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Locked-in or Locked-out: Can a Public Services Market Really Change?

journal contribution
posted on 2020-12-07, 03:20 authored by Mark Considine, Siobhan O’Sullivan, Michael McGann, Phuc NguyenPhuc Nguyen
© Cambridge University Press 2020.

Australia's welfare-to-work system has been subject to ongoing political contestation and policy reform since the 1990s. In this paper we take a big picture look at the Australian system over time, re-visiting our earlier analysis of the impact of marketisation on flexibility at the frontline over the first ten years of the Australian market in employment services. That analysis demonstrated that marketisation had failed to deliver the service flexibility intended through contracting-out, and had instead produced market herding around a common set of standardised frontline practices. In the interim, there have been two further major redesigns of the Australian system at considerable expense to taxpayers. Re-introducing greater flexibility and service tailoring into the market has been a key aim of these reforms. Calling on evidence from an original, longitudinal survey of frontline employment service staff run in 2008, 2012 and 2016, this paper considers how the Australian market has evolved over its second decade. We find remarkable consistency over time and, indeed, evidence of deepening organisational convergence. We conclude that, once in motion, isomorphic pressures towards standardisation quickly get locked into quasi-market regimes; at least when these pressures occur in low-trust contracting environments.


Publication Date



Journal of Social Policy





Article Number

PII S0047279419000941


22p. (p. 850-871)


Cambridge University Press



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