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Please refer to the LMS for up-to-date subject information, including assessment and participation requirements, for subjects being offered in 2020.
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This subject deals with the many ways in which an independent public service is a fundamental component of a well-functioning liberal democracy. This issue is often discussed by placing the unelected (‘undemocratic’) bureaucracy in tension with elected actors and the public. However, developments worldwide in recent years have heightened our understanding of an independent public service as a key pillar for any democratic system: keeping government accountable; providing trusted information to both government and the public; assisting with production of policy; and as a protector of individual rights and the rule of law more broadly. In many states worldwide the public service’s independence has come under direct attack, or is being slowly undermined due to diffuse trends, including increasingly polarised political environments where the very idea of an objective institution is subject to doubt.
The subject coordinator, Tom Daly, has extensive experience of both public administration and a research background focused on the health of liberal democracy in states worldwide.
Principal topics will include:
- The scope of the field.
- Defining the public service and its historical development.
- The main roles an independent public service plays to support democratic governance.
- Direct attacks on the independence of the public service in states worldwide.
- More diffuse threats to the independence of the public service.
- The role of the individual public servant in this picture.
- Case studies.
Intended learning outcomes
A student who has successfully completed this subject will:
- Understand the central importance of an independent public service/public administration to democratic rule
- Have developed ideas about how the role of the public service has changed over time in this respect.
- Have a sophisticated appreciation of the relationship between the public service and key elected actors (e.g. government, parliament).
- Be aware of the many issues raised for an independent public service by both direct attacks on independence and wider trends that affect independence.
- Have an advanced understanding of the critical debate on the role of an independent public service in a healthy democracy and be able to contribute effectively to it.
- Be able to analyse these developments, and the academic commentary on them, from a comparative perspective.
Generic skills that will be developed through successful completion of this subject include:
- A capacity to identify, understand and evaluate major new developments in public administration and governance in both Australia and internationally.
- The ability to think conceptually and analytically about the relationship between institutions in public governance.
- An appreciation of how principle and practice change over time and the ability to analyse how and why.
- Advanced research skills in understanding and explaining institutional arrangements in sufficient detail to be reliable for the purposes of sustaining an argument.
- The skills and capabilities to reflect upon professional practice in order to meet ethical challenges at the individual and institutional level.
Last updated: 18 December 2020