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Senator Peter Baume at Parliament House in 1990 addressing officers from the Department of Industrial Relations on the Senate estimates process

The committee’s—and particularly its chair Senator Peter Baume’s—intellectual rigour is signalled throughout the two-volume report. The second volume, tabled four months after the first, contains seven papers commissioned by the committee on subjects not ‘adequately’ covered during the inquiry process.

A former medical practitioner and future Health Minister, Baume expressed his satisfaction with the government’s response to his report by saying ‘it may reject our diagnosis but it is accepting the prescription’.

The resulting May 1979 report is considered a ‘watershed’, with ‘far-reaching effects’ on government administration and service delivery throughout Australia. The committee’s painstaking report highlighted the inadequacy of existing methods for measuring the success of government programs and the failure of government to report outcomes and achievements to Parliament.

The committee argued that systematic, transparent and ongoing performance evaluation and reporting would result in a ‘more equitable, efficient, effective and accountable’ system.

Accepting almost all of the report’s recommendations, the government spent the 1980s implementing government-wide performance evaluations using monitoring measures such as program budgeting, corporate plans and performance indicators. Parliamentary scrutiny of program outcomes has been improved by performance audits undertaken by the Australian National Audit Office and reported directly to Parliament.

The committee’s inquiry is now regarded as ‘an important milestone in the encouragement of better reporting of program performance by government agencies’ and has been commended for its forward-thinking insistence on evidence-based policy and decision-making.

National Library of Australia, nla.obj-156310500

Geoff Pryor, ‘It may be out of control, but at least it’s going somewhere’, Canberra Times, 4 May 1979. Cartoon in reponse to the Through a Glass, Darkly report.


Jannis Andrija Schnitzer, Through a Glass Darkly, 14 July 2010 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The report’s short title, Through a glass, darkly, comes from a famous biblical verse which also serves as its epigraph.

1 Corinthians 13:12 says: ‘For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known’.

The verse clearly resonated with the committee members, perhaps because it can be interpreted as a metaphor for government transparency. Knowing the actual impact of government programs can assist both Parliament and the public to understand their importance.