Who Makes What Decision?
Structure of Government
There are two fundamental levels of government: state and federal. State government is largely separate from federal government. For example, gun licensing laws are state, and so the administration of those laws are a state government administrative issue. Centrelink is a federal government department, and so administratives issues with Centrelink are a federal issue. It is usually easy to tell which departments are which level of government. The ATO and Centrelink are two that come first to mind as federal government decision making bodies.
The bulk of government administration is carried out by government departments. Each department is responsible to a Minister. Departments are not, however, the only organs for administration of government policy. Increasingly, responsibilities in special areas are being given to Commissions or Boards created by special legislation. Examples are federal bodies such as the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Health Insurance Commission (Medicare), and state bodies such as Metro Tasmania and the Hydro Electric Corporation. These bodies are set up by special Acts which set out their functions, powers, and operating procedures. The decisions of local councils are also subject to administrative law, as local councils often operate under delegated powers from the state government.
Delegation of Authority
Acts usually list various discretions or functions which may be exercised by the Minister or Principal Officer of a government department. Obviously, as a practical matter, the individuals named in legislation cannot deal personally with the large number of matters over which they have authority. It is normal to delegate functions. Officers, often at minor levels within a department, commission or board commonly decide particular cases involving consumers or clients. General instructions and guidelines for use by officers are usually set out in manuals, which contain detailed rules interpreting the terms of the statute under which the department operates. A person having a dispute with a government body should try to find out whether a manual or other policy instruction document was used. For instance, Centrelink officers make all their decisions through reference to a manual. Such a manual should be accessible under Freedom of Information or Right to Information legislation.