Critical Reflections on Australian Public Policy

Critical Reflections on Australian Public Policy: Selected Essays

Edited by John Wanna
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Critical Reflections on Australian Public Policy
    Book Description:

    This collection of 'critical reflections' on Australian public policy offers a valuable contribution to public discussion of important political and policy issues facing our nation and society. These essays are important not only because of the reputation and position of the various contributors, but because they are incredibly 'content rich' and brimming with new ideas.

    eISBN: 978-1-921536-71-7
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    John Wanna

    This collection of ‘critical reflections’ on Australian public policy offers a valuable contribution to public discussion of important political and policy issues facing our nation and society. These essays are important not only because of the reputation and position of the various contributors, but because they are incredibly ‘content rich’ and brimming with new ideas.

    Contributors to this volume include politicians, senior public servants, respected academics and civil society leaders. Their views matter—whether or not one agrees with the propositions put—because of who they are and their capacity to influence and shape events. With few exceptions, the contributors...

  4. Contributors
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. Part 1. Reflections on federalism
    • 1. Federalism and the engine room of prosperity
      (pp. 3-12)
      The Hon Wayne Swan

      Australian legal scholar Professor Greg Craven once described federalism as the topic most likely to clear an Australian barbecue. In the past 50 years, he wrote, ‘Australian federalism has received more bad press than morbid obesity’. Whether you agree or disagree with Craven’s views on federalism itself, it is hard to argue with his description of it as our own constitutional ‘F’ word.

      To most Australians, federalism is probably about as popular as a politician appearing onstage at a grand final. Yet while it might not so far have become the lead topic of conversation in the nation’s lounge rooms...

    • 2. Does federalism work?
      (pp. 13-22)
      The Hon John Brumby

      Does a system of government drawn up at the end of the nineteenth century and activated at the dawn of the twentieth century still have currency in the twenty-first century?

      In a word: yes. Federalism does work. It is a robust and flexible system that has stood the test of time and made us one of the world’s most stable democracies. It is an efficient system that, according to analysis done for the Withers and Twomey report Australia’s Federal Future, boosts our per capita GDP by 10.5 per cent—or $11 402 per household—through the greater efficiencies of political...

    • 3. What has federalism ever done for us?
      (pp. 23-32)
      The Hon Anna Bligh

      In April 2008, our new Prime Minister gathered together 1000 of our country’s best and brightest to imagine the Australia we could be in 2020. As I left Canberra on that cold Sunday afternoon, I was both inspired and alarmed. Inspired by the wealth of ideas and the many new voices that had been unearthed by the process and alarmed that the most recurring theme and, without doubt, the most popular idea was the abolition of the states.

      Here were some of the country’s brightest, most educated, most experienced and publicly engaged thinkers cheering rapturously at a throwaway line from...

    • 4. Splicing the perspectives of the Commonwealth and states into a workable federation
      (pp. 33-44)
      Terry Moran

      In my view, we are on the verge of a revived federalism, which holds great possibilities for Australia in the twenty-first century. By this I do not mean we are about to eliminate or radically diminish the power of the states or any other critical element of the institutions of the federal system. Rather, we are on the threshold of entering into a new compact between governments, which contains the potential to confer several benefits on the Australian people:

      improved levels of service from government, based on a strategic agreement on what the focus should be

      better outcomes across a...

    • 5. The reform imperative and Commonwealth–state relations
      (pp. 45-58)
      The Hon John Brumby

      More than 40 years ago, the late Donald Horne coined one of the most memorable phrases to describe our nation. He called Australia the ‘lucky country’. As many of you no doubt realise, Horne was not singing Australia’s praises. Rather, he was decrying Australia’s complacency, its lack of innovation in important forms of industry and business and its failure to match the enterprise of other prosperous industrial societies. Horne believed that Australia owed its prosperity not to its native creativity and innovation, but rather to blind luck.

      Horne warned that we were a nation taking it easy, that we were...

    • 6. Fostering creativity and innovation in cooperative federalism—the uncertainty and risk dimensions
      (pp. 59-70)
      Mark Matthews

      Policy narratives in OECD nations are now starting to stress the importance of ‘innovation’ as a public sector objective. On one level, this reflects efforts to align thinking with a wider discourse on innovation, arguably in an effort not to be left out of the picture. For example, Geoff Mulgan³ has argued persuasively that, contrary to some common assumptions, the public sector has a longer history of innovation than the private sector. Indeed, public sector innovation created the modern world—an operating environment in which private sector innovation per se has flourished.⁴

      In this essay, I focus upon a particular...

  6. Part 2. Reflections on policy and politics
    • 7. Cabinet government: Australian style
      (pp. 73-84)
      Patrick Weller

      So Tony Blair has gone. It is said of Tony Blair that he killed the cabinet in Britain, that he held a few meetings that didn’t last very long and that in any one year there were about half a dozen decisions made by cabinet—in a year, not in a meeting. Gordon Brown will come into office and change the way the decisions get made in Britain. Not because he needs to, but because he has to, in order to illustrate that he is a different sort of leader. So the shape of cabinet will change, even if the...

