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Legitimacy and parliamentary oversight in Australia: The rise and fall of two public accounts committees

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Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to address the question of whether two early Australian public accounts committees were established for the purpose of legitimating governments of the time. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The paper addressed these issues through a study of the establishment, early work and abolition in the 1930s of the Victorian Committee of Public Accounts (VCPA) and the Joint Committee of Public Accounts (JCPA). Findings ‐ Clear evidence is found that the Joint Committee of Public Accounts (JCPA) had been copied from the VCPA and that the VCPA had been copied from the UK House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts, which was established in 1861. This would indicate that the primary objective in the establishment of both these committees was legitimation rather than control. It was found that the subsequent work of both the VCPA and the JCPA showed a drift away from an accounting focus towards a policy focus. This is similar to the JCPA experience described by Degeling et al. in relation to the JCPA, which also supports the legitimation argument. It was also found that both committees could be disestablished with relative ease because their legitimating purpose was no longer strong enough to demand their continuation and that, in fact, their abolition became the factor that served a legitimating purpose for governments. Originality/value ‐ The paper suggests that the ideas of legitimation and mimetic isomorphism provide a more convincing explanation for the nature and work of these two public accounts committees than the idea of accounting colonisation.
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Keywords: Australia; Modern history; Public sector accounting; Regulation

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 02 January 2009

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