Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Looking Back to Look Forward: The Future of Public Debate of Social Policy in Australia

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Looking Back to Look Forward: The Future of Public Debate of Social Policy in Australia

Article excerpt

The Australian Journal of Social Issues is the sole Australian journal concerned with issues of social policy and social justice. Since its first issue in 1961, the AJSI has published a wealth of peer-reviewed scholarship dealing with crucial social policy issues potentially affecting the welfare of Australian citizens. As editors our fundamental vision is to continue to strengthen the journal as a key venue for robust multidisciplinary analysis of issues that inform public debates concerning effective social policy design. In order to achieve this, we seek to develop the journal further so that we facilitate quality research on both conceptual and applied social policy analysis, in both international and Australian contexts. This special issue commemorates the 50th volume of the journal. However, beyond the matter of celebration, it also provides an opportunity to reflect on where the journal has come from in order to envisage what it might become.

Janus, the two-faced Roman deity, has particular resonance with this anniversary issue. Looking to the future and to the past at the same time, he is the god of beginnings and transitions--of entrances, passages and endings. As we look to the future we need to envisage a path for the journal that allows it to remain relevant for a complex and changing social policy environment while retaining a distinct sense of identity. How can the journal remain an active contributor to public debate about social policy so that it can achieve its other significant milestones?

One reason why Janus provides an appropriate analogy for this issue is that he presided over the beginning and ending of conflict, and hence of both war and peace; social policy is intrinsically bound up with resolving social conflict and coordinating the interests of citizens. Without social justice in the outcomes of social policy there is little prospect for peace and harmony among the citizenry.

At the risk of over-extending the analogy, the doors of Janus's temple were left open in time of war, and closed to mark peace. As it is unrealistic for any social policy to expect to achieve complete peace, we always need to keep the temple doors open. This is necessary in order to remain open to an important question in social policy: how can society reform social policies to achieve greater harmony among its citizens? Of course, in aspiring to answer a big question such as this, we need to acknowledge the constraint to resources facing modern governments. Notwithstanding such constraints, social policy and social justice need to be taken seriously even when budgets are squeezed by persistently low economic growth rates. Indeed, an argument can be made that this is the most important time to focus on social policy, when economic stress exacerbates social conflict.

This anniversary issue provides us with an opportunity to ask what the journal can do to inform public debate in order to achieve its aspirations. Historically, most contributors to the journal are not direct actors in the design and implementation of social policy, but their research can nonetheless inform the public and actors in social policy regimes in regard to what does and does not work.

We have commissioned five leading scholars for the 50th anniversary volume and asked them to reflect on the core issues of Australian social policy with a view to identifying strategic priorities for the journal for the next 50 years. All these scholars are prominent contributors to the public debate and are in an excellent position to reflect on the historical and future roles of the Australian Journal of Social Issues.

Mitchell and Rowse (2005) provided a detailed history of the journal, including a retrospective account of the organisation in its first four decades, and a summary of the coverage and scope of the research published. This issue does not attempt to replicate that analysis, but instead attempts to provide fresh perspectives as a complement to the insight of those researchers with an enduring commitment to social policy research in Australia. …

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