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Analysis and Comment (53)

Having a ball: How politicians can make smiley happy people. seanbjack

How to shape economic policy when we move beyond GDP

The day is not far off when the economic problem will take the back seat where it belongs, and the arena of the heart and the head will be occupied or reoccupied, by our real problems – the problems of…
Subjecting job seekers to bogus personality tests, as the UK did, was a misuse of behavioural insights. Lucky Business/Shutterstock

The promise and perils of giving the public a policy ‘nudge’

Do you consider yourself a rational person? For the most part, you probably are. If something hurts, you’ll stop doing it. If you like something, you’ll buy more of it, but you’ll rethink your decision…
A Whitehall CFO would interfere with the work at No. 10. Bob Jenkin

The last thing Whitehall needs is a Chief Financial Officer

The coalition’s latest wheeze is to create a new government Chief Financial Officer, similar to the position found in big corporations. This plan, concocted by Treasury minister Danny Alexander and Cabinet…
Bridging policy and research requires relationships built on trust and respect over a long period of time. Flickr: Don Shearman

Build a bridge: tips to connect research and policy

In a more perfect world, the big policy challenges of our time would be informed by timely, relevant academic research. There would be a close and effective dialogue between academia and policy. Alas…
How many English people did I conquer again?

We still need the census to tell us who we really are

This week the Office for National Statistics opened a consultation on the future of the decennial national census. Two options are on the table: continuing the census, but with a switch to online collection…
Who will watch over politicians' spending? Stephen Johnson

Why we need an independent Parliamentary Budget Office

Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, has declared he’d like the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) to assess Labour’s tax and spend policies before the next election. Robert Chote, the head of the OBR…
Representing the 90%. Dave Thompson/PA

Britons say no to smaller state

Britain is still a majority social-democratic country. That is, politically, the most significant finding of the latest British Social Attitudes survey published this week. Most people want a country which…
Could charities compete to provide services like nursing? Stefan Rousseau/PA

Limit public service competition to non-profits

The idea that competition is better than monopoly provision in public services is now established wisdom among the British political elite. Since the advent of something commonly called “New Public Management…
We shouldn’t assume hunting, logging or grazing will damage areas like Guy Fawkes River National Park. We also shouldn’t assume they won’t. Ian Sanderson

Stopping hunting, logging and grazing won’t save national parks

Countries create national parks to protect areas of biological, physical, cultural and spiritual significance. In Australia, we generally prefer national parks to be free from activities such as hunting…
If science is excluded from fisheries policy, we’re headed back to the bad old days of overfishing. Greg Bishop

Super trawler gone, but is fisheries policy in trouble?

Last week, the “super trawler” Abel Tasman left Australia, with far less fanfare than you might have expected. Many hail this as good news for Australian fisheries, but we believe it could be a great step…
Peter Shergold, pictured here at COAG with former prime minister John Howard, was Australia’s top public servant from 2003-2008. AAP/Alan Porritt

Peter Shergold: political staffers aren’t killing the public service

In 2007, soon after becoming prime minister, Kevin Rudd found himself unable to attend the Christmas party of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) of which I was the secretary. This…
The Business Council of Australia’s Jennifer Westacott has called for a debate over the role of Australia’s public service.

Improving public policy advice is a debate we have to have

The provocative address by Business Council of Australia chief Jennifer Westacott to the Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) International Congress in Melbourne yesterday achieved something…
The Wonthaggi desalination plant was proposed as Victoria’s solution to water security, but has been the subject of community concern and protest. AAP/Thiess

Solving water security: don’t ignore the public

What is the best solution to the problem of water security in Australia? Finding an answer to this question is no easy matter. There is still much we don’t know about the nature and impact of climate change…
No such thing as a free lunch: nuclear power can do what many renewable energy systems have not yet done on a large scale - deliver. Flickr/Gretchen Mahan

Low-carbon electricity must be fit-for-service (and nuclear power is)

To paraphrase George Orwell: “All electricity is created equal, but some of its generating technologies are more equal than others”. This is a crucial point – emphasised but typically overlooked – in the…
Beware the hyperbole: Campbell Newman has vowed to axe the Wild Rivers legislation, but what’s the reality beneath the rhetoric? AAP/Alan Porritt

