Research and Referencing Assignment
ARTS1840 – Semester 1, 2010
The Australian Journal of Public Administration’s research and evaluation paper explores the parliamentary scrutiny of government performance in Australia. It observes the processes the Commonwealth Parliament of Australia can use to make ministers and public servants accountable for the performance of their relevant departments. These decisions are made on the basis of performance data that each department is required to provide as well as parliamentary committee inquiries.
Thomas’ article highlights that the publication of performance data is not accountability – rather, there must be consequences following an examination of this data.
To assess parliament’s performance in its ability to scrutinise various government departments, the article draws attention to the two houses of parliament. The House of Representatives is generally under strict government control while the Senate is very rarely controlled by the ruling government, giving it a greater ability to scrutinise government performance. (Thomas 2009: 373)
The article states that there are two primary documents used to represent performance to parliament. These are the required annual reports and the estimate reports from various departments. The annual reports are required to be submitted to parliament by October 31st every year (Thomas 2009: 374). Initially, these documents focused on the financial side of the department in question, but have begun to cover other areas relevant to performance.
The argument presented by Thomas generally provides praise for the Commonwealth Government’s reforms on introducing mechanisms to keep the public service accountable (Thomas 2009: 373). It directly compares the systems in place in Australia to other Westminster based governments such as Canada (Thomas 2009: 396), arguing those governments have not tried to introduce similar scrutiny processes to the Australian government.
The article bases these claims largely two factors. It highlights the senate as a differential from other Westminster systems since it is rarely controlled by the governing party, allowing it to act as a scrutiniser of departmental and lower house parliamentary activity. The second factor in this argument is that Australian parliament requires regular estimate reports as well as the usual annual reports from government departments, which are then reviewed with estimate hearings, where department heads and secretaries are questioned on a wide range of areas. The article however admits that opposition senators will ask the majority of questions in the hope of scoring “political points” (Thomas 2009: 390) against the incumbent government.
It concludes however, that despite the strengths of the Australian system of parliamentary scrutiny, the Senate cannot possibly provide a comprehensive and consistent enough process of observing and reviewing the actions of government...