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  Issue No 86 Official Organ of LaborNet 02 March 2001  




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The New Hard Politics

Extracted from For the People - Reclaiming Government (Pluto Press) - Edited by Denis Glover and Greg Patmore

Dennis Glover argues that policy has taken over from spin as the political battleground of the new century.



Former adviser to US President Bill Clinton, Dick Morris, has recently argued persuasively that policy development, not "spin" or the cultivation of image, is today the most important task of any political candidate or party. Morris' claim is based on the proposition that voters today are more politicly sophisticated than in the past; they now understand the way advertisers they to manipulate them with images and have grown resistant. Instead, voters want to hear what policies each partly had to offer and they want to be convinced by argument, not by the endorsement of celebrities or by glib slogans. As Morris puts it: elections are not won by verbs - "I will do this" - rather than by adjectives - "I am a better leader".

If correct, this mean that policies and message are now crucial to the electoral success of political parties. The unexpected victory of Victorian Labor in the 1999 state election was in party the result of the effort that the then Opposition Leader Steve Bracks put into transforming Labor's policy and message to meet the new circumstances the party faced. It seems that one of the best investments a party can make is the development of a positive message and a set of policies to take to the electorate. As in British Prime Ministers Room Minister Tony Blair's New Labour Party, Bill Clinton's New Democrats in the United States and Lionel Jospin's French Socialist Party, Australian centre-left policy experts need to reassert the dominance they once had. Policy is now the new "hard politics".

But obtaining government is only the first step for centre-left policy-makers. Policy development in opposition and in government are different. If we are to make government work for people again and use it to help social democrats remain in government once elected, we will need to wind back the damage done to policy formulation through the neo-liberal economic and management theory excess of recent years.

As other contributor to this book argue, meeting our traditional social democratic goals in the 21st century will require a thorough overhaul of the way government operates. Decision-making, administration and program delivery will need to be transformed to cope with a society that is becoming more diverse and with social problems that are becoming correspondingly more complex and difficult to solve. This chapter argues that a key first step in transforming government in Australia will be revolutionising the way policy is created. It also argues that one of the urgent tasks of social democracy at the party, societal and governmental levels is to pt the notion of the public interest back into public policy-making. The first issue to be discussed is the decline of public policy-making capacity among political parties and governments. The second section will focus on the requirements for good policy-making, and the third will suggest some practical reforms and innovations for implementing these suggestions.


Over the past decade, centre-left policy-making around the globe has changed considerably. New ideas created by high-profile research organisations have had a profound influence on government policy-making, especially in the United States and the United Kingdom. Unfortunately in Australia the situation is less healthy. Despite the best efforts of isolated individuals and organisations, the centre-left's policy culture had declined.

One of the most serious symptoms of this decline is the long-term demise of political parties as policy-making machines. Few political parties today are geared towards producing sophisticated new policy ideas, particularly when that party is in government. This has many causes. The rise of factionalism and machine politics has les to a corresponding decline in the number of idealists willing to join all parties and has led ambitious young joiners to concentrate on "getting the numbers" to the detriment of policy activism. Another cause is that long periods in government have produced resiance upon well-resourced bureaucracies and professional advisers to produce policy. As well, factors such as declining membership and the increasing ability of voters to influence policy-making more directly make political parties seem less representative of the general community, and make their attempts to impose policies on elected public representatives seem less legitimate. Finally, policy-making has become an increasingly complex and professional task, requiring much specialist knowledge not usually possessed by even the most well-informed party member.

As a result of the relative decline of parties as hands-on policy-makers, the way successful political organisations obtain policy advice had changed. In all parties, policy committees and party conferences are tending increasingly to produce statements of their party's broad philosophical direction. This is particularly the case with the ALP's National Platform, which is devised in platform committees and voted on at the party's biennial or triennial National Conference. However, parliamentary representatives generally devise the detailed policies that form the election manifestoes, and in office, governments are influence heavily by the work of their internal advisers, the bureaucracy and think tanks. Given the different levels of skill and interest of these groups - party members, advisers, public servants and policy experts - and the fact that their membership overlaps significantly, this is probably the reasonable democratic balance of responsibilities.

