9 – Rationalising and streamlining government bodies

There are too many government bodies in Australia. This leads to duplication and overlap, unnecessary complexity, a lack of accountability, the potential for uncoordinated advice and avoidable costs.

Currently 194 principal Commonwealth bodies operate under the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 and the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997. (This Report refers to these as Principal Bodies.)

The governance obligations that apply to bodies operating under the Acts can be considerable. The Commission is advised that governance and other related costs vary between bodies but are estimated at being up to $1 million per year per body.

Additionally, over 120 bodies and committees recognised in legislation exist within departments and agencies, together with some 600 more boards, councils and committees established on an administrative basis.

Despite the plethora of bodies, there is no central repository of information on them. This reduces the government’s ability to ensure their work aligns with government objectives and community needs. This must be addressed.

In examining the potential for rationalisation of bodies and agencies, the Commission was guided by the Principles of Good Government outlined in Chapter One, together with additional propositions including:

  • the Commonwealth should consider withdrawing from activities that are outside its areas of core responsibilities;
  • portfolio departments should undertake policy work, while agencies should deliver programmes and services;
  • as far as practicable, bodies should be incorporated into the portfolio department;
  • organisations and bodies should capture economies of scale where possible;
  • bodies should have clear accountability and focus, with defined roles and performance management measures; and
  • the need for independence alone does not justify the establishment of a new operational body.