The paper defines the state's apparatus as a site of power and contestation. This view enables contingency in the realm of government to be taken seriously. Accordingly, the paper takes a critical view of the idea of neoliberalism as a general global process. The paper reviews Paul du Gay's history of the state's apparatus, including his nostalgia for bureaucracy and his disdain for entrepreneurship. The paper contrasts du Gay's stylised take with a study of shifts in institutional structures and behaviours in Australia's state apparatus since the mid 1970s leading to the present period of Howard neoliberalism. The paper positions these shifts in the context of Coombs-led institutional reform in Australia; it examines the potential for institutional resistances and responses; and draws implications for how we view institutions as having agency in the political processes of state apparatus reform.