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Title: Accountability and governance
Book Title: Are You Being Served? State Citizens and Governance
Author(s): Mulgan, Richard
Uhr, John
Keywords: accountability
public sector
public management
public accountability
Date created: 2000
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
This paper, to appear in revised form in the third volume of the series on governance in Australia editied by Glyn Davis, Michael Keading, John Wanna and Patrick Weller, examines the place of accountability in the emerging framework of Australian national governance. The aim is not to map the institutional configuration of accountability agencies in government but to examine a number of basic tensions surrounding accountability and the role of accountability agencies. Although the term 'accountability' is fundamental to governance discourse, expectations of accountability vary quite markedly with different institutional and community perspectives. This paper attempts to sort through some of the more basic tensions associated with the mixed expectations of accountability by identifying how the one term of 'accountability' is often attached to mechanisms that operate at cross-purposes, to the detriment of national governance. The paper begins with a review of the conventional forms of accountability in Australian national governance and then examines three challenging arenas of accountability. First, the arena of open government associated with the agenda of the so-called new administrative law. This is a model of process-accountability which is frequently criticised as having become (i) too costly given the meagre range of benefits it has generated, and (ii) too burdensome on government decision-making given the rights of interested parties to stay the hand of government through round after round of administrative review. The second model is the new public management one of results-oriented accountability, which is frequently criticised as detrimental to due-process safeguards of accountability. The third line of inquiry concerns changing public expectations of accountable government. In the Conclusion, we place these accountability developments in the increasingly international context of Australian governance. Emerging international practices, such as those involving United Nations committees with monitoring responsibilities in relation to Australian government compliance with treaty obligations, highlight growing 'accountability gaps'. We use this term to refer to gaps between the nature of information required by demanders and suppliers of accountability. We note that increasingly public officials who appear before some accountability agencies find themselves in 'accountability traps', where no amount of performance reporting can ever satisfy the demands made of their accountability obligations. We acknowledge that accountability requires more than simply the provision of information from decision-makers, but debates over the qualities of information provide us with a focus for analysing wider trends. Our basic argument is that Australian governance suffers from an increasing number of 'accountability gaps'. We are not original in drawing attention to the messy state of accountability in Australian governance. We conclude that it is unrealistic to expect anything much in the way of an 'accountability accord' until some of the more fundamental accountability gaps are bridged, on the basis of a new appreciation of the information requirements required by each set of demanders and suppliers of accountability.
Type: Working/Technical Paper
ISBN: 186508591X
Appears in Collections:Open Access Research

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