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  3. The Rule of Law

The Rule of Law (PADM90006)

Graduate courseworkPoints: 12.5On Campus (Parkville)

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Year of offer2019
Subject levelGraduate coursework
Subject codePADM90006
FeesSubject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date

The Rule of Law is one of the core subjects in the Melbourne Master of Public Administration. The Melbourne MPA is an interdisciplinary, globally-focused degree program for managers that work within or with government in Australia or internationally. A foundational aspect of public administration is the legal environment within which public actors operate and understanding this is central to the activity of public administration and management. The subject identifies, explains and examines the role of law in providing legitimacy and authority for government, as a framework within which government must be conducted and as one of two principal systemic avenues through which the public accountability of government is secured (with political accountability). The subject matter is organised under the rubric of the rule of law, as a central organising legal value, which underpins a range of relevant legal rules and standards which shape the way in which those that work within and with government operate. The rule of law is claimed to characterise Australian government, has been described as an ‘assumption’ of the Australian Constitution and is widely accepted internationally as a prerequisite for the effective operation of a constitutional democratic state.

While the outer parameters of the rule of law are contested, there is no dispute about the core requirement that all parts of government, without exception, must act according to law. In Australia, the relevant ‘law’ for this purpose is found in the Australian Constitutions, legislation enacted or authorised by a Parliament and the common law, all of which are informed by the long history of common law constitutionalism. A broadly comparable framework exists in all other countries. The subject will introduce students to the principal rules, standards and practices involved in governing according to law. Rather than enmeshing students in detailed legal technicalities, it will examine the requirements of the rule of law though a selected range of contemporary issues that demonstrate the rule of law in practice and the pressures to which it may be subject. It will also consider the implications for government according to the rule of law of the increasing significance of international law for public managers, and those actors that work with government in the realm of public administration.

Intended learning outcomes

Students who successfully complete this subject should:

  • Understand the importance of law to public administration, and to the activity of those actors that work with and within government;
  • Understand why and how law authorises and constrains all public sector actors;
  • Understand the principal legal elements of the constitutional and legal framework for the operations of government in Australia and internationally
  • Have the capacity to plan public action so as to comply with law, to recognise and evaluate legal issues when they arise in practice, and to take appropriate action in relation to them;
  • Understand and be able to make a constructive contribution to debate on a range of contemporary challenges to the operations of the rule of law in Australia and internationally; and
  • Be aware of the implications of internationalisation and globalisation for the legal framework within which government acts, for its theoretical underpinnings and for its operation in practice.

Generic skills

On completion of this subject students should have:

  • A critical understanding of the operation of governments in Australia, the Asia-Pacific region and across the world, and the relationship between the operation of government and the rule of law;
  • A cross-cultural and interdisciplinary understanding of the complexity of international relations, in particular in relation to the implications of internationalism and globalisation for the legal framework within which government acts;
  • A sound understanding of the way in which the rule of law applies to public management processes and decisions, and what it requires of public sector actors;
  • A high-level ability to combine professional skills with discipline-based expertise in the rule of law, and to apply this synthesis to professional practice;
  • A highly-developed capacity to adapt to new situations and challenges in accordance with the rule of law;
  • Well-developed interpersonal and communication skills necessary to a range of professional activities including report writing and workplace discussions; and
  • Flexible communication skills with a highly attuned sensitivity to a diverse audience, and to the issues specific to cross-cultural communications.

Last updated: 27 August 2019