Governments as well as political paries have had their policy-making capacity severely reduced over the 1990s as a result of neo-liberal economic and management theory excesses. This reduction has happened through a number ways: cutbacks in the overall number of public servants; the outsourcing of policy advise to private sector consulting firms; the replacement of policy coordinating departments such as the Department of Regional Development; and the ideologically motivated closure, downsizing or consolidation of specialised bureaus, such as the Bureau of Industry Economics and the Secretariat of the Economic Planning Advisory Council. As a result McAuley has claimed, our Federal bureaucracy has been "dumbed down", with the capacity to do little more than implement narrowly conceived policy derived from bloated and expensive private sector bureaucracies.

One of the urgent tasks of social democracy at the party, societal and governmental levels is therefore to put the notion of the public interest back into public policy-making. How to do this is the subject of the remainder of tis article, including a number of practical solutions listed at the end.


One of the first facts we have to confront is that out understanding of the causes of and potential solutions to social problems has become far more complex over the past decade. Experts have provided a more nuanced understanding of these matters:

· Sociologists like Anthony Giddens and others have improved our understanding of the multiple identities and concerns of people of all classes.

· Labour market economists are now more aware of the importance of boosting opportunities for individuals and communities through education and training.

· Social scientists now have a greater appreciation of the spatial concentration of inequality and the complex interrelationships between factors such as education, health, crime and unemployment.

One of the results of this increasing complexity is that good policy-making today must possess a number of new qualities.

First, it must be practical and evidence-based rather than theoretical, prepared to draw on big ideas in its analysis as well as create small practical solutions to concrete problems. Second, it must be based on wider "intelligence networks" than in the past. Learning form the recent experience of other centre-left parties, we need to create new connections between governments and policy-makers in our think tanks, universities and the public, private and not-for-profit sectors, including the new social and policy "entrepreneurs". These networks need to be international, as well as national, interstate and local. Ironically perhaps, this increasing complexity and interrelatedness of social problems and the multiplicity of available solutions and sources of policy advice available requires us to create new central organs of policy overview and coordination. Policy-making must be able to work across departments and government boundaries to deliver what is being referred to as "joined-up government". We need as a matter of urgency to recreate a vital policy-making culture by tapping into sources of ideas and political support outside traditional sources.


One of the problems to be overcome in establishing new policy organisations and networks in Australia is the enormous and unnecessary gulf in understanding between hard-headed practitioners of politics and intellectuals. The blame for this lack of connection lies on both sides. Lloyd has analysed the recent cooling of relations between academics, public intellectuals and the Blair Government. After initially expressing enthusiasm of the Blair project, a number of high-profile intellectuals have become its critics. The major cause, Lloyd concludes, is not just ideological disagreement, but a misunderstanding about the type of policy work that government policy-makers now find useful. While public intellectuals often want to engage politicians in fundamental discussions about the type of society they are trying to create, government policy-makers need policy that contains fewer ideological assumptions about how to solve problems of inequality and more hard-headed analysis and practical ideas based on what will work. In short, policy-makers usually need "evidence-based research" from academics with the ability to frame practical policy - "policy entrepreneurs" - rather than philosophical debate from more generalist political theorists. A better understanding between government and the academe as to what each other requires could help avoid misunderstandings and unnecessary conflict.

This type of evidence-based research does not, however, come cheaply. good policy advice requires well-qualified staff and involves high overheads. In the past, the Australian centre-left's resources have been insufficient to meet such needs apart form a brief periods when the Evatt Foundation was well-funded and was able to produce high-class social and economic analysis. Lacking sufficient resources to undertake evidence-based research, Australian left-to-centre think tanks have too often only been able to engage policy-makers at a rather abstract level, insufficient to assist in the design of hard policy. For this reason, most of these think tanks have gone into relative decline over the past decade.

There are many overseas organisations providing this type of evidence-based research. Two in particular provide excellent models for us to consider in Australia - Demos, and the Progressive Policy Institute.

