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Machinery of government

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Machinery of government

The Machinery of Government (sometimes MoG) means the interconnected structures and processes of government, such as the functions and accountability of departments in the executive branch of government. The term is used particularly in the context of changes to established systems of public administration where different elements of machinery[1] are created.

The phrase "machinery of government" is thought to have originated with John Stuart Mill in Considerations on Representative Government[2] (1861). It was notably used to a public audience by President FD Roosevelt in a radio broadcast[3] in 1934, commenting on the role of the National Recovery Administration (NRA) in delivering the New Deal. A number of national governments including those of Australia, Canada, South Africa and the United Kingdom have adopted the term in official usage.


In Australia, the terms ‘machinery of government changes’ and ‘administrative re-arrangements’ are interchangeable and are used to refer to the changes to the structure of government and the allocation of government functions between departments and ministers.[4]

Machinery of government changes may occur at any time, however the most significant changes generally occur immediately following an election.[5] There is usually very little consultation or discussion prior to machinery of government changes in Australia, especially those following elections.[6]

The Commonwealth Government and some state and territory governments utilise Administrative Arrangements Orders (also called AAOs) as legal instruments as a primary method to make machinery of government changes.

Australian Government Administrative Arrangement Orders

At the Commonwealth Government level, Administrative Arrangements Orders (AAOs) are made by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister formally allocating executive responsibility among ministers. AAOs establish Departments of State under the Constitution, including the principal matters and legislation dealt with by each Department and its Minister(s).[7] The AAO is generally only updated when functions move between departments, ordering machinery of government changes.[7] Since 1901 there have been over 170 AAOs ordered by the Governor-General.[8] Only one AAO remains active at any one time; when a new AAO is made, all previous AAOs are revoked.[9] Administrative Arrangement Orders are generally published in the Commonwealth Gazette.[10]

Administrative Arrangements Orders are seen by some academics as a central platform of good government management as the orders set the basic structure of cabinet, ministerial responsibilities, portfolios and departments.[11]

Implementation costs

When an Administrative Arrangements Order orders departments to be split, cut or combined, the costs involved in public service machinery of government may include:

  • renaming departments, redesigning websites and changing signs;[12]
  • transferring staff, furniture, equipment, leases and files between departments;[12]
  • transferring or merging IT services;[12] and
  • cutting staff, particularly in senior ranks.[13]

Total costs associated with issuing new Administrative Arrangements Orders are unknown, as the costs involved with machinery of government changes are not collated or reported,[12][14] but in November 2013 the Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection told a Senate estimates hearing that the cost of the Department's name change was cheap at 'only' an estimated $195,000.[15]

State and territory government machinery of government mechanisms


In Queensland, the Premier has sole responsibility for determining ministerial portfolios.[16] On the Premier’s advice, the Governor of Queensland sets out the responsibilities of ministers and their portfolios in AAOs.[16] AAOs are re-issued or amended when government structural changes take place.[16]

The biggest machinery of government changes in Queensland's history were in December 1989 under the Labor Government headed by Wayne Goss.[17] Machinery of government changes made in March 2009 were also significant, collapsing 23 stand-alone government departments into 13.[17]

New South Wales

According to KPMG, in New South Wales government structure is established under section 104 of the Public Sector Employment and Management Act 2002.[18] The Act gives the Governor of New South Wales the power to create, rename or abolish any NSW Government department through the issue of an executive order, acting on the advice of the elected government.[18]


In Victoria government structure is set by an Order in Council made under section 10 of the Public Administration Act 2004.[18][19] The Act gives the Governor of Victoria the power to create departments and allocate functions.[18] Staff and work units can also be transferred between departments by declaration of the relevant Minister.[19]

Western Australia

According to KPMG, section 35(1) of the Western Australian Public Sector Management Act 1994, the Governor of Western Australia may establish, amalgamate or abolish government departments on the recommendation of the Public Service Commissioner.[18] Section 35(4) of the same Act provides that the Minister responsible for public service matters may direct the Public Service Commissioner to make recommendations the Governor and the Commissioner must comply with that recommendation.[18][20]

South Australia

According to KPMG, in South Australia the Governor may establish, alter and abolish government departments under powers provided in section 26 of the Public Service Act 2009.[18]


In Tasmania, administrative arrangements are set out in Administrative Arrangements Orders[21] The orders cover which Minister is responsible for the administration of legislation.[22]

Northern Territory

In the Northern Territory, according to KPMG, the Administrator of the Northern Territory determines government structural arrangements, acting on the advice of the government of the day.[18]

