
requires that individual freedom may need to be constrained for
collective good.
•Responsible government and Federalism within a written
constitution are shaped to both constrain government and to
allow government power to act for and on behalf of citizens
Constitutional monarchy
• Australia is also a constitutional monarchy. A monarchy is
a country where the position of head of state is inherited. A
constitutional monarchy is one where the powers of the
monarch or sovereign—the King or Queen—are limited by
law or convention, and generally exercised only according
to the advice of an elected government.
• The Governor General as the Head of State with limited
and often but not always ceremonial powers, represents
the monarchy.
The Constitution and the the levels
of government
•The Australian Constitution was an Act of British Parliament and
established the Federal System of Government in 1901
•Western Australia, NSW, Victoria, and Queensland were
sovereign states before Federation.
•The Constitution establishes responsibilities for different
levels of government and contains the rules for governing
•Initially the role of the Federal government was very narrowly
defined – Section 51 of the Constitution provides that powers
not specifically assigned to the Commonwealth lie with the
Responsibilities: Federal
Primary role of Federal government included foreign and trade policy, defence,
and telecommunications, and has expanded to include collection and distribution
of revenue and a growing amount of policy coordination
Currently key areas of Federal activity relevant to social policy include
determination of economic policy, raising revenue – income tax (individual and
company) indirect tax ( eg. Petrol excise) and GST( Goods and Services Tax – this is
distributed to the states), income support, child care funding and subsidies, Aged
• There is joint Federal State responsibility for many policy areas: there are
agreements between Federal and State government in exchange for funding: all
though COAG since 1993
• National Housing and Homelessness Agreement
• National Health Reform Agreement
• National School Reform Agreement
• National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development
• National Disability Agreement
• National Agreement on Closing the Gap
• See
Responsibilities: State
• States have responsibility for most service provision
– child and family welfare
– community services
– hospitals
– schools
– public/social housing
– corrective services
• Contributes to aged care provision
Responsibilities: Local Responsibilities: Federal, state, and local
Foreign and trade policy, defense, and telecommunications were among the primary responsibilities of the federal government, which has since broadened to encompass the collection and distribution of money, as well as an increasing level of policy coordination.
Federal activity that is relevant to social policy currently includes the formulation of economic policy, the collection of revenue (including income tax for individuals and corporations), indirect taxes (such as gasoline excise) and the Goods and Services Tax (which is distributed to the states), income support, child care funding and subsidies, and the provision of social services. Aged scare
• Federal and state governments share responsibility for many policy areas; agreements between the federal and state governments in exchange for funding have existed since 1993, and are governed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG): National Housing and Homelessness Act 1993, National Health Reform Act 1993, National School Reform Act 1993, Skills and Workforce Development Act 1993, National Disability Act 1993, National Agreement on Closing the Gap. See for further information.
Responsibilities: • The majority of service provision is under the jurisdiction of the states.
– child and family welfare – social services in the community
– hospitals – schools – public/social housing – correctional services are some examples.
• Makes a contribution to the provision of aged care
Responsibilities: Local and regional
•Local Government is not recognized in the Constitution. It is
constituted by State legislation and is responsible to state
•Local Government areas of involvement in relation to social policy:
• Child health
• community level planning
• service delivery funded by other levels of government (eg
• direct provision of welfare, recreation and cultural services
• enforcement of health and safety rules
• facilitator and advocate for local community policy concerns
and welfare activities
Challenges of Federalism for Social
• Overlap and duplication
• Vertical fiscal imbalance: feds have all the money
• Inefficiencies of differences in policies and rules between States – eg.
Health, education, family violence and child safety
• Costliness of multiple tiers of government
• Government boundaries do not reflect ‘natural’ communities
• Council of Australian Governments (COAG) established 1992 key
body for addressing these issues, allocating resources and
coordinating policy has been replaced by Federal Cabinet due to
Constitutional Rules for Responsible
• Democratic institutional arrangements of Australian government are those of ‘responsible
government’ which is also written into the constitution
• Government is ‘responsible’ to parliament which is responsible to citizens through free
• Checks and balances ensure no one person or body has all of the power
• 3 main activities of a responsible government are the separate
functions of
• Legislative Function – making laws; exercised by parliament
• Executive Function – administration of law and management of
resources of government, exercised by ministers (of the Government)
and administrative agencies (eg public service) The army is here as
Department of Defence with a minister
• Judicial Function – application and interpretation of law , exercised by
courts The high court is higher than and separate to the GG and
Parliament but can only interpret the constitution, it cannot make laws
• The Parliament consists of the Queen (represented by the Governor-General) and two
Houses (the Senate and the House of Representatives).
