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Annex A: The size and complexity of the Commonwealth

(as seen in the Administrative Arrangements Order)

The Administrative Arrangements Order (AAO) forms the legal basis for the organisation of the public service into separate departments of state. The AAO specifies the matters dealt with by each department of state and the legislation administered by each minister of state administering a department.

One way the size and pervasiveness of the Commonwealth can be judged is through the evolution of the AAO. This is, of course, an imperfect measure but an illuminating one.

The very first AAO, under Prime Minister Barton, could fit on one page and described the roles of seven departments of state.

The current AAO, under Prime Minister Abbott, runs to 45 pages and describes 18 departments (a fraction less than that of his predecessor).

About halfway between Prime Ministers Barton and Abbott, the 1958 AAO under Prime Minister Menzies described 24 departments over eight pages.

Some of this variation in page length can be attributed to different fonts, layout and use of white space. More directly, the growing body of legislation administered by each department and listed in the AAO adds bulk. To provide a more direct comparison, these AAOs for each Prime Minister are reproduced below without the lists of legislation.

The change in the AAOs reflects growing Commonwealth powers, combined with significant consolidation of the departments of state in the 1980s. Although it should be noted that there have also been different preferences for drafting and a legalistic desire to provide a comprehensive description of the functions (compare the Menzies era Department of Primary Industries with the Department of Agriculture now).

Barton (1901)

Portfolios and Responsibilities
The Department of External Affairs
Fisheries extra-territorial
Naturalisation of Aliens
Immigration and Emigration
Influx of Criminals
External Affairs
Pacific Islands
High Commissioner
Communications with States
Governor-General and Executive Council Offices
Officers of Parliament
The Attorney-General’s Department
Bills of Exchange
Foreign Corporations
Service of Process
Recognition of Laws
Judiciary and Courts
Crown Law Offices
Parliamentary Draftsmen
The Department of Home Affairs
Old-age Pensions
People of Special Races
Acquisition of Property
Acquisition of Railways with State Consent
Control of Railways with State Consent
Census and Statistics
Public Works
Federal Capital
Inter-State Commission
Public Service
The Department of the Treasury
Taxation exclusive of Customs and Excise
Public Loans and taking over of State Loans Insurance
The Department of Trade and Customs
Trade and Commerce (including Navigation, Shipping and Customs)
Commonwealth bounties
Conciliation and Arbitration
Weights and Measures
The Department of Defence
Naval and Military Defence
Control of Railway Transport for Defence
The Postmaster-General’s Department
Posts, Telegraphs, and Telephones

Source: National Commission of Audit.

Menzies (1958)

Portfolios and Responsibilities
The Prime Minister’s Department
Secretariat to Cabinet
Secretariat to Executive Council
Government hospitality and State ceremonial
Benefits to Students; Commonwealth Office of Education
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization
National Archives
High Commissioners Office, London
Weights and Measures
The Department of the Treasury
Commonwealth finances, including taxation and borrowing money on the public credit of the Commonwealth
Census and statistics
Currency, coinage and legal tender
Foreign exchange
Government printing
The Attorney-General’s Department
Law and Justice, including Parliamentary and legal drafting
Bankruptcy and insolvency
Bills of exchange and promissory notes
Copyrights, patents of inventions and designs, and trade marks
Divorce and matrimonial causes; and in relation thereto, parental rights, and the custody and guardianship of infants
Foreign corporations, and trading and financial corporations formed within the limits of the Commonwealth
Recognition throughout the Commonwealth of the laws, the public Acts and records, and the judicial proceedings of the States
Service and execution throughout the Commonwealth of the civil and criminal process and the judgments of the courts of the States
The Department of External Affairs
External Affairs
Department of Defence
General defence policy
The Department of the Navy
Naval defence
The Department of the Army
Military Defence
The Department of Air
Air Defence
The Department of Customs and Excise
Duties of Customs and Excise
Bounties on the production or export of goods
The Department of Trade
Trade and Commerce with other countries
Industrial Development
The Department of Primary Industry
Agricultural and pastoral industries
The Postmaster-General’s Department
Postal, telegraphic, telephonic and other like services
The Department of the Interior
Administration of Australian Capital Territory and Jervis Bay Territory
Acquisition of property
Astronomical meteorological observations
Civil defence
Commonwealth property, land and buildings
Parliamentary elections and referendums
Places acquired by the Commonwealth for public purposes
Publicity and information
War graves
The Department of Labour and National Service
Industrial relations, including conciliation and arbitration in relation to industrial disputes
Commonwealth Employment Service
Provision of hostel accommodation for immigrants
National Service other than the rendering of Service
The Department of Shipping and Transport
Navigation and shipping, including Shipbuilding Lighthouses, lightships, beacons and buoys
Land transport
The Department of Works
Planning and execution of Commonwealth Works
The Department of Civil Aviation
Civil Aviation
The Department of Social Services
Social services including-
Invalid and old age pensions, Maternity allowances, widows’ pensions, child endowment, unemployment and sickness benefits and family allowances
The Repatriation Department
Repatriation and other benefits for members of the Forces and their dependants
The Department of Immigration
Immigration and emigration
Naturalization and aliens
The Department of Health
Public health, including-
Medical and dental services, pharmaceutical benefits and hospital benefits
The Department of Territories
Territories under the authority of the Commonwealth, other than the Australian Antarctic Territory, the Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands, the Australian Capital Territory and the Jervis Bay Territory
The Department of Supply
Supply, manufacture and overhaul of services and goods including munitions
Government transport and storage facilities outside the Australian Capital Territory
Defence research and development
Disposal of surplus goods
The Department of National Development
Development of National Resources Housing, including war service homes

Source: National Commission of Audit.

