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The Greater China Australia Dialogue on Public Administration


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ANZSOG’s role in the Dialogue is part of its broader program of building links between Australia, New Zealand and Greater China, for the benefit of all jurisdictions involved. The current principals of the Dialogue are:

  • Honorary Professor Andrew Podger AO, ANU;
  • Professor Hon Chan, City University;
  • Professor Tsai-tsu Su, National Taiwan University;
  • Professor Jun Ma, Sun Yat Sen University; and
  • Professor Meili Niu, Sun Yat Sen University.

Dialogue workshops have been held every year since 2011 at a range of universities across Greater China and at ANU, on public administration issues of shared interest. Workshop themes have been:

  • 2011: Citizens-centred services;
  • 2012: Inter-governmental relations;
  • 2013: Human resources management;
  • 2014: Decentralisation;
  • 2015: Value for money: budgeting and financial management;
  • 2016: Policy-making processes;
  • 2017: Governance structures for performance and accountability;
  • 2018: Urban governance;
  • 2019: Taking advantage of new technology.

Papers from both the 2018 and 2019 Dialogues are available for free until the end of February 2021, through the Australian Journal of Social Issues and the Asia Pacific Journal of Public Administration respectively.

The series of dialogues has allowed increasingly deep understanding of practice in each jurisdictions as well as shared exploration of current issues and challenges. Each workshop has involved scholars from universities across Greater China and Australia, and a selection of practitioners from the different jurisdictions. Amongst the Australian practitioners have been officials from a range of Australian departments and authorities (including PM&C, Treasury, Health, Finance, Infrastructure, APSC and ATO), Victoria and NSW and local governments in Victoria and Queensland.

This website aims to provide a one-stop-shop allowing access both to all published papers and to a selection of previously unpublished papers that contain information and analysis of continuing relevance to Australian and Chinese scholars and practitioners. The website contains papers from the workshops up to and including 2019.

This workshop, held at Sun Yat Sen University, Guangzhou, explored how governments are taking advantage of new technology to improve the delivery of public services, and the challenges involved in managing technology – fairly and ethically as well as efficiently and effectively.

A symposium of papers from the workshop have been published in a special issue of the Asia Pacific Journal of Public Administration. The Australian papers include practitioner as well as academic perspectives on the management and use of artificial intelligence and big data, and on the professional skills required. The Chinese papers examine the evolution of public-private-partnerships to improve the use of technology, and the application of technology to enhance the capacity of one large city’s legislature

Links to individual articles are below:

Other papers from the workshop accessible here are:

The 2018 workshop, held at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, explored the governance challenges and practices in the face of the growing size and importance of cities for economic growth and productivity. The role of government is critical to the wellbeing of city populations and because residents and visitors share so much the benefits and costs of living in close proximity, relying heavily on public goods and regulations.
Papers arising from the workshop have been published in A special issue of the Australian Journal of Social Issues. The AJSI special issue will be available free until February 2021.

The 2017 workshop was held at the City University of Hong Kong with the theme of governance structures for performance and accountability. The focus was on the institutional arrangements within the executive for advising and implementing policies and programs. The basic institutional arrangements for government (the executive, legislature and judiciary, and the intergovernmental structures) shape the executive structures but were not the focus of the workshop.

Papers from the Dialogue were published as an ANZSOG/ANU Press book: Designing Governance Structures for Performance and Accountability. Insights are provided on both current developments in the different contexts of the three jurisdictions examined, and on broader institutional and organisational theories. Chapters cover theories of organisational forms and functions in public administration, the ‘core’ agency structures used in the different jurisdictions, the structures used to deliver public services (including non-government organisational arrangements) and other ‘non-core’ agency structures such as government business enterprises, regulatory organisations and ‘integrity’ organisations. Although the book explores arrangements and developments within very different political governance systems, the purposes of the structures are similar: to promote performance and accountability.