    • 8. Consumers and small business: at the heart of the Trade Practices Act
      (pp. 85-100)
      Graeme Samuel

      Thirty-four years ago when the Trade Practices Act was but a twinkle in the Parliament’s eye, the then Attorney-General Senator Lionel Murphy accurately summed up the state of the marketplace in his second reading speech introducing the Trade Practices Act:

      Restrictive trade practices have long been rife in Australia. Most of them are undesirable and have served the interests of the parties engaged in them, irrespective of whether those interests coincide with the interests of Australians generally. These practices cause prices to be maintained at artificially high levels. They enable particular…groups…to attain positions of economic dominance which are susceptible to...

    • 9. Constitutional litigation and the Commonwealth
      (pp. 101-106)
      David Bennett

      As a rule, Australians tend to be ignorant, perhaps blissfully so, of the existence, terms and effect of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia. A 1987 survey indicated that only about half of the population was aware that Australian had a written constitution.² A 1994 survey of people aged fifteen years or over indicated that only 13 per cent felt that they knew something about what the constitution covered and only 18 per cent actually showed some degree of understanding of what the constitution covered.³

      Of course, participants in, and keen observers of, Australian politics would be well aware...

    • 10. Evidence-based policy making: what is it and how do we get it?
      (pp. 107-130)
      Gary Banks

      In an address sponsored by the Australia and New Zealand School of Government, I thought a couple of quotes about government itself might be a good place to start. P. J. O’Rourke, who is scheduled to speak in Australia in April 2009, once said, ‘the mystery of Government is not how it works, but how to make it stop’. In an earlier century, Otto von Bismarck is famously reported to have said, ‘Laws are like sausages: it’s better not to see them being made.’

      Those witty observations have become enduring aphorisms for a reason. They reflect a rather cynical and...

  7. Part 3. Reflections on governance and leadership
    • 11. The two cultures re-examined: a perspective on leadership and policy management in business and government
      (pp. 133-152)
      Philip M Burgess

      In this essay, I will reflect on my experience as a student of governance, working for many years in the academy and as a practitioner or clinician of the same, working in the United States, East Asia, Europe and, of course, Australia, in order to make some observations about the key differences between the political cultures of the United States and Australia as they relate to public policy making.

      For a long time, I have been fascinated by the decision-making environments of public administration and business administration. I believe the differences are much more important than the similarities.

      As shown...

    • 12. Leading the Australian Defence Force
      (pp. 153-162)
      Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston

      There are five basic principles that are imperative to the successful leadership of the Australian Defence Force (ADF). The first principle is to provide clear direction. It is necessary to provide a vision, intent and goals that are successfully communicated to other people. If this clear direction is met effectively, people tend to follow you. The second principle is to establish and maintain the right culture, a value-based culture. Values should define the way the leadership in the organisation behaves. If you can establish the right culture in your organisation, goals are much easier to achieve.

      The third principle is...

    • 13. Essential linkages—situating political governance, transparency and accountability in the broader reform agenda
      (pp. 163-178)
      Andrew Murray

      I shall take the broader reform agenda as a given. It would be a strangely uninformed Australian who wasn’t aware of the intense focus on infrastructure, climate change, education, the extensive COAG agenda, and so on, all set in the current maelstrom of financial, fiscal and economic troubles.

      The economic, social and environmental reforms contemplated are very large. The reform is intended to make Australia more productive, more efficient, more competitive and a better society, and to better safeguard the future. These are noble plans that embrace nearly every sector in Australia, but leave the political sector largely untouched, as...

  8. Part 4. Reflections on adaptive change
    • 14. Higher education: it’s time…(to change the policy framework)
      (pp. 181-192)
      Ian Chubb

      Let me begin with a comment about self-interest. Experience tells me that self-interest is a vice often observed when somebody else says something with which you disagree. If ever you have a flash of insight and detect self-interest in your own comments, you know at least that it is pure because, as you know with certainty, that’s how you are. I hope what I am about to say will be heard to be beyond pure self-interest. Although I am paid by The Australian National University to work in its interests, there are some issues that go to the state of...

    • 15. Achieving a ‘conservation economy’ in indigenous communities: a Canadian model for greening and growing local economies
      (pp. 193-204)
      Ian Gill

      Like Australia, Canada is a big place. It has the longest undefended border in the world, with the United States. While most Australians live in a thin band around the coast, most Canadians live along a thin line called the forty-ninth parallel that stretches along the US border from coast to coast—or, as Canada’s motto has it, ‘A mari usque ad mare’ (‘From sea to sea’).

      In Canada, as here, there is a deep divide between urban and rural populations—a division that is about much more than just geography. John Ralston-Saul, one of our pre-eminent social commentators, believes...

    • 16. From crystal sets to the double helix in one journalist’s lifetime
      (pp. 205-220)
      Peter Thompson

      When I was a child in the 1950s, my mother told me that she and other children at her school at Randwick rushed outdoors to see the fly-over of Charles Kingsford Smith on one of his epic voyages to Mascot aerodrome. My father was born in the same decade that the Wright brothers flew at Kitty Hawk. This bygone era of technology so dated my view of my parents that they might as well have lived in the time of fossils rather than in the world that I knew.

      Now, I find myself caught in my own time warp. The...