Tuesday, 12 January 2016

A Walking Shadow: rationale and declarations of prior interests


Indigenous public policy making is not for the faint hearted. It is complicated, convoluted, complex and often confusing.  As Alonso notes in the Tempest: ‘This is as strange a maze as e’er men trod’.

My intention in establishing this blog was twofold. First, to provide an accessible portal into this maze, and perhaps even a guide to some of its mysteries, and thus fill what I see as a gap in the coverage of policy issues within the Indigenous public policy domain. Second, to provide a useful and hopefully persuasive outlet for my own thoughts and ideas in a post-employment phase of my life.

The inclusion of the quotes from Shakespeare is largely a bit of fun and merely a reflection of a hobby of mine which revolves around gaining a better understanding of Shakespeare’s life and works, fuelled by an intuitive sense that Shakespeare is at core dealing with politics as much as human emotions. Finding an apposite quote to complement my thoughts on one or another policy issue is for me an alternative lens through which to learn about and understand Shakespeare’s work. For the reader, it hopefully demonstrates that the Indigenous policy realm is characterised by many of the human and social motivations and forces which infuse our broader society, past and present.

As for my views promulgated in this blog, they are an amalgam of my inherent intellectual capacities shaped by my life experiences. The most salient of these experiences include growing up in a country NSW town where Indigenous people were literally marginalised to a camp next to the town tip, working for remote communities in the Kimberley after university, working for the Central Land Council in the early eighties as an administration manager, working at the ANU for a year in the mid-eighties, working for three Labor Ministers of Indigenous Affairs (Holding, Hand and Macklin), and working in the bureaucracy at both federal and NT levels, in and out of Indigenous affairs.

Key non-Indigenous related jobs included a period in the Industry Department managing Australia’s innovation and research and development programs, and with AusAID managing our aid program to PNG and later the Pacific.

Throughout my working life, I tried to maintain an intellectual interest in Indigenous affairs issues over and above my professional commitments, and from time to time wrote and published articles and research reports on issues of interest.

While the interface between politics and policy has been an abiding interest, as have institutional structures, my interests have always been on the policy side of that coin. I have never been a member of a political party.

The Pew Research Centre Political Typology test indicates that I am a “Solid Liberal”, described as follows:

Generally affluent and highly educated, most Solid Liberals strongly support the social safety net and take very liberal positions on virtually all issues…. Overall, Solid Liberals are very optimistic about the nation’s future and are the most likely to say that America’s success is linked to its ability to change, rather than its reliance on long-standing principles…

Notwithstanding the above, I am keen to ensure that alternative policy perspectives are aired and considered in this blog. While I cannot escape my own ideological perspectives and predispositions, I am determined that the blog not be partisan in any crude sense, and to the maximum extent possible addresses issues on their merits. It is intended to be more a reflection of my skills as a former public servant than as a former political adviser.

An issue of longstanding concern to me is that many non-Indigenous Australians have disengaged from Indigenous issues, some because the micro politics of Indigenous affairs is complex and confusing; others because of a well-intentioned view that Indigenous policy issues ought to be left solely to Indigenous citizens to determine.

The stark reality however is that Indigenous policy issues infuse a vast expanse of the public policymaking estate, and governments, parliaments and the bureaucracy, both federally and in the states and territories, make decisions (either by action or by omission) which impact Indigenous Australians all the time.

Without transparency and the focus of attention from the wider community, Indigenous Australians interests often fall victim to what Bill Stanner termed ‘the Great Australian Silence’ in his 1968 Boyer Lectures. All Australians have a role to contribute and influence how the nation deals with the place of Indigenous citizens within the broader polity. Hopefully this blog will make a modest contribution to facilitating that outcome.