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Policy Studies: Tracing policy history

Tracing policy history

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

The following questions, as examples, 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 homelessness and supported accommodation with policies in the 1990s.
  • How has feminism shaped child care provision in Australia?

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 by 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 provisions 

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 government 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.

Key websites

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.

Past and present

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

The Australian Government website is currently not hosting any publications, including information on State Parliaments. 

You can use the following two sites to find Australian Government publications:

  • Australian Government Directory - choose which of the Government departments or agencies you are interested in and click through to their website and publications page. 
  • Australian Government Publication Guide - to access selected Australian Commonwealth and State Government publications located in Australia's National and State Libraries and on the internet.

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