• Parliament and the government are responsible/accountable to citizens through elections.
• Voting is compulsory, counting is preferential not first past the post
• The Government is drawn from the party or coalition of parties that have the majority of seats
in the lower house of parliament (House of Representatives)
• The prime minister is selected by the majority party. Voters do not choose the prime minister
• Government ( the executive) is responsible to the parliament and held accountable by
parliament between elections through question time
• Parliament comprises 2 houses : The Upper House The Senate and Lower house The House of
• The House of REPS is the house which forms the government and creates legislation
• The Senate represents the states and reviews and scrutinises all bills
• The budget has to pass both houses. The senate can veto a budget and refuse financial
supply to the government
• See
•An elected member of the government responsible for heading
a portfolio and for associated government department (or
associated aspect of a department) can be from the senate or
the house of reps
•Senior Ministers form Cabinet and are selected by the Prime
•Formally, Ministers hold individual and collective responsibility
for the actions of government and the public service
•Ministers are an important focus for advocacy.
•Advocates have to know who the responsible minister is
• Cabinet is not mentioned in the constitution
• Cabinet is the group of senior ministers that make up the government
agenda. Policy is often generated through cabinet. Cabinet has the
finance subcommittee for the budget. Selected by the Prime Minister
• “Cabinet performs a number of functions, but its most important role
is as the coordinator of government policy. Cabinet operates on the
basis of collective responsibility, loyalty and secrecy (Weller 2000 cited
in Mc Clelland 2014 ). Their power depends on their capacity to
provide a cohesive government agenda and to control the Parliament
(Wanna & Keating 2000 in MC Clelland 2014).
• Develops the overall vision/strategy of a government, providing a
‘whole of government’ perspective
Political Parties
• Political parties are not recognised in the Constitution or the
conventions of the Westminster model of responsible
• The significance and power of political parties evolved in the
first decades of 20th century
• Parties now dominate/determine activities of the Parliament
• Parties play a key role in policy initiation and advocacy and
are another focal point for policy advocacy
• Australia has a 2-party majority system , but there are a
number of small parties all of whom have some relationship
to the big 2. At voting time, all preference votes ultimately go
to Labor or Liberal/National. The minor parties, Greens/One
Nation? Hunters and Fishers, have small numbers elected
but have become more prominent when the government of
the day has a minor margin of seats especially in the senate
The Public Service
• Key administrative agency of government is the extension of the
• Government departments play key role in the initiation,
development and implementation of policy
• Public service traditionally a source of independent advice, not
aligned to political party concerns
• Senior roles in public bureaucracy politicised in recent decades,
leading to some debate about the diminishing independence of
The Budget and its role in policy process
• Statement of projected revenue and expenditure
• Prompts annual review and statement of policy in every
area of activity
• Statement of policy priorities especially Centrelink
payments have to be described or changed through the
• Exerts significant influence on national economy
• Informed by estimates of revenue, expenditure and
economic growth prepared by Treasury
• Embodies policy strategy of Cabinet as advised by
Cabinet’s Expenditure Review Committee
• Government bodies, individuals, arrangements and
processes may have formal rules or may have
developed informally.
• They are all relational , and depend on the
development of relationships and communications
between people
• Policy advocates develop relationship with key people,
know key processes and are acting to get policy
frameworks policy agenda policy decisions to reflect
their particular values and interests
• McClelland (2014 ) The institutional context for decisions and Actions in McClelland
and Smyth, Social Policy in Australia Understanding for Action E book Pro quest
• Maddison and Denniss (2009) An Introduction to Australian Public Policy : Theory and
Practice 2nd Edition. Cambridge university Press