Abbott (2013)

Portfolios and Responsibilities
The Department of Agriculture
Agricultural, pastoral, fishing, food and forest industries
Soils and other natural resources
Rural adjustment and drought issues
Rural industries inspection and quarantine
Primary industries research including economic research
Commodity marketing, including export promotion and agribusiness
Commodity-specific international organisations and activities
Administration of international commodity agreements
Administration of export controls on agricultural, fisheries and forestry industries products
Food security policy and programmes
The Attorney-General's Department
Law and justice including -
Administrative law
Alternative dispute resolution
Constitutional law
Courts and tribunals
Human rights
International law
Law reform
Legal assistance
Legislative drafting
Marriage and family law
Personal property securities
Legal services to the Commonwealth
Criminal law and law enforcement
National security, protective security policy and co-ordination
Protective services at Commonwealth establishments and diplomatic and consular premises in Australia
Commonwealth emergency management
Natural disaster relief, recovery and mitigation policy and financial assistance including payments to the States and Territories and the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment
Administrative support for Royal Commissions and certain other inquiries
Critical infrastructure protection co-ordination
Freedom of Information
Cultural affairs, including movable cultural heritage and support for the arts
Management of government records
Native title
The Department of Communications
Broadband policy and programmes
Postal and telecommunications policies and programmes
Spectrum policy management
Broadcasting policy
National policy issues relating to the digital economy
Content policy relating to the information economy
The Department of Defence
Defence, including -
international defence relations and defence co-operation
defence scientific research and development
defence procurement and purchasing
defence industry development and co-operation
The Department of Education
Schools education policy and programmes, including vocational education and training in schools, but excluding migrant adult education
Schooling transitions policy and programmes including career pathways
Education and training transitions policy and programmes
Youth affairs and programmes, including youth transitions
Early childhood and childcare policy and programmes
Co-ordination of early childhood development policy and responsibilities
Higher education policy, regulation and programmes
Co-ordination of research policy in relation to universities
Creation and development of research infrastructure
Research grants and fellowships
Policy, coordination and support for international education and research engagement
The Department of Employment
Employment policy, including employment services
Job Services Australia
Labour market programmes for people of working age
Workplace relations policy development, advocacy and implementation
Promotion of flexible workplace relations policies and practices, including workplace productivity
Co-ordination of labour market research
Occupational health and safety, rehabilitation and compensation
Equal employment opportunity
Work and family programmes
The Department of the Environment
Environment protection and conservation of biodiversity
Air quality
National fuel quality standards
Land contamination
Administration of the Australian Antarctic Territory, and the Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands
Natural, built and cultural heritage
Environmental information and research
Ionospheric prediction
Co-ordination of sustainable communities policy
Population policy
Urban environment
Development and co-ordination of domestic climate change policy
Climate change adaptation strategy and co-ordination
Co-ordination of climate change science activities
Renewable energy
Greenhouse gas abatement programmes
Community and household climate action
Water policy and resources
The Department of Finance
Budget policy advice and process, and review of governmental programmes
Government financial accountability, governance and financial management frameworks, including grants and procurement policy and services
Shareholder advice on Government Business Enterprises and commercial entities treated as GBEs
General policy guidelines for Commonwealth statutory authorities
Superannuation arrangements for Australian Government civilian employees and members of parliament and retirement benefits for Federal Judges and Governors General
Asset sales
Commonwealth property policy framework, legislation and policy for the management of property leased or owned by the Commonwealth, including acquisition, disposal and management of property interests
Management of non-Defence Commonwealth property in Australia, including construction, major refurbishment, sustainability, acquisition, ownership and disposal of real property
Electoral matters
Administration of Parliamentarians’ entitlements
Administration of the Australian Government’s self-managed general insurance fund (Comcover)
Government on-line delivery and information technology and communications management
Policy advice on the Future Fund and Nation-building Funds and authorisation of payments from the Nation-building Funds to Agencies
Co-ordination of Government Advertising
Official Establishments, ownership and property management of the Prime Minister’s official residences
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
External Affairs, including -
relations and communications with overseas governments and United Nations agencies
treaties, including trade agreements
bilateral, regional and multilateral trade policy
international trade and commodity negotiations
market development, including market access
trade and international business development
investment promotion
international development co-operation
diplomatic and consular missions
international security issues, including disarmament, arms control and nuclear non-proliferation
public diplomacy, including information and cultural programmes
International expositions
Provision to Australian citizens of secure travel identification
Provision of consular services to Australian citizens abroad
Overseas property management, including acquisition, ownership and disposal of real property
Tourism industry
International development and aid
Development and co-ordination of international climate change policy
International climate change negotiations
The Department of Health
Public health, including health protection, and medical research
Health promotion and disease prevention
Primary health care
