Faculty of Law

Postgraduate - Unit

This unit entry is for students who completed this unit in 2014 only. For students planning to study the unit, please refer to the unit indexes in the the current edition of the Handbook. If you have any queries contact the managing faculty for your course or area of study.

print version

6 points, SCA Band 3, 0.125 EFTSL

Refer to the specific census and withdrawal dates for the semester(s) in which this unit is offered, or view unit timetables.

FacultyFaculty of Law
OfferedCity (Melbourne) Trimester 2 2014 (On-campus block of classes)


Quota applies

Postgraduate programs are based on a model of small group teaching and therefore class sizes need to be restricted.


Government is much more than law. This unit examines the legal, policy and ethical issues affecting government at the federal, state and local council levels. This course will enable students and practicing officials to understand how governments and their administrative processes are structured, how the legal operation of government is affected by Westminster principles, oversight bodies and public sector ethics and how government is changing.

The first part of the course will focus on understanding the legal framework of government. This part of the unit will explain the structure and operation of government in a Westminster system, with particular attention to parliamentary and ministerial oversight of government decision making. This part of the unit will build upon and advance the knowledge of students who have studied administrative law. For those who have not, it will provide a legal and theoretical framework to locate and strengthen their professional knowledge. One theme of this part of the course is the difference between law and politics. Students will be asked to consider core problems in government law. How independent can and should government officials be from politicians? How can government officials balance the often competing requirements of legal and political accountability? When and how can politicians properly direct or influence government officials, particularly those appointed to independent positions? Another theme of this part of the course is the requirements of sound decision making. The course will connect law to practice to consider questions, such as what makes a sound decision? What are best practice models of decision making? How can reasons for decisions be drafted and defended?

The second part of this course will address the avenues of accountability and oversight outside the courts. Attention will be given to modern theories suggesting that there is now a 'fourth' arm of government, which takes in the so-called integrity bodies such as Ombudsmen, Auditors-General and anti-corruption agencies. The suggestion of a fourth arm of government recognises the growing and unique role of those public sector agencies outside the courts. Students will be given the opportunity to fully explore how mechanisms of accountability and regulation outside the courts are now a driving force in government behaviour and how they can react to those forms of oversight.

The third part of this course will examine public sector ethics - the guiding principles to which all public officials are subject. This part of the course will build on the two earlier parts by considering how traditional Westminster principles and the agencies of the fourth arm of government create a loose set of principles governing government officials. Consideration will be given to the separate and complimentary function of public sector values. What are the special ethical rules and values of the public sector? How much of these values are formal or written? How do we manage conflicts between normal workplace pressures and the unique problems of government such as political pressure? This part of the course will draw heavily on the experience of students and guest speakers for discussion and problem solving.


On completion of this unit students will be able to:

  • apply knowledge of fundamental issues in public law, administration and government decision making and exercise analytic skill and professional judgment to generate appropriate responses to moderately complex problems
  • understand the framework of legal, political and ethical principles that affect government and also the related principles of parliamentary supervision of government processes;
  • understand and apply the principles of good decision making, particularly the drafting of reasons for decisions;
  • critically evaluate, integrate and apply abstract concepts, theories and problems in public law, administration and government decision making
  • use comparative perspectives from legal and non-legal approaches to assess government action
  • research independently, synthesize and analyse information about government and its processes to create new understandings of key developments, likely future directions and current and emerging problems
  • interpret, communicate and present ideas and arguments relating to public law, administration and decision making effectively and persuasively to specialist or non-specialist audiences and peers.


Research assignment (3,750 words): 50%
Take-home examination (3,750 words): 50%

Chief examiner(s)

Workload requirements

24 contact hours per semester (either intensive, semi-intensive or semester long, depending on the Faculty resources, timetabling and requirements)


JD students will be expected to have completed or be enrolled in LAW7274 Principles of Administrative Law. Other students should have knowledge of or experience in government decision making.