Demos is a UK.-based think tank, founded in 1993 former Marxist intellectuals associated with the magazine Marxism Today, most prominent of whom were Martin Jacques and Geoff Mulgan. The latter is now head of the Social Exclusion Unit in Tony Blair's Number 10 Policy Unit. The current director of Demos is the education policy researcher Tom Bentlely, who toured Australia in 1999, and its researchers include high-profile new economy authors Charles Leadbeater and Perri 6. If Demos has a central idea it is the need to "think the unthinkable", to move beyond notions of left and right, to create new understandings of the causes of inequality, to utilise the potential of 'modernity' - globalisation and rapid technological change - to promote equality, and to revitalise democracy as an end in itself. Demos has had a significant influence on the Blair Government. Many of its major policy prescriptions, including the need to 'rebrand' Britain, adopt a 'holistic' approach to government and tackle new forms of social inequality, have surfaced in the rhetoric of 'cool Britannia', the 'modernising government' project and the establishment of the Social Exclusion Unit. Its latest research projects are typical of its eclectic and small-scale approach to solving social problems. These include looking at the access that the poor have to nutritious food, initiatives to encourage responsible fatherhood, and the learning problems faced by disaffected young people. Core funding from major philanthropic foundations and project funding from private corporations and public bodies provides an annual budget capable of supporting twelve full-time staff and a number of associate staff, as well as a long list of high-quality publications. Lloyd argues that the success of Demos rests partly on its creation of a new class of "policy entrepreneurs" with strong links with Tony Blair's Number 10 Policy Unit.

The Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) is, in rough terms, the US equivalent of Demos, although as the official think tank of the Democratic Leadership Council it is more directly connected to the Democratic Party than Demos is to New Labour. Founded in 1985 it is the leading source of ideas for the "New Democrats", and, as such, has had a significant impact on US politic. Like Demos, its success rests on its direct influence over senior policy-makers in Congress, the White House and state administrations, through the quality of its ideas and through the strong advocacy of its leading figures, such as its president and cofounder Al Form. In the lead-up to the presidential elections in November 2000, the PPI had its ideas on subjects such as education policy and the new economy adopted by both the Gore and Bush camps. Its ideas are published monthly in its magazines Blueprint and New Democrat as well as in numerous policy papers.


In earlier periods of Labor's history, individual academics and think tanks played a key role in the formulation of the great practical programs of Labor governments. In his recent memoirs, the former Chief of Staff to then Opposition Leader Gough Whitlam and later head of the Department of Prime Ministers Room Minister and Cabinet, John Menadue, details the influence a handful of academics brought together by the Fabin Society had on the ALP's 1972 platform. The resurrection of the Victorian Branch of the ALP and the election of the Cain Government in 1982 was in part due to its harnessing of new policy ideas form across the community through the work of the Labor Resource Centre.

Unfortunately, Australian universities in general lack a strong public tradition, although there are exceptions. The Australian National University was originally set up to assist government in post-war reconstruction and has a history of public policy involvement. A number of schools of government and university-linked institutes have recently emerged, including the Centre for Public Policy at the University of Melbourne, the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of New South Wales and the School of Public Policy at Monash University. One very positive recent addition is the newly created Brisbane Institute at the University of Queensland, which has teamed up with Labor Premier Peter Beattie and Brisbane Mayor Jim Soorley to fulfil the wider public role of boosting Queensland's credentials as "smart state". One of the aims of the institute is to create a broader intellectual climate and help transform Brisbane into what futurist Charles Handy would call "a buzzy city" that attracts the knowledge workers and investment capital for the new economy. Despite these improvements there is still a long way to go before Australia reaches the level of interest and excellence in public policy-making that exist in the US and the UK, where Harvard, nomics, among many other institutions, have long nurtured expert policy-makers. In these countries, academics often move between the academe and government. Prominent US examples have included Robert Reich, form the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, who was appointed President Clinton's Secretary for Labor, and Donna Shalala, former Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin, who was President Clintons' Secretary of State for Health and Social Services. Professor Anthony Giddens, Director of the London School of Economics, is a high-profile adviser to Tony Blair.

