The development of Australian welfare policy (and public policy in general) is influenced by an array of factors. One of these is the use by government of commissioned policy reviews, often referred to in the literature as a form of ‘public inquiry’. These reviews are time-limited, typically involving external experts and operating (to varying degrees) independently of government, with their terms of reference and reports being published.
Towards the end of 2013, the newly-formed Coalition Government commissioned a welfare review to be led by Patrick McClure. This paper provides some context for this review by examining previous welfare reviews established by Government since the 1940s. The reviews undertaken in this period were many and varied. They include the Henderson Poverty Inquiry, the Cass Social Security Review and McClure’s earlier review, the Reference Group on Welfare Reform. Using a simple review framework, this paper explores the characteristics of welfare reviews, their processes and their impact. Viewed collectively, the paper is able to reveal how and in what circumstances reviews add most value.