Ex-ministers tell ANZSOG students how politics really works

Ex-ministers tell ANZSOG students how politics really works
  • Published Date: 24 August 2017

How often do public servants get a real, unvarnished insight into how their ministers think and how politics really impacts on the policy and advisory work of agencies?

ANZSOG’s Policy and Program Skills workshop, run by Dr Chris Walker, gives its participants a unique chance to hear the frank and revealing views of former ministers, who in recent years have included Queensland minister Stephen Robertson, South Australian minister John Hill and former NT Chief Minister Clare Martin.

“Without breaching the confidentiality of the workshops, they have given us an honest insight into the range of pressures on politicians and the complexities of the relationship between politics and public policy,” Dr Walker said.

“Even when public servants have contact with ministers as part of their job, they are bound by their roles, and discussion seldom progress beyond the task at hand.

“They rarely get an insight into a minister explaining the range of pressures they face in their role, and where the advice from the public service sits within the broad range of forces that shape their thinking. The pressures including time, working with colleagues, and the dynamic and messy environment of political decision-making, right up to the level of cabinet meetings.”

Dr Walker says that the guest presenters for this year’s workshop are still being finalised, but will follow previous workshops by selecting a former senior minister who wants to give participants an honest perspective into the life of a politician and the relationship between politics and policy.

“The course is about giving participants practical skills and information that they can use to be more effective in their work, and these insights are an important part of this skill development.

“This is a unique opportunity to engage with a senior politician and hear their side of the story. They can have the frank conversation they cannot have with current ministers, and get an explanation of where the work and advice of public servants fit into the long game many politicians are playing.

“For example, most public servants know that ministers prefer a one-or-two page briefing, but it is instructive to get an explanations of why that is important.

Former Federal Health Minister and Attorney-General Nicola Roxon recently delivered a speech offering advice to public servants in dealing with ministers.

She stressed the need for public servants to be more responsive to their ministers and to recognise the political environment they operated in if they wanted to have a positive influence over policy.

She said that public servants could not ignore government policies they did not like and needed to tailor their advice to their minister.

“The point is that your expertise and advice can more easily be followed and absorbed by ministers if it’s set in a context that acknowledges the positions already taken by the government,” Ms Roxon said.

Dr Walker said that former ministers who participated in the workshop had a genuine interest in strengthening the expertise and skill of the public sector by sharing their experiences.

 “We have had one minister who was frank enough to say they became a minister because they love power! And power was seen as way of delivering social change.”

“But it is good to hear from ministers about how they came into politics to make a difference and because they had a vision for the future. That is pretty inspiring for the public servants who are working with these big agendas.”

This year’s Policy and Program Skills workshop will be held in Sydney from September 20 – 22.

As well as access to political insiders, participants will learn a range of skills and strategic understandings including:

  • thinking strategically about policy
  • understanding context
  • working within the policy process
  • conducting policy analysis and develop options
  • understanding the ‘policy cycle’
  • designing policy for effective implementation
  • engaging and managing stakeholders
  • building strategic capacity for policy-making and decision making
  • using different kinds of evidence in policy advice

Find out more and register for Policy and Program Skills.