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by Carol O’Donnell

Policy is my hobby – would you pay me to do it?

In a democracy all organizations are expected to operate within the law. A policy is an official statement of organizational expectation, intent or direction, which may or may not be directly or primarily based on law. Law is the strongest form of social policy, in that it represents the minimum standard of community expectations, and accordingly there is ideally some punishment for ignoring it. On the other hand, a lot of law may appear centuries outdated, unclear, conflicting or apparently irrelevant to the situation, so one needs to use common sense and evidence about the related economic, social and environmental context to come to a conclusion about any matter.

I normally provide policy advice generated by the invitation to make submissions to government and related independent inquires into health, the environment, industries, education, research and related community and financial matters. Such inquiries are reported in newspapers and one may find a website from which the terms of reference and a related discussion paper with questions may be drawn to aid submission makers. Submissions are often posted on websites. There is also great satisfaction in being able to send one’s submission to many decision makers from different groups of vested interests, all on the same open email. This may generate a considered response which one may see on television or in the newspapers, even if one feels personally ignored. The search for truth should not usually be secret or one sided. Life should be safer for all than that.

As a former public servant who analysed and wrote submissions on behalf of Australian government, I respect the democratic power of independent inquiries to effect social change openly assisted by newspaper, television, radio, parliamentary and other discussion. However, submission makers with sectional interests usually dominate the process. Even academics with the luxury of independent thought, are paid to mix with colleagues. My submissions seek to provide a broadly integrative, public interest based input and recommendations to anybody. Why would anyone pay me to make them?

As an academic and former public servant, whose mentors include JM Keynes and JK Galbraith, I worship Microsoft. The combination of excellent Australian government websites, email and Google has allowed daily contribution to policy debate which could never have been dreamed imaginable for anyone in any former era. Keynes and Galbraith would have been green with envy at the access to politicians and other decision makers which email now provides to millions around the world. This is a democratic revolution without even having to cross the Atlantic. Should private sector communications ever seek to catch up, my teaching and policy may hopefully assist.