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New public management and the rise of public sector performance audit: Evidence from the Australian case

Lee D. Parker (School of Accounting, RMIT University, Adelaide, Australia) (Adam Smith School of Business, College of Social Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK)
Kerry Jacobs (School of Business, University of New South Wales Canberra, Canberra, Australia)
Jana Schmitz (School of Accounting, College of Business, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 29 November 2018

Issue publication date: 15 January 2019




In the context of global new public management reform trends and the associated phenomenon of performance auditing (PA), the purpose of this paper is to explore the rise of performance audit in Australia and examines its focus across audit jurisdictions and the role key stakeholders play in driving its practice.


The study adopts a multi-jurisdictional analysis of PA in Australia to explore its scale and focus, drawing on the theoretical tools of Goffman. Documentary analysis and interview methods are employed.


Performance audit growth has continued but not always consistently over time and across audit jurisdictions. Despite auditor discourse concerning backstage performance audit intentions being strongly focussed on evaluating programme outcomes, published front stage reports retain a strong control focus. While this appears to reflect Auditors-General (AGs) reluctance to critique government policy, nonetheless there are signs of direct and indirectly recursive relationships emerging between AGs and parliamentarians, the media and the public.

Research limitations/implications

PA merits renewed researcher attention as it is now an established process but with ongoing variability in focus and stakeholder influence.

Social implications

As an audit technology now well-embedded in the public sector accountability setting, it offers potential insights into matters of local, state and national importance for parliament and the public, but exhibits variable underlying drivers, agendas and styles of presentation that have the capacity to enhance or detract from the public interest.


Performance audit emerges as a complex practice deployed as a mask by auditors in managing their relationship with key stakeholders.



The support of a CPA Australia research grant for the work on this project is gratefully acknowledged. This paper has benefited significantly from the advice and critiques offered by the anonymous referees.


Parker, L.D., Jacobs, K. and Schmitz, J. (2019), "New public management and the rise of public sector performance audit: Evidence from the Australian case", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 32 No. 1, pp. 280-306.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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