Chapter titles

The 2016 Dialogue workshop was held at Sun Yat Sen University in Guangzhou in October on the theme, ‘Improving Public Policy Decision-Making’. The sub-themes explored were:

  • Institutional adaptations including developments in both the executive and the legislature;
  • External involvement in policy advising;
  • Capability in policy advising; and
  • Devolved implementation, and the relationship between policy design and implementation.

Three Australian papers and four Chinese papers originally presented at the workshop are published here:

We have also gained permission from the Australian Treasury to reproduce a paper prepared by one of its officers, Dong Dong Zhang, while undertaking study at ANU as a National Government Fellow at the Crawford School of Public Policy:

This extra paper is included here because it provides valuable insights into China’s high-level policy decision-making processes which the Chinese workshop papers do not cover. It is an independent study and does not represent the views of the Treasury.

For a general introduction and summary of the papers click here.

The 2015 Greater China Australia Dialogue on Public Administration was held at the National Taiwan University in 2015, with the theme ‘Value for Money’.A selection of papers from the 2015 Dialogue were published as an ANZSOG/ANU Press book: Value for Money: Budget and financial management reform in the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan and Australia. While acknowledging that all governments face resource challenges requiring budgetary management processes, the chapters in this book describe budgeting and financial management in three very different jurisdictions: Australia, China and Taiwan. The editors offer an introduction of the topic before giving a brief overview of each chapter:

Chapter titles

The 2014 Dialogue workshop was held in October at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou with the theme, ‘Maximising the Benefits of Decentralisation’. Decentralisation, whether through a federalist approach or through tiers of administration, offers the opportunity to deliver significant benefits: not only increased responsiveness to local needs and preferences but also wider economic and social benefits if local authorities facilitate local market forces and compete with and learn from each other to maximise efficiency and effectiveness. But local authorities are also often more prone to corruption and mismanagement than central governments, as they usually lack central government’s capacity for good management and the scrutiny central governments face from the legislature and the media.

The workshop explored developments in:

  • the matching of capabilities and decentralised responsibilities at the local and regional level;
  • the role and capabilities required of national and provincial governments to support and monitor local/regional capabilities;
  • the role of civil society in enhancing local/regional capability; and
  • ‘political’ as distinct from ‘administrative’ capability requirements and the role of policy.

These sub-themes facilitated discussion of developments in the three jurisdictions despite the significant differences in institutional arrangements:

  • Australia’s federalist approach with sovereign provincial governments, compared to the PRC and Taiwan with unitary systems and different degrees of decentralised administration (the PRC with its four levels of sub-national government, and Taiwan with three levels of local government);
  • The separation of politics and administration in both Australia and Taiwan, compared to the PRC’s lack of any such separation (the Chinese Communist Party having control over both – and also across the executive, legislature and judiciary);
  • The well-established and still increasing role of civil society in Australia, compared to the new and still emerging role in the PRC and the growing role in Taiwan.

Mike Woods and John Wanna’s background paper, ‘Principles and Dimensions of Public Sector Decentralisation’, provided a theoretical back-drop to the workshop discussion. It highlights the range of factors that may contribute to the extent and way in which a country may decentralise its public administration, distinguishing between ‘devolution’ and ‘decentralisation’.

The paper discusses the principles sometimes used to support devolution or decentralisation – subsidiarity, differentiation and experimentation, and the adequacy of local capability. It also outlines contextual, administrative and logistical considerations. These principles and considerations qualitatively differ with the powers and functions involved, and there are a number of approaches that can be taken to the design of institutional arrangements (including historical legacies, power conflict and rational design). The paper summarises aspects of the different arrangements in Australia and the PRC before listing key issues for discussion including:

  • The practical criterion for determining which policy areas warrant the exercise of national power and which ones can be more appropriately devolved;
  • How administration and service delivery can be decentralised for maximum efficiency and effectiveness;
  • How performance by local authorities should be managed and monitored; and
  • What inter-governmental arrangements are required to promote equity and national social cohesion.

