CPD launch speech – John Menadue

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We have established CPD because we believe there is a serious policy vacuum in Australian public life. CPD has grown out of the policy portal of New Matilda.

In recent years, political opportunism has pushed policy development aside. Almost everything is political. We have too much politics and not enough policy. Even war, and the plight of refugees, is a political opportunity.

Focus groups replace rigorous policy analysis. Managerialism has become more important than values. We have allowed the economy to become detached from its social purpose. In the ‘labour market’, the weak and vulnerable are increasingly exposed. We have an economic boom alongside a social recession. We are more wealthy, but less happy.

We have short-term economic success at the cost of running down our capital. We are eating the seed wheat. We are depleting our shared assets – not just hard assets like roads, rail, water and the environment, but also our soft assets, like our public institutions, behaviour in public life, our trust in one another and the quality of family and community life.
A central issue in reclaiming our common wealth is the key relationship between markets and society. We assert that markets are valuable but society is paramount.

Markets have important roles to perform and we clearly see the benefits of markets around the world. Today, the major response to global warming, water shortage and peak oil must be the market, with its price signals.

But the demands of the 24/7 market are placing unsustainable pressures on our planet and human relationships. Advertising intrudes into so much of our private and social lives. Our ‘commons’ – our shared assets – parks, beaches, airwaves and even the air and sky are being steadily enclosed and eroded by the market. The process of ‘enclosures’ didn’t cease in rural England in the 19th Century.

We are all guilty of despoiling our ‘commons’ – pure air and water being the most obvious.

At CPD, we believe that governments have an important role to perform. We do not see government as the enemy. Neither do we see markets as the enemy. Public policy must be about the appropriate balance between markets and society, and the fence that governments should place around markets for the sake of society. The primacy of society must be asserted – the social question. Markets and the economy are not an end in themselves.

We need to know what political parties and governments stand for – their values and principles. That is so whoever wins the next election. It will even be more important if there is a change of government.

In my experience, government officials are technically able and fair, but it is not their role to espouse the values and develop the principles that should guide policy and its implementation. That is the role of political parties and ministers. Unless those underpinning values and principles are clearly and publicly stated, ministers will remain susceptible to populism, short-termism, and election gimmicks.

The issue for the future is not about the size of government. It is not about the ‘third way’. The issue is how markets and society relate to each other. In the end society and its values must be paramount.

We do not see ourselves as a conventional ‘think tank’. Our enterprise is about doing as well as thinking. Advocacy must be linked to policy development. What we do will be unique – developing alternate policies and advocating them. We want to persuade decision-makers and opinion-leaders that we need a rebalancing between society and markets.

The charter that describes our aims is Reclaiming our Common Wealth: policies for a fair and sustainable future. Our Common Wealth is basically about values. Our objective in the CPD is to realise in public life, the values set out in Our Common Wealth.

We seek partnerships with people and groups who share our values. We seek financial support from business, unions, foundations and individuals. Please join us.

This is an edited transcript of a speech given at the launch of the Centre for Policy Development, Sydney, May 23 2007

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