Public Service Research Program | An Overview


“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do for themselves, in their separate and individual capacities.”

Abraham Lincoln

Three decades of ‘reform’ in public sectors around the world have seen significant changes in the way public services are delivered. Market mechanisms have been applied in a range of ways, including privatization, imitating markets by introducing artificial competition and incentives into government service delivery; treating citizens as consumers; and replacing the direct funding of services with ‘government by tax break’.

The trend in the last three decades has been to attempt to reduce the role of government to a minimum, with a philosophy that governments should only intervene in exceptional cases of market failure. It has taken a global financial crisis to make people realise that there are many things that markets do not do “so well”. Governments will continue to do what individuals and markets cannot do at all, but we also need to recognise that public services cannot always be delivered as if they were products in a market. We will draw on economic and social research that explores the case for government as a provider of public goods, despite the increased demand and pressures on revenue over the coming decades.

The CPD Public Service Research Program aims to:

  1. Develop a robust knowledge base about the state of public services: their funding and capacity: performance in delivering community services; and attitudes toward and expectations of the Australian Public Service; and
  2. Establish the CPD as a credible source of research and policy development on public services in Australia and their contribution to a just and resilient society by informing and contributing to public commentary and debate.

After years of hearing about what governments can’t do, shouldn’t do, or will inevitably stuff up if they try, it’s time to recapture a vision of the positive role of government, and put forward an agenda for public sector reform in the 21st century. At the heart of this vision should be a public service that works in cooperation with citizens to build a fair, sustainable and democratic society.

This program will research frameworks for public sector reform in the 21st Century that can better cope with the challenges of meeting changing community needs, delivering fair and universal public services, retaining a skilled and motivated workforce, increasing demands on public sector expenditure and the long term risks of declining revenue.

Both within and outside the public service, many have identified a range of barriers to innovation in the public sector, including the policy development/service delivery divide, the risk-averse culture and the lack of management support. In our recent paper, Beyond the Blunt instrument: The Efficiency Dividend & its Alternatives, we argued for a change in emphasis away from efficiency dividends and narrow performance management approaches and towards measuring effectiveness in the delivery of government services.

The Public Service Research Program will articulate the economic and social evidence on:

  • What governments do best (covering both their role in directly providing public goods, and their role in enabling the market and community sectors to do likewise);
  • How governments can do what they do best, better (taking in common causes of governments’ failure to serve the public interest effectively and how to address them)
  • How to fund governments to serve the public interest over the long term

… and it will place these questions within the context of the major forces driving change in the public sector over the coming decades.

For more information contact Christopher Stone, Public Service Research Director >

christopher.stone (at)



One Response to “Public Service Research Program | An Overview”

  1. Colin Fraser

    At the core of this anti-Public Service move, I suggest, is really a disguised “anti-Middle Class” movement. Everything over the last 30 years has been, essentially an assault on the Middle Class. If we ask why, then it all becomes clear. Thomas Hobbes was resurrected in Milton Freidman. Reagan, Thatcher et al., the affable, but abominable Roger Douglass included, clearly espoused the same principles as Hobbes, even if they had never read “Leviathan”. For some of them in that crowd, an Archie comic would have been too much intellectual effort though.

    One J.W.Howard, once berated the failing Mark Latham for “trying to reignite the Class War.” Mr Howard never encouraged us to look at the obvious. The class war has always been with us, but in this country, we had managed to kid ourselves into thinking we lived in a “classless” society. Mr Howard was making sure we would ignore that obvious conclusion, Middle Class welfare, public subsidies to an awful lot of private companies, nobbling the great Middle Class institutions, education, health, and democracy itself, and he was successful. The only one they did not get away with was the stated desire to end the “tyranny of the ballot box”, and scrap compulsory voting.

    Since introducing PPPs not one public/private project has come in on budget or on schedule. You only have to look at the current state of affairs with such projects that you can see this is part of a greater pattern that is breaking the States, financially, and is ruining their credibility. When a project fails to complete on time and on budget, it is the Government that wears it, not the builder. I suspect that tenders for jobs are deliberately made low, then “cost overruns” are loosely defined, and the media whines about budgets are “blowing out”, governments have “no control” – but God help the government that says this state of affairs is not good enough.