Another problem is the poor state of Australian left-of-centre publishing compared to that overseas. In the UK there is a wide range of political left-of-centre publications in which ideas can be expressed, including the New Statesman, the Guardian and American Prospect. In the US, there are a wide variety of publications, ranging form the intellectual New York Review of Books and Atlantic Monthly to the policy journals Prospect and the New Republic. In Australia we have the Catholic Eureka Street, the post-modern-leaning Arena, the Keynesian Dissent and AQ. Of these, none is truly a forum for the discussion of reforming policy ideas, focusing instead on journalism and criticism. One promising sign is the emergence of Pluto Press, which is attempting to conjunction with the Fabian Society to promote debate over the future direction of the ALP in its "Left Book War" series, including this book and its processor volumes.


Due to the increasing complexity of society, and the increased ability to identify interrelated aspects of social issues, the traditional categories used by governments to address these problems are no longer adequate. This is because many problems and opportunities cut across existing departments and levels of government. One solution is to work across portfolios and levels of government by establishing what are referred to in the UK as "crosscutting" units - policy coordination bodies situated in the Cabinet Office that are overseen by a Number 10 Policy Unit. These bodies not only work to coordinate the work of existing departments, they have the role of developing new ideas and applying gentle pressure form above for change to be implemented by the many departments involved in program delivery. The Blair Government had established two of these units - the Social Exclusion Unit, which coordinates policies across departments including education, health, housing and transport, and the Performance and innovation Unit, which aims to encourage more innovation and crosscutting policy work. Four potential Australian crosscutting units are discussed below.


Innovation has two roles to play for reforming Labor governments. The first is refreshing electoral programs.

One of the ways in which progressive governments often lose their political direction is an over-reliance on bureaucracy to formulate political policy. This over-reliance could be one of the contributing reasons why Labor governments often lose the votes of their traditional supporters over time. As Morris argues, a professional, apolitical bureaucracy, whilst a key element of good government, is, by definition, concerned with continuity and the administration of existing programs, not innovation. As change is the raison d'être of Labor governments, the centre-left needs to consider how it can complement greater policy innovation. Social practical suggestions are listed in the final section of this chapter.

The second role for innovation is in the re-designing of government itself. Much work on this has been done overseas, through US Vice-President Al Gore's Reinventing Governments projects and the recent similar project by the Blair Government the Modernising Government White Paper.,. These projects seek to re-design government to make it more flexible and efficient, more responsive to new demands being made on government by citizens and better able to utilise new technology, particularly information technology. McAuley has provided some good criticisms of the "New Management" ideology that underpins much of these reform attempts, but they do contain many ideas that can be used to strengthen the in-house and across-government policy-making capacity of governments. Some of the ideas contained in these papers also form apart of the discussion of practical suggestions below.


Since Labor was last in office, policy-making has been transformed by a number of factors, particularly the Internet. Joseph Stiglitz, a former Chief Executive of the World Bank and Chairman of President Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers, has called upon governments to use the Internet to improve their policy-making. As Stiglitz has commented: 'Policy-making bureaux in most governments are limited in size, and are typically overloaded. The new technologies hold out the promise of drawing upon far wider expertise'. Policy-makers in Australia at the State and Federal levels already conduct lively exchanges with their counterparts in the UK, including with Demos, Nexus and the Number 10 Policy Unit. These types of connections should continue. Labor needs to reach out further that our own political parties and existing think tanks to overseas organizations and to our own community-based organizations, to what are now being referred to as wider 'intelligence networks'. To do this, there are a number of models we can consider.


Four initiatives to improve Australia's public policy capacity could be considered:

· Strengthening university public policy schools

· Encouraging academics to take sabbatical leave in public sector think tanks and government

· Emulating the UK's public service by establishing a Centre for Management and Policy Studies within the service to promote a balanced public service policy culture.

· Encouraging more academic to publish in the area of public policy through the establishment of more public policy journals linked to university departments, and by recognising for university purposes, contributions to public debate by academics on television, radio, the Internet and in newspapers and magazines. Currently these unreformed publications do not attract the points used to determine faculty funding levels. The discourages academics from spending their time contributing to public debates.


