Friday, October 20, 2006

Confessions of a Policy Adviser -1- Setting the Scene

It's a Friday afternoon, about six o'clock.

I had just come across from Treasury to head up the Department of Industry and Commerce's Economic Analysis Branch. In Treasury I had made it a practice always to go to the Social Club Happy Hour - Friday afternoon drinks - because I enjoyed it and it kept me in touch across areas. I was determined to do the same thing in my new Department even though I had noticed that, unlike Treasury, few senior staff attended.

I was interrupted by John Martin, then Director of the Finance and Tax Section in my Branch, now a commissioner with the ACCC. Keith Purcell, the First Assistant Secretary in charge of the Policy Division, had received an urgent call from the Minister (Sir Philip Lynch) and wanted to see me at once.

Keith explained to me that Prime Minster Fraser was very worried about the decline in Australian manufacturing and had asked our Minister for urgent advice not just on the causes, but on what might be done. We had to have advice on the Minster's desk first thing Monday morning. So we started calling staff in setting up for a weekend's work.

Quite frankly, this was one of the least satisfying experiences of my professional life. A week end to try to provide sensible advice on this issue was bad enough. But we also lacked the policy framework and supporting analytical tools required to say anything new and useful. So in the end we provided statistics with some fairly superficial supporting analysis. I swore that I would never put myself in this position again.

Against this background, I thought that it might be interesting to explore the way in which policy is developed and implemented, in so doing looking at some of policy debates with a special focus on industry policy.


Anonymous said...

You must have an inside view as opposed to the rest of us who see policy making as an episode out of Yes Minister.

Jim Belshaw said...

Lexcen, I know that you put a second post up as well - I got email notification - and I thank you for the comments. I feel very flattered.

I actually love Yes Minster because it's so true.

You triggered this series of posts. But I am now extending it as an experiment. Let's see if I can put some of the stuff on the record.