Tsai-tsu Su’s presentation (her slides included here) describes Taiwan’s government structure of central and (three levels of) local government and the history of its development.

She suggests further decentralisation is likely but identifies a number of challenges, including capability problems, immature inter-governmental relations, regional inequality and corruption. Many of these would be familiar to an Australian audience discussing local government.

There were several Australian presenters at the workshop, including from Victorian state and local governments, outlining developments particularly around performance management of local governments, capability building and inter-governmental relations. Unfortunately, these presentations were not in a form suitable for wider dissemination.

Jianxing Yu, Lin Li and Yongdong Shen (‘Rediscovering Intergovernmental Relations at a Local Level: Devolution of Administrative Power to Township Governments in Zhejiang Province’) describe the renewal of the role of townships in Zhejiang Province which has since become a model for the rest of the PRC.

Townships had been overshadowed by the growing role of provinces and counties, but in fact they offer the opportunity for more bottom-up influence in China’s government arrangements, in both economic and social development. The authors acknowledge the challenges, including in particular those surrounding capability and ensuring accountability (both upwards to higher levels of government and downwards to the local people). There is also some way to go to ‘institutionalise’ the emerging arrangements so that townships can confidently exercise their flexibilities within clear policy frameworks. This paper has been published in The China Review (6:2, 1-26) and is made available here with the kind permission of the publishers.

Xufeng Zhu and Hui Zhao (‘Experimentalist Governance with Interactive Central-Local Relations: Making New Pension Policies in China’) explore the way China has applied ‘experimentalist governance’ to develop and test national policies in collaboration with sub-national governments.

The paper has been published in the Policy Studies Journal (49:1, 13-36), and is available here with the kind permission of the publisher. The authors use case studies on four pension policies in China to describe the features of China’s approach to experimental governance, and to conceptualise some new patterns in addition to classical ‘hierarchical experimentation’ where central government first sets out the policy goals and policy instruments and local experimentation tests if they work effectively. Policies are not always well defined by the centre, nor the policy instruments, and both may be affected by the local experiments; China also has a unique mixture of decentralised economic and social responsibilities and political authoritarianism in organisational and personnel institutions. Moreover, evaluation of experiments relies heavily on the local governments themselves. Accordingly, the process in China involves quite strong, interactive central-local relationships.

The new patterns identified by the authors, in addition to the hierarchical one, are: ‘comparative trials’ where policy goals and instruments have been identified and various local government experiments are compared; ‘selective recognition’ where policy goals have been identified but not the instruments to be applied; and ‘adaptive reconciliation’ where local practices reflect diverse goals but may then influence national policies and policy instruments. These patterns can be seen in the way different aspects of pensions policies have been developed – for public sector employees, for fully-funded individual accounts, for rural social pension insurance and for pension insurance for migrant workers.

In a related paper (‘Dynamics of central-local relations in China’s social welfare system’), Xufeng Zhu describes how China has been re-centralising its social welfare system by re-introducing binding targets for local governments, scaling up the proportion of special transfer payments and initiating central-guided pilot projects, and strengthening its line management at provincial level. The article has been published in the Journal of Chinese Governance (1:2, 251-268) and is available here with the kind permission of the publishers.

Bingqin Li examines the way Chinese cities compete for economic and social development through a top-down supported process (‘Top-down place-based competition and awards: local government incentives for non-GDP improvement in China’). This form of competition occurs internationally, for example for the hosting of the Olympics, but is now used in China to motivate city officials including to increase public participation, gain greater inter-sectoral cooperation and to promote inter-regional learning. There are, however, risks due to some perverse incentives and short-sighted responses, and the limited capacity for poor places to respond. The article has been published in the Journal of Chinese Governance (3:4, 397-418) and is available here with the kind permission of the publishers.