Australian Capital Territory

According to KPMG, in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), the Chief Minister of the ACT is given full power to allocate executive power to ministers and to establish government "administrative units".[18]


  1. ^ For example, a Number 10 Press Notice on 5 May 2006 was entitled Machinery of Government changes in announcing the creation of a new department of the British Government, accessed at [1] 12 June 2006
  2. ^ Mill, J.S. (1861) Considerations on Representative Government, Chapter V; editions include Kessinger, ISBN 0-7661-8898-1; text accessed at University of Texas at Austin [2] 12 June 2006
  3. ^ Roosevelt, F.D. Fireside Chat broadcast 30 September 1934 accessed at Mid-Hudson Regional Information Center [3] 12 June 2006
  4. ^ "Implementing machinery of government changes". Australian Public Service Commission. September 2013. Retrieved 24 September 2013. 
  5. ^ "ARCHIVE: Implementing Machinery of Government Changes". Australian Public Service Commission. Archived from the original on 28 September 2013. Retrieved 25 September 2013. 
  6. ^ Nethercote, John (29 June 1999). "Departmental Machinery of Government Since 1987: Research paper No. 24 1998-99". Department of the Parliamentary Library. 
  7. ^ a b "Explore the law: an A-Z of key jargon and sources". ComLaw. Archived from the original on 17 January 2013. Retrieved 24 September 2013. 
  8. ^ "Administrative Arrangements Orders". National Archives of Australia. Archived from the original on 9 April 2013. Retrieved 24 September 2013. 
  9. ^ "Administrative Arrangements Order - 16 May 2013". ComLaw. 17 May 2013. Retrieved 24 September 2013. 
  10. ^ "Glossary". National Archives of Australia. Archived from the original on 14 August 2013. Retrieved 24 September 2013. 
  11. ^ Podger, Andrew (2 July 2013). "A wish-list for better government". The Canberra Times (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 24 September 2013. 
  12. ^ a b c d Mannheim, Markus (18 September 2013). "High price of churn". The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media). Archived from the original on 5 November 2013. Retrieved 23 September 2013. 
  13. ^ Griffiths, Emma (19 September 2013). "Tony Abbott sworn in as Australia's 28th Prime Minister". ABC News. Archived from the original on 27 March 2014. Retrieved 24 September 2013. 
  14. ^ "How to navigate Machinery of Government changes" (Press release). National Archives of Australia. 9 August 2013. Archived from the original on 4 July 2014. Retrieved 25 September 2013. 
  15. ^ Aston, Heath (20 November 2013). "Department's new name to cost $200,000". The Canberra Times (Fairfax Media). Archived from the original on 7 March 2014. 
  16. ^ a b c "Changes to our structure". Queensland Government. 27 June 2013. Archived from the original on 12 May 2013. Retrieved 24 September 2013. 
  17. ^ a b MacDonald, Robert (16 January 2012). "A mog's life with fickle masters". The Courier Mail (News Ltd). 
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i Machinery of Government, KPMG, April 2012, archived from the original on 28 September 2013, retrieved 24 September 2013 
  19. ^ a b "Machinery of Government". Victorian Department of the Premier and Cabinet. 24 April 2013. Archived from the original on 28 April 2013. Retrieved 24 September 2013. 
  20. ^ Appendix G - Machinery of government changes, Government of Western Australia Public Sector Commission, 10 December 2013, archived from the original on 25 June 2014 
  21. ^ "Administrative Arrangements for Tasmanian Enactments". 27 February 2013. Retrieved 24 September 2013. 
  22. ^ "TASMANIAN LEGISLATION: ADMINISTRATIVE ARRANGEMENTS [Statutory Rule 23/2006 (amend 40/2006)]". Tasmanian Parliamentary Library. Retrieved 24 September 2013. 

Further reading

  • Making and Breaking Whitehall Departments: A Guide to Machinery of Government Changes, Institute for Government, May 2010 
  • Nethercote, John (1999), Departmental Machinery of Government Since 1987:Research Paper 24 1998-99, Parliamentary Library, Australia, archived from the original on 11 August 2007, retrieved 12 June 2006 
  • Machinery of Government Reform: Principles and Practice in The Organisation of Central Government Departments: A History 1964-1992, ESRC Whitehall Programme at Nuffield College, University of Oxford, archived from the original on 17 April 2012, retrieved 12 June 2006 
  • Constitutional, legal and Government framework: Machinery of Government changes, Australian Public Service Commission, March 2008, archived from the original on 5 June 2009 
  • "Information Sheet 4.6 - Machinery of Government". Queensland Government Treasury. November 2012. Retrieved 25 September 2013. 
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