The article provides a description of Australian approaches to 'merit' and an overview of the other symposium articles on the application of merit in China and Taiwan. The term 'merit' is commonly used in Australia, China, and Taiwan as an important attribute of good government service, but it means different things in different countries, reflecting both different institutional arrangements and differences in culture. Australia's current application of the merit principle is described in some detail. The principle and its application have been subject to debate throughout the last century and continue today. The debates reflect social attitudes at the time and developments in the role of government and the skills government requires, and changes in the Australian labour market. Key debates include the role of women, treatment of ex-servicemen, importance of graduate recruitment, equal employment opportunity, and staff perceptions of fairness and the application of merit in employment decisions. China has a long tradition of autocracy and a long history of competitive examinations for joining government service. It faces the challenge of whether it is possible to embrace a merit principle where politics and administration are not distinguished. Merit is also applied within a culture that gives considerable emphasis to personal relations (guanxi). Taiwan also draws on China's long experience with examinations. A key challenge now is whether it gives too much emphasis to equality and fair access to public sector employment opportunities and too little to the skills and experience different government agencies require. These different approaches and different challenges reflect differences in the three countries relating in particular to the role of government, the relationship between politics and administration and culture.