A brief history of public administration in Victoria, from 1855 to today.
The Victorian Government, like all other Australian governments, is modelled on the Westminster system that has its origins in the United Kingdom.
In the Westminster style of representative and responsible government, Ministers determine policy and are responsible to Parliament for their actions. In turn, Ministers are supported by a career public service with public servants who implement these policies and who are accountable to Ministers through department heads.
The Victorian Government was established in 1855 and the nature of public administration in Victoria has continued to evolve since that time. Some major Victorian Governments milestones and changes are highlighted here.
Queen Victoria gives her assent to the Constitution providing representative government for Victoria. Victorian Government establishes the public sector, with departments and statutory authorities.
A Board of Inquiry held in 1856 is followed by a Royal Commission in 1859 to investigate the organisation of the public service. It leads to the Civil Service Act 1862. This sought to limit appointments based on patronage and to develop a unified, politically neutral public service.
A second Royal Commission is held due to ongoing concern over patronage appointments. It recommends the further strengthening of merit-based appointments and the establishment of a Public Service Board to administer a recruitment and promotion system.
The Public Service Act 1883 is introduced, incorporating recommendations from the 1870 Royal Commission. The Public Service Board is established to oversee recruitment and promotion and to advise government on other issues, including classification structures and general staffing conditions.
Public concerns lead to two Royal Commissions to address government inefficiencies.
1950s and ’60s: The Growing State
The focus during this period is on major investment in infrastructure, with government as owner and provider.
1970s and ’80s: Early Reform
New areas of government activity, such as environment protection, are developed in response to community concerns, along with service delivery changes.
Government commissioned the Bland Inquiry to review the role, organisation and management of the public service. The Inquiry found an increasingly fragmented public service with some core public service functions being undertaken by various statutory authorities with variable levels of Ministerial control. Bland’s recommendations resulted in the Public Service Act 1974. Increased scrutiny of government with introduction of Ombudsman.
Public Service Board embarks on a significant program of change in human resource management across the public service. A Senior Executive Service and a new job classification system are introduced. The Board formally delegates responsibility for a range of human resource functions to department heads.
Introduction of Freedom of Information legislation.
1990s: Reforming the State
Government introduces major changes designed to improve public service efficiency and responsiveness to the Elected Government. Changes include:
- separation of the service delivery roles of owner, purchaser and provider
- privatisation of state-owned utilities, such as power stations
- introduction of competition
- use of corporate planning mechanisms.
The Public Sector Management Act 1992 is introduced. This abolishes the Public Service Board and devolves its powers to departmental heads, but retains the provisions and conditions for employment.
The Public Sector Management and Employment Act 1998 replaces the Public Sector Management Act. The new legislation encompasses the whole public sector (rather than the public service) and adopts a principles-based framework for conduct and employment, rather than stipulating the conditions for employment.
2000 Onwards: Partnering and Regulating
Greater emphasis is placed on public value and taking a strategic approach to balance social, economic and environmental needs.
Government adopts a more formal partnership approach to completing major projects, under the Partnerships Victoria policy.
The Public Administration Act 2004 is introduced, creating the Victorian Public Sector Commission and the Public Sector Standards Commissioner. The Act articulates the values and employment principles for the sector and affirms the public sector’s role as serving the public interest.