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Attached is a Submission to the

Independent Review of the Australian Public Service

ACCESS2 stands ready to provide the review with comprehensive background information

on our submissions should the Review wish to receive it.

Robin Brown

Deputy Chair 0403475580

31 July 2018
Independent Review of the Australian Public Service

ACCESS2 notes the scope of the Review includes:

  1. driving innovation and productivity in the economy
  2. delivering high quality policy advice, regulatory oversight, programs and services
  3. tackling complex, multi-sectoral challenges in collaboration with the community,
    business and citizens
  4. ensuring our domestic, foreign, trade and security interests are coordinated and well


  1. improving citizens’ experience of government and delivering fair outcomes for them
  2. acquiring and maintaining the necessary skills and expertise to fulfil its


This submission is directed particularly at 2, 3 and 5 though it is relevant to 1 and 6.

The special interest of ACCESS2, as its name suggests, is access for ordinary consumers to

effective markets (that is fair and efficient) and access for ordinary citizens to government to

• ensure policy on market regulation and administration of that regulation is in the
consumer and wider public interest rather than the producer interest – effective
citizen participation in public policy formulation, and

• ensure integrity in public administration and general responsiveness to their needs
and wants – a strong “fourth arm’’ of government

Information about ACCESS2 may be found here www.femag.org.au

Citizen Participation in Public Policy Formulation

It might be the case that those who first conceived of the idea of representative democracy

had in mind that when citizens elected their representatives and delegated to them the task

of government they would be happy to leave them to it until the next election. For a very

long time now ways and means for citizens to participate in government decision-making

beyond the ballot box have been developing in Australia and other representative

democracies. In nearly every area of government policy advisory and regulatory bodies

with citizen appointees, public inquiries and public meetings of various kinds are

The problem of course is that some groups of citizens tend to participate more, or are better

able to participate, than others. For many the reason is largely to do with the costs and

benefits of participation. If one’s livelihood or relative wealth as a farmer, doctor, lawyer or

ordinary worker is affected or likely to be affected by a public policy, it makes sense to

participate or to pay to belong to an advocacy organisation which will participate on your

behalf. The public policy formulation process and public administration including regulation

are likely to be influenced to the advantage of, or even captured by, such special interests

through their advocacy organisations. However, getting citizens in general to pay up to

have their interest represented through an advocacy organisation in relation to a particular

policy or regulatory issue as consumers of a good or service or beneficiaries of a clean

environment is much harder. The benefits of participation are often seen to fall well below

the costs. This is largely due to the “collective action problem” (Mancur Olson, 1965). So,
where public policy should reflect a diffuse public or consumer interest, members of the

community at large will, not unreasonably, question why they should devote a lot of time and

energy with everyone else “free riding” on their efforts.

A good example is industry and trade policy. In many countries this policy area has often

been heavily influenced by both major employer and employee groups, at the expense of the

economy and citizens as consumers in general. In Australia this was perhaps at its zenith

during the Menzies years. There has been progress in this area of public policy, but more is

yet to be achieved.

It is important to note that special interest groups range from strong and influential producer

groups to weak producer groups such as perhaps some small business sector groups and

small trade unions. It is also important to note that there are many consumer special

interests. Some of these are able to organise for advocacy and some of these groups have

sufficient strength to have an impact on public policy (examples are some particular health

consumer groups). However, most are weak public policy actors. There are also the weak

special interest voices of people living in disadvantage for whom organising themselves for

advocacy is totally impractical.

A school of public policy thought emerged in the late seventies and eighties that said that the

best thing was for governments to determine the public interest and the needs of special

interests entirely by themselves, isolated from all interest groups. But anyone who has

observed the policy process disinterestedly to any great extent knows that this is quite

impossible. In most areas policy cannot be made without knowledge of the technical and

economic possibilities and practicalities and this can rarely be determined with any accuracy

without consulting the relevant producers or providers of the goods or services in question.
Thus the door is opened and inevitably what policy advisers hear in such consultations is not

entirely objective, factual information unmodified by the interests of the special interest

groups involved.

Of course, many public policy practitioners see themselves as ordinary citizens and quite

able to work out the public or consumer interest and bring the required balance to a policy

decision. This is not easy, though, if the voices of the strong interests are heard more often

and if, as is often the case, they are saying that they have worked out what is best for the
citizenry. It makes it even harder when the voices are heard over complimentary drinks at

the complimentary ballet or rugby match or some similar occasion.

In today’s world the problem is compounded with the trend toward globalisation of public

policy. Members of national delegations to international forums are rather more likely to find

themselves in the aeroplane in business class, or in the bars of the hotels with the lobbyists

of strong special interests than the advocates of weak special interests and of the public or

consumer interest. The latter are exerting some influence outside the barriers around these

forums, but this does not seem to be the way to develop measured public policy. A good

illustration is the recent attempt by USA representatives to prosecute the interests of breast

milk substitute manufacturers at the WHO even to the extent reportedly of threatening

Ecuador and other nations with trade sanctions should they sponsor a proposal on the issue.
In the event Russia sponsored and the proposal succeeded.