The key first step to putting the public interest back into public policy-making will be central coordination. The successful model we should consider emulating is the Number 10 Policy Union in the office of British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. This unit was set up after the 1997 election to ensure that policy development across departments remained consistent with Labour's election manifesto and to develop new innovative ideas from the UK and overseas. Under the direction of David Miliband, the sixteen-person unit oversees the two prominent crosscutting Cabinet Office policy bodies - the Social Exclusion Unit and the Performance and Innovations Unit - as well as the UK Foresight Programme, which aims to anticipate future social, political, cultural and economic trends through innovative research.

A similar body in Australia would have a number of tasks. It could oversee the work of potential new crosscutting agencies, such as those needed to create a 'Knowledge Nation', tackle social exclusion, create more 'family friendly' workplaces and empower and redevelop regional Australia. It could also liaise with universities, independent research institutions, other governments and the community in general to widen the Government's 'intelligence networks', ideally through a Nexus-type on-line policy forum.


As well as facilitating informal contact between policy advisers, the Internet can be utilised in a more structured way to reach out to a wider number of policy experts. The model here was the Nexus on-line think tank, established by academics at the University of Cambridge in cooperation with the Number 10 Policy Unit. Nexus' aim was to "create a space within which ideas and empirical issues can be debated at one remove from the immediate electoral and media pressures that face politicians'. Nexus had a two-fold purpose: "to develop and extend centre-left thought, and to increase the profile and quality of public debate". It operated by arranging on-line debates between the UK's leading intellectuals, researches, political advisers and policy entrepreneurs. Policy area it debated included health policy, higher education reform, information and communications technologies, the changing role of the state, social exclusion and government accountability.

In 1998 Nexus conducted a prominent public debate on the philosophical direction of the Blair Government, which was largely responsible for developing in greater detail than before the concept of the "Third Way". Contributors included: Anthony Giddens; David Marquand, Principal of Mansfield Colleg, Oxford; Julian Le Grand, Professor of Social Policy at the London School of Economics; and the Directors of the Institute for Public Policy Research and the UK Fabian Society. This debate fleshed out the practical meaning of the Third Way and has had a profound impact on the direction of the Blair Government, which has flowed on to Australia, and elsewhere.

Nexus provides a tested model of how intellectuals, academics, social entrepreneurs and policy experts can assist the development of the public policy of centre-left governments. It is not necessarily linked to The Third Way, but can be used to draw out contributions form across the political spectrum. As stated above, building such a network in Australia can be one of the key functions of any government policy unit.


Enhanced interaction is also occurring among left-of-centre government leaders themselves. Since September 1998 a number of influential social-democratic leaders, including Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, former Italian Prime Minister Alberto D'Assimo, German Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder and French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, have participated in a series of high-profile summits dubbed the "Third Way International". Exchanged of ideas also take place at the ministerial level. A similar type of international is now taking place among European Community governments to exchange policy ideas, compare outcomes and learn from each other about what works and what doesn't. The idea is to promote "soft convergence" between the economic, social and education systems of European Community countries. Given that the inspiration for many of the policies now known as the Third Way, Labor in government should look to participate in these high-level meetings in addition to the ALP's continuing involvement in the Socialist International and the International Labor Organisation.


We can do the same at the intra-national level. The Internet provides greater opportunities for Labor governments and oppositions at State and Federal levels to exchange information, copying the "soft convergence" model of the European Community - sharing ideas that work. There is far too little interaction between policy-makers at the State and Federal levels within Australia. While good ideas tend to circulate around policy-makers circles, of then this is the result of chance or the result of reading about in the newspapers. In the recent past, State government has been hampered by the growth of competitive federalism, with Sate administrations forced into the game of bidding each other down in a never-ending spiral, depleting their taxation bases. Some structured contacts could see the development of a social-democratic alternative based on the European Community's approach of "soft convergence". In the US the Democratic Leadership Council has played a similar role by bringing together State and local Democratic Party politicians for an annual two-day conference - dubbed the DLC National Conversation. Internet networks of political advisers, backed up by occasional meetings, would also be invaluable way of building trust and common interests throughout the Labor party.


One to the key qualities that new policy bodies will need is innovation - the identification of new ways to tackle existing problems and future policy opportunities. A commitment to innovation is the hallmark of firms that make up the new economy, and the 21st century it should be feature of the centre left and of government as well. There are many components of policy innovation from other governments and the private sector which think tanks and government in Australia should examine. These include locating a public sector policy unit in one of the new economy incubators, such as the purpose-built De Bono Centre in 257 Collins St, and utilising some of the internal ideas generation techniques practised in leading technology firms, including online discussion groups utilising the latest software.


