Editors’ Welcome

Policy-making, as one of the major activities undertaken by governments, shapes the society in which we live. Contemporary policy-makers face new challenges as globalisation brings international concerns to bear in tandem with ever changing domestic demands and pressures.

Australians are experiencing a significant shift in the policy reform agenda, spearheaded by the Coalition government. The private sector is being expanded, while new evaluative, managerial and organisational practices are being employed in the public sector. Indeed, in many ways the lines between the public and private sector are becoming increasingly difficult to draw.

This policy reformulation appears to be informed by shifts in some of the most basic conceptual and institutional underpinnings of the Western liberal democratic order. Our understandings of the role of government, the role of the market, and the purposes of economic and social policy are being recast, and the terms of policy debate – terms such as ‘equality’, ‘choice’, ‘public ownership’, ‘mandate’, ‘generation’, ‘national interest’, and ‘sorry’ – are increasingly contested. At the same time, the actors and agents of policy-making and its implementation are becoming increasingly diverse, and significant reform is taking place across a wide range of policy areas. Policies on the government’s relationship with indigenous peoples, taxation, higher education, employment, health, welfare, the environment, technology, and the media are all developing rapidly.

A ‘shift’ can just as easily be perceived as a ‘swing’ or a transitory phase. Just as perceptions of policy failure heralded the demise of the welfare state, shattering the certainty that the power of government could be harnessed to solve social problems, a resurgent faith in the power of the ‘market’ is altering conventional understandings of the appropriate role of the state. In the absence of any single ‘guiding hand,’ policy is now made and unmade in a more open, pluralistic environment; governance is in, governing is decidedly out. Although the agents of policy-making are increasingly diverse, the areas in which policy reform takes place more numerous and interconnected, and the terms of policy debate increasingly contested, in the eyes of the community at large government is still responsible for public policy.

In this climate of escalating policy complexity and undiminished community expectations for better public policy The Drawing Board seeks to make an important contribution to policy debate in Australia. Both the Journal and Digest sections of the site aim to foster interaction between concerned citizens, policy-makers and academic researchers. Such an exchange has the potential to stimulate and invigorate debates around public policy and public affairs. This exchange will be mutually beneficial: providing support, rigour and background to inform policy-making while at the same time demanding relevance and applicability from intellectual pursuits.

The four contributions to the first issue of the Journal contribute to this aim. In the spirit that ‘history offers the best training for those who are to take part in public affairs’ (Polybius, History I), Tim Rowse’s paper illustrates the continuing relevance of historical policy dilemmas from the immediate post-war era for policy-makers today. Through meticulous archival research on the development of the 1945 White Paper, Rowse presents a revised account of Labor’s approach to full employment policy. The decision to give returned servicemen priority over unionised workers reflected ‘policy learning’ from the sad experience after World War I. It also demonstrated how electoral imperatives overrode both previously sacrosanct ideological assumptions and the ‘scientific’ counsel of economic advisers, who saw reform of labour as a priority for improving national economic welfare. As Rowse points out, this was a turning point for Labor, even though it was not abundantly clear at the time. The story is certainly specific to the labour movement, but the lessons have general application. Policy-makers will often be confronted by a clash between the insulated distance of policy idealism and the harsh immediacy of political reality. Charting a course between the two requires an uncommon blend of political acumen and policy knowledge, something which policy analysts can only sometimes bring to bear, as the torturous passage of the GST through the Senate illustrates.

An example of contemporary policy evaluation is provided by Raja Junankar, who finds that the Coalition government’s labour market reforms since 1996 appear not to have resulted in any faster decline in unemployment than that experienced under the previous government, despite sustained economic growth. Junankar engages in a comparative method to expose the divergence in unemployment outcomes between the labour market reforms of the Keating government in the early 1990s and the ‘great experiment’ of the Howard government since 1996. His conclusions are instructive and challenging.

Russell Lansbury makes a more concrete proposal for policy reform in his paper on employment relations. Lansbury argues that since the Accord ended with the election of the Coalition government in the mid 1990s, collaboration between employers and unions on workplace change and innovation has declined. He offers suggestions for a more coordinated approach to employment relations reform in the future.

Contributions to the Digest section include Roderic Pitty’s exploration of the New Zealand Treaty of Waitangi as a model for a treaty with indigenous Australians. Given the strong public support for reconciliation demonstrated by attendance at recent reconciliation marches held around Australia, this paper argues in favour of an Aboriginal Treaty as a necessary step in the reconciliation process. Dick Bryan comments on the Reserve Bank of Australia’s interest rate policy, focussing on the inherent tensions between national and international imperatives. John Uhr reviews a new book by Beryl Radin, which examines the task, requirements and intellectual history of policy analysis. The book revisits the ongoing debate over the dominance of economics as a policy science, and argues that over the last few decades policy analysis has successfully incorporated considerations of process and social impact.

The theme for the first issue, ‘Policy Imperatives for Australia’s Next Century’, is well served by this collection of papers, which provide policy challenges, policy history, a comparative evaluation of policy outcomes and proposals for policy reform. This broad range of approaches is indicative of the kinds of papers we intend to publish in The Drawing Board in future issues.

The Drawing Board aims to be a publication that engages scholars, practitioners and the public alike by expanding the parameters of policy debate and providing informed guidance for policy development. Three issues of the Journal will be produced each year. Forthcoming topics include the gun law reform debate, and reconciliation with Australia’s indigenous peoples. The Digest section allows readers to keep up with rapid shifts and developments in public affairs, and will be updated on a continuing basis.

We encourage submissions and interest from academics, activists, journalists, policy-makers and all who share an interest in Australian public affairs. Welcome to the inaugural edition of The Drawing Board.

The Editors.