Good policymaking and frequent elections — the right mix?

By Andrew Trounson

May 24, 2016

Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull participate in a Leaders Forum at Windsor RSL as part of the 2016 election campaign in Sydney, Friday, May 13, 2016. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING

Is democracy part of the solution or part of the problem when it comes to good policymaking?

In 2007 then head of Treasury Ken Henry famously cautioned his department that in the lead-up to elections “there is a greater risk of the development of policy proposals that are, frankly, bad”.

Setting the scene are three public administration, policy and political experts: former secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Terry Moran, and the University of Melbourne’s Professor Helen Sullivan and Associate Professor Sarah Maddison.

Read their contributions in the series articles below.

Terry Moran thinks the caretaker period during election campaigns is the ideal time for the public service to do some strategic thinking and prepare high-level policy advice in the “blue and red book” briefs for a returning or new government.

“Elections are a great opportunity for the departments to do strategic work on the challenges facing the country,” says Moran.

But aren’t the politicians and political parties supposed to be the ones we rely on for policy ideas? Or is the messy business of elections and a partisan political culture simply driving short-termism?

Concerns about short-termism have led to calls for longer electoral terms and complaints that the independence of the public service has been undermined by politics. Has something gone wrong? And is the frequency of elections part of the problem, or more is democracy part of the solution?

In the fifth episode of the University of Melbourne’s monthly podcast series The Policy Shop, Vice Chancellor Professor Glyn Davis discusses how elections and the electoral cycle impacts policy making. He is joined by former secretary of the Department of Education and Training Lisa Paul, and the University of Melbourne’s Dr Scott Brenton, from the School of Social and Political Sciences.

This article was first published on Pursuit, the University of Melbourne’s news site. You can read the original here.

Top image: Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull participate in  a Leaders Forum at Windsor RSL as part of the 2016 election campaign // AAP

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