Adopting a strategy based on policy vision requires three notes of caution. First, we need to balance policy-making with commonsense and political judgement and to lean towards practical rather than ideological responses to problems. Second, we need to ensure that the independence and strategic capacity of the public service is protected. And third, that the integrity of academics an public intellectuals is respected and their cooperation is maintained.

In the mid 1990s, the Federal Coalition leader Dr John Robertson Hewson sought to win power based almost solely on policy through his Fightback! program. Dr Hewson's folly was not to offer people a vision, but rather to offer an overly detailed and ideologically inspired manifesto that was out of step with the beliefs of the Australian people. His fate alerts us to the need to balance policy-making with commonsense and political judgement and to lean towards practical rather than ideological responses to problems. Like Icarus, in their quest to implement pure policy politicians and policy-makers must be wary of flying too close to the sun.

As stated earlier, McAuley has warned that one of the pitfalls of "the New Public Management" theory has been the loss of impartiality, professionalism, continuity and a broader community perspective that was the dominant culture in the older public service and still survives in parts of the present bureaucracy. Any new policy-making structures committed to innovation and to providing new directions run the risk of making this situation worse if adequate care is not taken. New ways of policy-making by governments should not usurp the traditional role of the public policy ideas, but should be additions to existing structu4es, to feed in new ideas.

In trying to involve intellectuals in practical policy-making and create "policy entrepreneurs" we must be careful to retain the integrity of intellectuals as intellectuals. The value to be gained from tapping the ideas of academics and private-, public- and third-sector thinkers will be lost if it is seen merely as an attempt to conscript them into support for a pre-existing program. The task is not to compromise the intellectual integrity of dedicated professionals but to utilise their enthusiasm and expertise to change the work as well as interpret it.


Policy-making is becoming an increasingly complex business. Different types of organisations are suited to different tasks and we need to rethink the relationship between parties and other policy-making groups. The broad philosophical directions proposed by parties should rightfully remain in the hands of the democratic processes of parties themselves. Within this framework there is a place for other types of bodies to contribute to better policy creation. A multiplicity of think tanks, utilising networking techniques, can be a source of innovation and new ideas. Government can be used to draw ideas form the community and work across existing g departmental silos to tackle complex problems in new ways. The right in Australia has recognised that changing public policy requires changing the way public policy is created. It is time for progressive parties in Australia to do the same.


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In this issue
*  Interview: Master of Opposition
Over the past five years, John Faulkner has turned the Senates Estimates structure into his own House of Pain. He explains the art of Opposition.
*  Politics: Beazley the Bridge Builder?
As the Howard Government flounders, Brett Evans looks at the challenges Kim Beazley faces as his hour of destiny approaches.
*  Unions: Lashing & Loathing at Patricks
Three years since one of the Howard Government’s most infamous episodes, the Waterfront War, Zoe Reynolds discovers how casuals are now doing the doing the dirty work on the docks.
*  Legal: Workers Without Rights
Mark Morey outlines the legal status and (lack of) rights for foreigners in Australia on working visas.
*  International: Dispatch from the Dispossessed
Mahendra Chaudhry, Leader of the People's Coalition and the Fiji Labour Party comments on this week’s court decision.
*  Economics: Business Power and Mobility
The US election season makes it patently clear how Big Business is able to transform its financial resources into political power via campaigncontributions.
*  History: The Spoilers and the Split
The Movement, Groupers, the DLP and The Doc. All have been blamed in various ways for the ALP split in the 1950s, ensuring the ALP was kept out of federal government until 1972. Can One Nation return the favour?
*  Review: The New Hard Politics
Dennis Glover argues that policy has taken over from spin as the political battleground of the new century.
*  Satire: Bradman Latest: Family In Dramatic Court Action
The family of the late Sir Donald Bradman yesterday sought a restraining order against Prime Minister John Howard after it became apparent that he wants to be involved in every single detail of the The Don's funeral.

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