Overturn, axe and bury: the LNP and Queensland’s Wild Rivers Act

Those who follow the Wild Rivers debates in Queensland probably know better than to trust the headlines. When, in January 2010, Tony Abbott announced a federal intervention into the state’s environmental…
Australia’s energy security will fall again after Caltex’s decision to shut its Sydney plant at Kurnell (pictured), but the Federal Government is yet to have a coherent stance on domestic refining capacity. AAP/Mick Tsikas

Oil-slick politics: Canberra slippery on refinery shutdowns

Last week, Caltex decided to close its Kurnell refinery in Sydney. This closure follows a recent decision by Shell to close its refinery at Clyde in Sydney and it will leave the city without any oil refineries…
No simple matter: logging and conservation are not polar opposites, and controlled harvesting can fund the protection of forests. AAP/Greenpeace/Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert

Can forest conservation and logging be reconciled?

Is there a role for logging in ensuring the future of the world’s tropical forests and their rich diversity of plants and animals? For many this idea is absurd, because timber production achieving conservation…
World of bag people: a million a minute are used globally, with Australians churning through almost one a day on average. Flickr/Heal the Bay

Plastic, like diamonds, is forever: time to use fewer bags

Between 30 million and 50 million plastic bags enter the environment as litter in Australia each year. These environmentally damaging bags - produced to be used once and then thrown away - are a symbol…
Tony Abbott described the carbon tax as a python that would strangle the economy, but it’s more of a lolly snake. Flickr/anenomeprojectors

Why the carbon-tax ‘python’ won’t squeeze the economy

Some critics of carbon pricing have pointed out that, over time, the carbon price will increase to a much higher level and devastate the economy. Indeed, the image of a python squeezing the life out of…
Extinct: the Christmas Island Pipistrelle. Lindy Lumsden

Threat of extinction demands fast and decisive action

When it comes to mammal extinctions, Australia’s track record over the last 200 years has been abysmal. Since European settlement, nearly half of the world’s mammalian extinctions have occurred in Australia…
Time for real change: the Government’s new draft National Food Plan puts the interests of big business ahead of health, equity, and food security. Flickr/mermaid99

The draft National Food Plan: putting corporate hunger first

The Federal Government released on Tuesday the green paper for Australia’s first-ever National Food Plan. According to Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig, this plan “will ensure Australia has a sustainable…
These foxes are worth $10 each when killed and scalped, is it really worthwhile in controlling fox numbers, and is $10 worth the effort? David Peacock

Political dreaming: shooters solving pest problems?

The Victorian government has introduced bounties for foxes and wild dogs, $10 for the scalp of a fox, and $50 for that of a dog. Bounties have been tried before, and failed to control these pests, but…
Sold to the lowest bidder! The carbon price will not transform Australia’s power supply without further steps to help low-emission technologies into the market. Flickr/sashafatcat

Low-emission’s missing link: reverse auctions for clean power

When it comes to reducing emissions, most serious analysts agree: the market works best, but the market is not enough. The International Energy Agency, the OECD, leading British climate economist Nicholas…
Poverty of vision: the carbon tax is about more than individuals' hip pockets. AAP/Julian Smith

Selling the carbon tax: individual versus collective self-interest

July 1 has rolled past and Australia has a carbon tax. As Government Ministers prepare to hit the road to spruik the benefits of the tax, it’s worth shining a spotlight on the kinds of messages they love…
Our parks are an incredible asset, and if we ran them more like a business we would see that. AAP/Patrick Horton

Thinking corporately: getting national parks on national balance sheets

National parks are among Australia and New Zealand’s most precious assets. But we don’t account for them properly, so they’re struggling. It’s time for a rethink. The assets managed by the parks agencies…
Quarries and quandaries: Australia’s natural splendour is a major source of income, yet it sits uncomfortably with mining’s spread. AAP/Fantasea Adventure Cruising

Mining and the environment: the future of Australia’s brand

Australia has built a strong global brand based on its iconic natural beauty. For example, the new Australia Tourism campaign, “There’s nothing like Australia”, features icons like the Kimberley, Uluru…
To know how to ease the damage we do, we must first take stock of the natural world. New Zealand does; Australia does not. Flickr/borkazoid

