A Different Agenda: The Changing Meaning of Public Service Efficiency and Responsiveness in Australia's Public Services

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Wanna, John

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Bishop, Patrick

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This thesis examines the changing nature of efficiency and tesponsiveness of Australian public services over the past century It will examine how over the past 100 years efficiency has been improved and assessed. It will also examine how, since the 1970s, efficiency has become synonymous with responsiveness. The main argument of this thesis is that the nature of efficiency and responsiveness has changed over the past century.. Reforms introduced fiom the 1970s where the rationale at the time was improved efficiency, were essentially designed to make the public service more accountable and thereby responsive to the political executive. The study will examine: 1. the measures governments employed to improve efficiency and assess their effectiveness; 2. how responsiveness became the corollary of efficiency; 3. the resultant changes assessment of government perfbrmance; and 4. the effect these changes had on the Westminster system in Australia. The thesis is in three parts. Part one deals with the nature of public service efficiency and responsiveness. It examines the literature surrounding the nature of the terms and provides a definition of each. Part two details and analyses how public service efficiency was measured and improved from the end of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the 1970s. It will detail the rise and decline in public service boards and commissions and how they were used to initially limit patronage and then to act as monitoring agencies to ensure that public service input costs were as small as they could be 1i will also detail how other factors, such as the training and education of staff and computerisation had an increasing role in improving efficiency. The third part deals with the changes that have occurred since the 1970s. This will examine how responsiveness emerged as an issue and how it became an essential companion to efficiency when promoting bureaucratic change.. It will examine how the nomenclature of efficiency has been applied when the political executive seeks to ensure greater responsiveness from the public service. This third part will examine the main apparatus that were employed by the political executive to improve efficiency and responsiveness: progr am budgeting, corporate planthng, efficiency audits and contracts with senior staff. Finally, I will demonstrate the inability or unwillingness of many ministers and governments to detail policy objectives and their reluctance to evaluate the effectiveness of spending. This was accompanied by a greater reliance on senior employment contracts as the main lever to improve efficiency and responsiveness of the service.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Griffith Business School

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Australian public services

efficiency in government

political executive

Westminster system

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