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Policy Studies: Tracing policy history

Tracing policy history

The following questions require the location of sources which  establish the history of a policy area:

  • What is mutual obligation and how has it shaped government policy on unemployment?
  • What type of family support payments were made in the 1960s?
  • How  has health policy changed in the last twenty years?
  • Adequate housing is essential for social inclusion. Compare current government policy on homelessnes and supported accommodation with policies in the 1990s.
  • How has feminism shaped child care provision in Australia?

There are many sources that can be used to  trace the history of or identify key landmarks in policy development.

Researching policy history

Use Library search or a research database to find books or articles that provide an overview or discuss the history of a policy area.

This may be useful in providing an understanding of policy differences over time and between governments.

Material that provides theoretical consideration of policy and policy change can also be located in these secondary sources.

  • Try using a keyword search on your topic and include the terms "policy" or "government policy".


    • homeless* policy australia*
    • refugee "government policy" Australia*

  • Use Advanced library Search and filter bt the subject field for a more specific search
    • Housing policy Australia
    • People With Disabilities  Government Policy  Australia
    • Public Welfare Australia
    • Child care  Government policy  Australia 
    • Older people care government policy Australia
  • a research database will help you locate journal articles that discuss or analyse a current policy area. Articles may also discuss differences between the policies of a particular Government or policies for different time periods.
    •    Click on the Finding articles tab to locate research databases for policy studies. 
  • use a chronology to quickly identify landmarks or changes in policy provsions 

Official sources for policy history

Policy information can be sourced from many parliamentary and other official government documents. Consult the Parliamentary, legal and media sections of this guide for additional information and resources. The following all provide access to policy information.

  • Parliamentary debates - may provide a background to policy decisions or perceived  problems with a policy area.
  • Parliamentary Library publications - access to chronologies,background and research papers on many policy issues
  • Bills Digest - prepared for parliamentary debates digests provide information relating to Bills (proposed legislation). A digest usually includes purpose and main provisions of a bill and background information on proposed legislation in some cases the digest  includes the positions of significant interest groups and press commentary    
  • Parliamentary Committees -access to the reports and papers produced by committees may be useful for policy research. Committees often make recommendations on proposed policy changes or may examine a specific policy.
  • Official governenment publications - annual reports and other publication produced by Government Departments and agencies will also help identify policy for a particular government or over a period of time. 

Sources for Current Government Policy

  • Websites for Government Departments and Agencies document current government policies on areas of responsibility. A website may include
    • policy statements and media releases, reports and other publications outlining policy, programs and initiatives and campaigns all which relate to a policy area.
    • Remember policy is complex, sometimes there will be a report or media release which summarises a specific policy. Frequently policy will be represented not only by publications and statements but also through legislation, programs and initiatives.



Parliamentary Research Publications

Both the Federal and State Parliamentary Libraries publish many useful resources that can be used to trace the history of some policy areas. Publications include chronologies, background papers and notes, issues briefs and research papers.

Key websites

Australian Yearbooks

Administrative Chronicles

The Australian Journal of Public Administration regularly publishes administrative chronicles of each State and periodically the Federal government. Administrative chronicles were published from 1976-1988 and recommenced publication in 1996.

Fisher research 351.05  4
all issues also available online Australian Journal of Public Administration

The chronologies outline both administrative changes but also comment on policy administration and implications.

Past and Present

The following reports/publications all  provide information on services or issues relating to income support policy. All can be located using government websites or Library resouces.

Finding Reports Tabled in Parliament

Locating Annual Reports from Goverment Departments and Agencies.

Tabled papers include documents and artefacts presented to Parliament in the course of its proceedings. The term ‘tabled’ literally means that a document has been laid on the Table in either or both chambers. The tabling of a document effects the publication of that document and the protection of parliamentary privilege. Documents tabled in Parliament include reports from parliamentary committees, annual reports of departments and agencies, reports from the Auditor-General and legislative instruments.

The Library holds many annual reports from government departments and agencies. They are available as part of the Parliamentary Paper series for both the Federal and State governments. These collections are located in print in the Law Library Compactus at G. AUS P and G. NSW P.

You can also locate reports in the Library catalogue see exmples below

Finding Royal Commissions , Committees of Inquiry and House Committee Reports

Royal Commissions, Committees of Inquiry and many reports from House and Senate committees frequently make recommendations on proposed policy changes or may examine a specific policy. Use the Finding Australian Government Reports Guide to locate indexes for Parliamentary Papers and Royal Commissions like one below. As well as the Papers available online from Parliamentary websites or in volumes of Parliamentary papers you can search the catalogue by key or title and locate reports in the Library collection. For example try the key word search committee inquiry social security australia