The Whitlam government’s Interim Commission on Consumer Standards recommended the

formation and funding of a consumer organisation ‘to provide a national voice for the

consumer movement and facilitate communication with government agencies’. The

government acted on this and provided funding for the establishment of the Australian

Federation of Consumer Organisations (AFCO now called the Consumers’ Federation of

Australia - CFA) in 1974.

Such funding was endorsed by the Coombs Royal Commission into Australian Government

Administration in 1975. It understood the problem of getting the voice of consumers and

other weak and diffuse voices into the policy formulation process. It recommended a

continuing programme for disbursement of funds to appropriate advocacy organisations

Australian governments, of both complexions have provided such funds, but not as

consistently as needed to ensure these voices are heard when they need to be heard. The

Consumers’ Federation of Australia has, for example, failed to regain government funding

since its funding was withdrawn by the Howard Government.

There are, though, three funded specialist consumer organisations: the Consumers’ Health

Forum, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, and Energy Consumers

Australia. The first of these is funded from general revenue. The others are funded by

levies on the relevant industries. It was actually the initiative of the then Telecom Australia to

fund ACCAN’s forerunner (the Consumers’ Telecommunications Network). Telecom

Australia’s Ted Benjamin and Dr Terry Cutler understood that telecommunications

policymaking would be the poorer without the consumer interest being independently

researched and advocated.

Also, it has been the case that governments have generally accepted that wherever there

are special producer interest representatives in advisory or regulatory bodies these should

be balanced with public and weak special interest representatives as appropriate. The

value in terms of knowledge and perspectives public and weak special interest
representatives bring is usually recognised with the payment of appropriate fees, but this is

by no means universal. Moreover, it is problematical that producer representatives on such

bodies can call on support from well-resourced producer organisations while public interest

and consumer representatives are often flying solo.

It is noteworthy that in the USA, where substantial funds are available from the many large

private foundations (scarce in Australia and many other countries) observers of the public

policy process nevertheless see the need for public funding of public and weak special

interest and consumer organisations. William Gormley (1991), one such observer, says:
“Without such support, citizens must often choose between passive acquiescence and

hysterical appeals to the mass media for publicity. With government support, citizens can

sharpen their own understanding of complex issues before they make a case to the

bureaucracy. The playing field (between producer and consumer interests) may not be

equalized, but it does become more equal.”
The benefit of seeking out, encouraging and structuring public and weak special interest and

consumer participation in government decision making and properly resourcing it from the

public purse far outweighs the cost.
Examples of public policy contributions resulting from the modest funding of the Consumers’
Federation include:
• Influence on industry assistance and trade policy reform during the eighties
• establishment of the Federal Bureau of Consumer Affairs and appointment of the first

Federal Minister for Consumer Affairs
• significant changes to consumer policy and legislation including class actions and

product liability
• establishment of two specialist consumer bodies with dedicated funding - the

Consumers' Telecommunications Network (now expanded to the Australian

Communications Consumer Action Network) and the Consumers’ Health Forum
• significant developments in micro-economic reform and regulatory policy change

including in the food, pharmaceutical, aviation, telecommunications and financial services

• establishment of industry-based co-regulatory external dispute resolution schemes

initially in banking and insurance
• securing consumer representation on all relevant national policy advising and

regulatory bodies

The federation also participated in all major policy processes including the economic and tax

summits and was represented in the Economic Planning Advisory Council

A particularly important achievement was a landmark win in a court case against the tobacco

industry (AFCO V Tobacco Institute of Australia) on the hazards of passive smoking which

has allowed much subsequent successful litigation against the industry and supported

smoking regulation nationally and internationally.
The Productivity Commission understood the need for an independent well-resourced voice

for the consumer interest and in its report on consumer policy recommended funding of a

consumer policy organisation.
We call on the Review to:

• acknowledge the relative much weaker influence of the consumer and wider
public interest relative to the producer interest in the public policy process,

• explore ways of establishing long term resourcing of an independent national
consumer policy organisation.

The “Fourth Arm’’ of Government

Integrity in the administration of government, though not explicitly mentioned in the scope of

the review, is nonetheless implicit in all of them.
Over the past 10 years, judicial, academic and public administration officials have posited

the value of and need for the recognition of a ‘fourth arm’ of government comprised of

independent public agencies whose role it is to:
• provide a window into what the public sector does
• report on how well it is doing its job, and
• provide an assurance to parliaments and the public that what they say is true and

Commonwealth Agencies of relevance include: the Commonwealth Ombudsman, the Office

of the Information Commissioner, the Public Service Commission and the Auditor General.
The list should include a Commonwealth anti-corruption body; however, no such body

currently exists.
ACCESS2 calls on the Review to have regard to the emerging literature and practice in

recognising integrity agencies and their ‘fourth arm’ status within the Commonwealth Public

It is our observation that the role accorded to each of the agencies and resources provided

to them show long term decline to the detriment of the governance of the public sector.
We call on the Review to:
• acknowledge the centrality to parliamentary democracy of responsiveness of

government and its agencies to citizens
• affirm the need for strong, independent integrity agencies in securing the

objects of the Review,
• consider and recommend measures to both protect and ensure accountability

of the agencies to the Parliament, and
• explore measures undertaken by State integrity agencies to enhance the

operations of parliamentary democracy through providing avenues for public

participation, ensuring public sector accountability and dealing with increasingly

complex issues of governance.