Hospitals funding and policy, including relationships and linkages within the continuum of health care
Implementation of the National Health and Hospitals Network
Health research
Pharmaceutical benefits
Health benefits schemes
Hearing services policy and funding
Specific health services, including human quarantine
Sport and recreation
National drug strategy
Regulation of therapeutic goods
Notification and assessment of industrial chemicals
Gene technology regulation
Medical indemnity insurance issues
Private health insurance
Blood and organ policy and funding
Health workforce capacity
Mental health policy and primary mental health care
The Department of Human Services
Development, delivery and co-ordination of government services, and development of policy on service delivery
Monitoring and management of service delivery arrangements involving social security, child support, students, families, aged care, health programmes, disability employment services, superannuation release and Australian Hearing Services
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection
Entry, stay and departure arrangements for non-citizens
Border immigration control
Ethnic affairs
Customs and border control other than quarantine and inspection
The Department of Industry
Manufacturing and commerce including industry and market development
Industry innovation policy and technology diffusion
Promotion of industrial research and development, and commercialisation
Biotechnology, excluding gene technology regulation
Marketing of manufactures and services
Enterprise improvement
Construction industry, excluding workplace relations
Small business programmes
Business entry point management
Provision of B2G and G2G authentication services
Facilitation of the development of service industries generally
Trade marks, plant breeders’ rights and patents of inventions and designs
Country of origin labelling
Weights and measures standards
Civil space issues
Analytical laboratory services
Science policy
Science engagement and awareness
Promotion of collaborative research in science and technology
Coordination of science research policy
Commercialisation and utilisation of public sector research relating to portfolio programmes and agencies
International science engagement
Information and communications technology industry development
Food processing industry policy
Skills and vocational education policy regulation and programmes
Training, including apprenticeships and training and skills assessment services
Foundation skills for adults
Support for introduction of a national occupation licensing system
Energy policy
Mineral and energy industries, including oil and gas, and electricity
National energy market
Energy-specific international organisations and activities
Administration of export controls on rough diamonds, uranium and thorium
Minerals and energy resources research, science and technology
Geoscience research and information services including geodesy, mapping, remote sensing, groundwater and spatial data co-ordination
Radioactive waste management
Renewable energy technology development
Low emissions fossil fuel energy
Industrial energy efficiency
Energy efficiency
Migrant adult education
The Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development
Infrastructure planning and co-ordination
Transport safety, including investigations
Land transport
Civil aviation and airports
Transport security
Maritime transport including shipping
Major projects office, including facilitation and implementation of all non Defence development projects
Administration of the Jervis Bay Territory, the Territory of Cocos (Keeling) Islands, the Territory of Christmas Island, the Coral Sea Islands Territory, the Territory of Ashmore and Cartier Islands, and of Commonwealth responsibilities on Norfolk Island
Constitutional development of the Northern Territory
Constitutional development of the Australian Capital Territory
Delivery of regional and territory specific services and programmes
Planning and land management in the Australian Capital Territory
Regional development
Matters relating to local government
Regional policy and co-ordination
The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Advice to the Prime Minister across Government on policy and implementation
Assistance to the Prime Minister in managing the Cabinet programme
National security policy co-ordination
Counter terrorism policy co-ordination
Cyber policy co-ordination
Intergovernmental relations and communications with State and Territory Governments
Co-ordination of Government administration
Australian Government employment workplace relations policy, including equal employment opportunity and administration of the framework for agreement making and remuneration and conditions
Australian honours and symbols policy
Government ceremonial and hospitality
Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policy, programmes and service delivery
Promotion of reconciliation
Community development employment projects
Reducing the burden of government regulation
Women’s policies and programmes
The Department of Social Services
Ageing research
Income security and support policies and programmes for families with children, carers, the aged, people with disabilities and people in hardship
Income support policies for students and apprentices
Services for families with children, people with disabilities and carers
Services for older people, including their carers
Policy for and promotion of active ageing, other than employment policy
Community mental health
Community support services
Family relationship, Family and Children’s Support Services
Social housing, rent assistance and homelessness
Child support policy
Housing affordability
Services to help people with disabilities obtain employment
Arrangements for the settlement of migrants and humanitarian entrants, other than migrant child and migrant adult education
Non-profit sector and volunteering
Multicultural affairs
The Department of the Treasury
Economic, fiscal and monetary policy
Borrowing money on the public credit of the Commonwealth
International finance
Foreign exchange
Financial sector policy
Currency and legal tender
Foreign investment in Australia
Superannuation and retirement savings policy
Business law and practice
Corporate, financial services and securities law
Corporate insolvency
Competition and consumer policy
Prices surveillance
Census and statistics
Valuation services
Commonwealth-State financial relations
Consumer credit
Housing supply policy
Small business policy
The Department of Veterans' Affairs
Repatriation income support, compensation and health programmes for veterans, members of the Defence Force, certain mariners and their dependants
War graves
Defence Service Homes

Source: National Commission of Audit.