Ming-feng Kuo and Chun-yuan Wang provide a case study from Taiwan to explore some of the dilemmas involved in decentralisation (‘Decentralisation Dilemmas in Disaster Management: Lessons from Flood Control in Taiwan’).

Their focus is on how local and central governments need to cooperate and collaborate on disaster management – the field they call ‘the fuzzy zone of cooperative governance’. The study explores Taiwan’s system of flood control of integrated river basin management, and the history of centralisation, decentralisation and considerable recentralisation. Key challenges include the human resources and financial support local government requires, and their capacity to respond in the event of a disaster; and local politics and rivalries across local governments which can inhibit professional management of flood-prone areas and flood disasters. The role of central government is therefore essential, but needs to be managed cooperatively, requiring trust, good information exchange and some clarity and stability surrounding respective roles and responsibilities.

The final two papers included here from the 2014 workshop concern the way governments work with civil society, involving a modern form of decentralisation.

The Australia study by David Gilchrist, ‘Partnerships between Government and the Third Sector at a Sub-national Level: Experience of an Australian Sub-national Government’, has since been published by ANU Press in a book in its ANZSOG series: The Three Sector Solution: delivering public policy in collaboration with not-for-profits and business, edited by John Butcher and David Gilchrist.

It is based on a series of reviews commissioned by the Western Australian Government to evaluate the impact of its policy of Delivering Community Services in Partnership, which was undertaken by David Gilchrist. Amongst the findings from the reviews was that: progress was being made to enhance the capability of non-government organisations to deliver public services, but further effort was needed; steps were being taken towards longer-term contracts which should enhance confidence and promote greater investment and collaboration; but there was still some distance to be covered to ease the administrative burden and to achieve greater consistency across government departments.

Yongdong Shen and Jianxing Yu examine the increasing practice by local governments in China to collaborate with NGOs in China’s emerging civil society. Their paper, ‘Local Government and NGOs in China: Performance-based Collaboration’, has been published by the China: an international journal (15:2, 177-191) and is made available here with the kind permission of the publishers.

The paper presents two case studies to illustrate how performance-based decentralisation in China is encouraging local governments to collaborate with NGOs in order to extend local economic and social development. The paper describes some of the history of the Chinese Government’s approach towards NGOs and their regulation. The cases presented suggest further steps towards acceptance of the role and potential contribution of NGOs in the context of pressures on local governments to achieve high levels of economic and social development. One case relates to an NGO in one city providing home-based care services to the elderly; the other case relates to a business association in another city focused on air purification products, which was used to help develop accreditation requirements for specialised contractors to facilitate broader industrial development in the city. The cases suggest the likelihood of expanding roles for NGOs in collaboration with Chinese local governments, but also the need to increase their capability and to ‘institutionalise’ the arrangements through more systematic contracting and clarification of respective responsibilities.

Papers from the 2012 Dialogue were published in a special Issue of the Australian Journal of Public Administration: Inter-Governmental Relations in China and Australia (AJPA, Volume 72, Issue 2, September 2013

This journal issue was published following the second Greater China Australia Dialogue workshop, held in 2012, exploring current practices and challenges in allowing a degree of local autonomy within national public policy frameworks in China, Taiwan and Australia. Arrangements across the three countries are variable and often significant, and this issue aims to capture details relating to each context. The editors offer an introduction of the topic before giving an overview of the articles included in the issue:

Papers from the inaugural dialogue in 2011 were published in a special issue of the Australian Journal of Public Administration: Citizen’s engagement in Australia and China (AJPA, Volume 71, Issue 2, June 2012

This journal issue was published following the first Greater China Australia Dialogue workshop, held at Sun Yat-sen University in 2011 on the topic of ‘Putting Citizens at the Centre: Making Government More Responsive’. This topic was chosen in response to growing international interest in citizen-focused public services, acknowledging that this concept has different meanings in different concepts. The editors offer an introduction to the topic before giving an overview of the articles included in the issue: