Friday, April 13, 2012

Glimpses into a policy past - the 1984 Australian aerospace industry development statement

One of the things that I struggle with on this blog is actually bringing alive some of the things I talk about, to explain how things work, why things go wrong, what needs to be done to improve performance. 

I threw out most of my papers from the Canberra and then Aymever periods. Later, I regretted this. Now digging through my old papers as part of my present restructuring, a word actually relevant to this post, I have found all sorts of interesting bits and pieces. More had survived than I realised. 

The following press release was the first in a series of releases on our then attempts to position Australia in the high technology sector.

I still remember this one very clearly.

Minister John Button (and here) had decided that he wanted to release the aerospace industries plan via a press conference. When I went to see him for a pre-conference briefing he was in an ebullient mood. I couldn't get him to focus.

This was not the first time I had briefed a minister, nor my first press release. Both were common nature. However, it was the first time I had briefed on a major initiative that I had played a key role in crafting, one where we had to fight hard to get it through. It was also the first in a rolling series of announcements that we expected the minister to make over coming years.

Yes, that's right, years! The work plan that I had developed with my colleagues- the pattern of rolling but integrated policy reviews -  required several years of work, more to keep implementation going. The later Communications Equipment Industry Development Strategy had a ten year time horizon built into it.

We knew that just as the structural problems being experienced by Australian industry had taken years to develop, so effective responses would take years.

I do not remember whether or not this was the first "industry plan'". Our division was working on the first Button Car Plan at that time. I tried to check dates, but the on-line material  does not help. My memory is that the aerospace statement was the first. Further comments follow the press release.   



Looking at the statement, it is almost a template for all those statements that came later and across portfolios. My current public service colleagues will find it totally familiar.

This illustrates a problem, the difference between mechanics and creativity. The practical mechanics of policy development tend to dictate very common structures to both policy and implementation. And yet, results can vary greatly. How things are done makes the difference. 

As I left the press conference after the release, I felt dissatisfied. Because I hadn't been able to get John to focus properly, I knew that we hadn't given the media the things required. We had set in train a process, one that I believed would give results. And yet, we hadn't started well.

I don't blame the minister. While he was the boss, it was my job to give him advice, structure and information. It was also my job to be persistent, to manage his mood. To my mind, the failure was my own.


Anonymous said...

Jim, from the press release:

Under the package of measures..." form a Council; carry out analysis; form a working group; review present methods; co-ordinate policy development"

Then... "the moves I have announced provide such a framework and should lead to the formulation of policies..."

I agree that the above could be a template for almost any area of government activity. It is a little depressing really: absolutely no hint of the creativity, enthusiasm, or potential of the particular policy area.


Jim Belshaw said...

In a way you have captured one of my points, kvd. I knew what was possible, but did not properly express it.

This is pre-spin days. One of my failures lay in the fact that I did not give JB a few headline numbers. I knew what what was possible, but I expressed it in terms of mechanics.

Anonymous said...

Yes, if you top and tailed it, like a fish, I don't think you could tell which department was involved, or the particular area of initiative - or the political era, right up to the present.

Bland words, masking genuinely clever and committed people.


Anonymous said...

Completely off-topic, but something which we have discussed many times before:

Hope it gets through; it's about the farce which we call regulated share trading. Never fails to raise my blood pressure, which is why I left it for a couple of days before reading it.


Jim Belshaw said...

Re your link, kvd. On the description, it actually sounds like insider trading! They had info before anyone else.

Anonymous said...


with the assistance of the ASX for pete's sake!!!

Sick system, laughable, conflicted regulators. Pleased I'm out of it completely.


Jim Belshaw said...

I can see your point, kvd.