Governments, as well as the community at large, need disinterested analysis and advice. It is important that governments are advised on the options for and against intervention in what some perceive as wrongs, and the potential and likely costs as well as the benefits to the whole community of such interventions. When the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration (RCAGA) was set up, most of this advice came from ‘official sources’: principally the Commonwealth Public Service, supplemented by official bodies such as the Tariff Board and the Bureau of Agricultural Economics. RCAGA was concerned about the narrowness of Australian policy discourse (especially in relation to economic policy), and explored several avenues for widening it. Ironically, these possibilities did not include what has turned out to be a very significant alternative to official sources: the use of outside consultants. This paper reviews the growing use of consultants in government, starting from the concerns of RCAGA, and exploring the institutionalisation of ‘outside’ advice, and the impact of this on the capacity of the public service to advise.
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