Rudd's Summit Misses the Point of Policy

By Kasper, Wolfgang | Review - Institute of Public Affairs, May 2008 | Go to article overview

Rudd's Summit Misses the Point of Policy


Kasper, Wolfgang, Review - Institute of Public Affairs


Kevin Rudd's government was inspired early into its term to call upon Australia's One-thousand most intelligent people' to nominate themselves to be invited to a talkfest in Canberra to harvest ideas. Leading opposition politicians quickly approved.

The purpose of the 2020 Summit was not to give the newly elected government ideas about the immediate future. These have no doubt been decided by Labor's undertakings to those who spent heavily to help them into office. Instead, these ideas are for Kevin 9-11, the next administration.

But would any great democratic leader-Jefferson, Churchill, Adenauer, de Gaulle, Thatcher or Reagan-have dreamt up such a ploy?

This summit is designed to produce no more than sound bites from the 1000 unelected ego-trippers, pet project promoters, and seekers of government support who will attend.

In the cacophony of a thousand voices, Labor's 'idea harvesters' will probably only hear what they want to hear, and the whole charade will serve as a disguise for doing what the political leaders and their inner circle wanted to do anyway.

If the Rudd team does not have a plan how to go about leading Australia, they can find time-tested instructions in the standard textbooks of political, military and corporate strategy. The 'rational action model' offers excellent guidance on how best to develop and implement a long-range strategy.

First, one looks at past trends and forecasts of the most likely future. Care has to be taken that the forecasts are not coloured by wishful thinking and that distinctions are made between what has to be accepted as given and what may be influenced by policy. The leaders then compare the forecast with their own shared values and basic objectives. With the help of allies and advisors, they formulate alternative futures in the form of strategies (or policy options) and select one feasible strategy as their plan for action. During the implementation of the plan, circumstances may change. This requires tactical adjustments, which must, however, always stay within the strategic plan.

This is how governments do their budget cycles, how business corporations develop and implement their strategies, how military campaigns are carried out, and how orderly governments conduct their affairs. Following such a pattern of action ensures that the goveminent keeps the initiative, avoids internal contradictions and ensures that the various policies are mutually supportive.

The logic of the rational-action model was applied in a study of Australia's medium-term prospects and strategic choices in the late 1970s, which became known as the Crossroads study. It helped to inspire the microeconomic reforms of the 1980s and 1990s, which launched Australia on the path of prosperity and confidence that we have been enjoying.

Policy planners must realise that not everything is feasible. A political community is, after all, not an organisation where the leadership commands. …

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