Political support for the inclusion of social policy advocacy groups in the development of public policy is underpinned by a broad belief in the right of citizens to participate in or at least contribute to government decision making. Governments and state agencies consult widely on social issues when they see accountability and transparency as politically attractive, a form of both useful advice and risk management. While scholars have theorised on the benefits of non-state participation, empirical research on the role of policy advocacy groups in the development of Australian public policy is limited. This thesis examines the role of Queensland Shelter Inc., a state based social housing policy peak, in the development of Queensland social housing policy (1987-2012). While consultation processes are open and inclusive of a wide range of stakeholders, participation remains restricted to a select few. Why are some interest groups able to directly participate in the development of public policy while others are only consulted or even ignored?
The influence of Queensland Shelter over housing policy has fluctuated over its twenty-five year history. Three factors were examined in relation to this oscillation: the organisational capacity of Queensland Shelter, the willingness of the housing ministry to engage and the broader political context. While the main focus of the study is to assess and analyse shifts in the relationship between Queensland Shelter and the state housing ministry, attention is also given to the connections between Queensland Shelter and other stakeholders, including the bureaucracy, other policy advocacy groups and the Australian federal government. These connections were found to be important factors in the ability to develop close working relationships with decision makers.
Shelter’s changing role and its capacity to participate in the development of social housing policy are examined through documents and semi-structured interviews with former politicians, senior public servants, Shelter staff and board members, and other key players within the Queensland social housing sector. Throughout the period covered in this research, the Queensland housing ministry remained in a position of authority, at times enabling Queensland Shelter to participate and at other times shutting them out. While the capacity of Queensland Shelter to provide policy advice has expanded over the past twenty-five years, the willingness of the state housing ministry to engage with this organisation continues to wax and wane, a product of both the minister at the time and the overall approach of the political party in power.