Government | Regulation

Good process missing from policy reform

A good process can bring people along, and there's been a lamentable lack of good process in public policy in recent years, Dr Gary Banks AO has told a CEDA audience.

Speaking at the CEDA Economic and Political Overview in Canberra, Dr Banks participated in a panel discussion on policy reform with Jane Halton AO PSM and Dr John Hewson AM.

 “Bringing the public along is such a crucial thing and it's been under done,” Dr Banks said.

“We've seen policies appear out of left field, we've seen changes and reversals. 

“We've seen a lack of explanation to the public, we've seen lack of consultation when it really counts.

“We've had…(an) underprepared policy voice…on an essentially unprepared public.

“That's a recipe for failure.

“Process is very important.

“(I) actually think there's a big opportunity there.

“ I don't think good process goes out of fashion, even if the modes of communication might change.

“One of the problems is that the electorate at the moment, has no trust in government. 

“There's no political capital on which to build an ambitious reform agenda and they have no trust in government because of…the lack of process, the amount of surprises that have occurred without proper explanation.

“Building trust is crucial.

“But then they also have to believe that government can actually implement a solution.

“I think there's a far more complex mix of things that are going on in our society and not only in Australia, but it makes the solutions a bit tougher as well.”

Ms Halton said alongside structural reform, a broader conversation needed to take place. 

“There's a broader conversation to be had with the community,” she said.

“Things that get sprung on unsuspecting stakeholders, in any sector, invariably meet a knee jerk and not a thoughtful reaction.

“I think in addition to what we need to do structurally – labour markets, tax, specific reforms to public sector policy or operations – we need to start to think about who we are, what our image of ourselves is.

“We have a very long history of just kind of expecting we're going to grow it, or dig it up and then ship it off, and that'll be what will carry us forward in terms of living standards. 

“I think that really does influence things like the conversation we have with our kids about what kinds of jobs they might do and the conversations we have with our friends or parents or whomever it might be.

“We have not seen a model of reform…that we all saw through the 1980s into the 1990s, things that many of us were proud of being part of, we haven’t seen that for a while.

“I think it’s more than arguable if we don’t have another crack at that relatively soon, we’re going to end up in a bit of economic trouble.”

Dr Hewson discussed the political environment and the impact on reform. 

“Today it's a very negative political environment,” he said.

“Somebody will propose a policy issue for consideration, the other side nine times out of 10, or 99 out of 100, opposes it and so we just move on to another issue, in another day, in another location.

“We don't have any genuine sustained debate.

“It’s just become very, very difficult to have a sensible policy debate about anything mostly because of the nature of politics.”

Dr Hewson said that this meant a lack of meaningful reform, using the energy sector as an example.

“We've ended up with a world where gas and electricity prices are running away simply because short-term politics has basically killed any sensible energy policy,” he said.

“Now it's going to be a dominant election issue and we still don't have either side of politics coming up with a realistic, detailed, deliverable energy policy.

“That's only one example of a public policy issue which is going to eat them all simply because they haven't done anything about it.”

Also at the event was ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, who spoke on the ACT economy including employment and opportunities for growth such as in the service sector. 

“2017 saw 10,000 additional jobs created in our city. We went from a labour force of 220,000 to 230,000. 

“This growth has outstripped our 10-year average and was faster than the average growth in employment across the rest of the nation.

“The bulk of this jobs growth has come outside of government, some of it through the extension of the National Disability Insurance Scheme…in transition out of the public sector particularly into the communities.

“But a lot of the jobs growth has come in sectors of our economy that are generating new wealth and opportunity for Canberra – higher education for example our single largest exporter…grew by 25 per cent last year. 

“They are a big employer in our city but we've seen growth in tourism, hospitality, retail and professional, scientific and technical services, construction – it has been really broad-based and that's been very encouraging. 

“This is predicted to continue through 2018.”

Speaking on services, Mr Barr said the lower Australian dollar was helping export industries such as higher education, tourism and government services.

“While we are at 1.7 per cent now of Australia’s population, ACT now generates 2.5 per cent of Australia's service exports. We are really ahead of the curve in that transition in the Australian economy,” he said.

“These growth sectors are contributing significantly to both employment growth and economic growth for Canberra.”

Mr Barr said that while there was employment growth, some of the skills required would not be able to be met by the current population.

“We recognise that our city's population growth is very closely tied to the strength of our labour market,” he said. 

“The number of unemployed people in the territory only marginally exceeds the number of job vacancies at this point in time. We have the lowest unemployment rate in Australia. 

“There will be an importation of labour coming from elsewhere in Australia and overseas to meet critical skill needs in many industries.”

Also speaking at the event was Australian Financial Review Political Reporter, Andrew Tillett who presented the political overview and Westpac Director and Senior Economist, Elliot Clarke who presented the economic overview.