Accountability and the Fair Work Ombudsman

Australian Journal of Administrative Law, Vol. 18, No. 3, 2011

U of Melbourne Legal Studies Research Paper No. 577

7 Pages Posted: 17 Apr 2012

See all articles by Tess Hardy

Tess Hardy

University of Melbourne - Law School

John Howe

University of Melbourne Law School

Date Written: April 16, 2012

Abstract

The importance of accountability has long been sheeted home to the Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO), the federal statutory agency responsible for enforcement of minimum employment standards under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). In the immediate aftermath of Work Choices, the activities of the regulator were mired in controversy. In particular, the agency’s involvement in a number of high profile and hotly contested cases led to accusations that one of its predecessor agencies, the Office of Workplace Services (OWS), was politically motivated and acting as the Howard Coalition Government’s “secret police.” The then Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley, vowed to axe the agency should his government come to power. Greg Combet, who was secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions at the time, stated that any standing the agency had “has been shot to ribbons.”

In light of the agency’s rather harrowing experiences in the wake of Work Choices, it is not surprising that the FWO now places a heavy emphasis on the importance of independence, transparency and accountability. Indeed, the political controversy outlined above was no doubt a factor in the subsequent replacement of the OWS, which was an executive agency under Work Choices, with a statutory authority, the Workplace Ombudsman (WO), under amendments passed by the Coalition government in 2007. More recently, a review by the Commonwealth Ombudsman has had the effect of testing various accountability measures the FWO has since put in place. However, despite these developments and with reference to the opening quote, the question remains: has the FWO laid all of its cards on the table? Drawing on an extended concept of accountability, this article will undertake a preliminary assessment of the various accountability mechanisms which currently apply to the FWO and question whether these checks are adequate to guard against the criticisms previously leveled at the organisation.

Keywords: fair work ombudsman, work choices, accountability

JEL Classification: K00, K31

Suggested Citation

Hardy, Tess and Howe, John B, Accountability and the Fair Work Ombudsman (April 16, 2012). Australian Journal of Administrative Law, Vol. 18, No. 3, 2011; U of Melbourne Legal Studies Research Paper No. 577. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2041024

Tess Hardy (Contact Author)

University of Melbourne - Law School ( email )

University Square
185 Pelham Street, Carlton
Victoria, Victoria 3010
Australia

John B Howe

University of Melbourne Law School ( email )

Centre for Employment & Labour Relations Law
Parkville, Victoria 3010
Australia
61 3 9344 8924 (Phone)
61 3 9349 4623 (Fax)

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