Seeing the wood for the trees: Kiwi lead in biodiversity conservation

In 1992-93, 168 countries including Australia and New Zealand signed the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) acknowledging an urgent need to halt ongoing decline in the planet’s biodiversity. In its…
Lost generations: if Australians now cycled at the same rates as in the mid 1980s, up to a million more people would be riding. Flickr/taisau

Australian cycling boom? Nope - it’s a myth

Cycling industry reports of significant bicycles sales in Australia suggest a growth in cycling participation. As the Tour de France re-excites interest in cycling around the world, a new analysis published…
Sanctuary: marine parks can create new ways to prevent illegal fishing. Mia Hoogenboom, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University

Marine parks could help cut down on illegal fishing

Environment Minister Tony Burke announced the final proposed Commonwealth marine protected area (MPA) network last month. The network would be the largest in the world, covering more than a third of Commonwealth…
Climate change is only one of many pressures farmers will have to adapt to. Pete Hill

The three Ps of climate change and agriculture

Opinions on anthropogenic climate change vary greatly across society, and it appears that Australia’s farmers remain largely sceptical about the causes of climate change. Recent surveys show that only…
Sometimes even the clearest signs of change are ignored. Flickr/baldeaglebluff

Adapting to climate change: more questions than answers!

With increasing global greenhouse gas emissions, and no clear internationally-agreed path for emission reductions, we are faced with a global climate that will be at least two degrees warmer than today…
State of dependency: Australia imports the majority of its oil for the first time since 1970. Flickr/Sr. Samolo

Australia’s growing oil imports are an energy security issue

For all the talk about Australia’s resource and energy riches and the country’s economy riding the waves of a resource boom, one facet of the country’s energy situation has largely been under the radar…
Do you see the light? Solar costs are comparable to fossil fuels, and are falling 45% annually. Flickr/MyEye85

Newsflash: solar power costs are falling below fossil fuels

Recent postings to The Conversation have enlivened the debate over the “Great Transition” that is underway all around the world from the fossil-fuelled energy systems of the 20th century to the renewably…
Hard numbers: less than 1% of the world’s oceans are protected but marine scientists think 20% should be off-limits to fishing. AAP/Lloyd Jones

Marine parks: cause for optimism, but devilish details

As a marine scientist, I welcome Senator Burke’s brave decision today to roll out Australia’s marine park system. This puts us on a par with other leading nations like the US and UK who have established…
Networks of nature: a potato cod with striped cleaner wrasse at Osprey Reef, an area in the expanded marine reservations announced today. Flickr/richard ling

Big splash: welcome back to top-shelf marine conservation

Today’s announcement of a national network of marine parks is really a memorable day for Australian nature conservation. The political rhetoric and self-congratulation associated with major events is often…
Julia Gillard espouses “evidence-based” policy and Bob Hawke set up a Future Commission, but policy-making is necessarily subject to all manner of short-term pressures. AAP/Tracey Nearmy

Challenge 5: The trouble with policy-makers thinking ahead

In part five of our multi-disciplinary Millennium Project series, Scott Prasser questions easy sloganeering about the importance of “long-term” policy-making. Global challenge 5: How can policymaking be…
Back, sperm, back: a human egg on the tip of a pin. Flickr/wellcome images

Squaring up to difficult truths: how to reduce the population

Elephants in the room, part two For all our schemes and mantras about making our lives environmentally “sustainable”, humanity’s assault on the planet not only continues but expands. What are the deep…
In today’s world, businesses have to find new ways to tackle wicked problems. luxamart

Wicked problems and business strategy: is design thinking an answer?

Obesity. Climate change. Brain drain. Tax havens. War in Afghanistan. All have been described as “wicked problems”. UC Berkeley scholars, Rittel and Webber, coined the term in 1973 when they were reacting…
Given our neo-Platonic visions of universal ecologies, when it comes to restoring waterways we’re up the proverbial creek without a paddle. Flickr/Annadriel

Science’s stagnant thinking: our rivers need a revolution

I’ve been away in the UK for a few years – and what do I find when I come back? In the Murray Darling we are still arguing over inputs (the amount of water to be returned to the river) instead of focusing…
Facing tough questions: NSW’s planning review must grapple with competing visions of development. Flickr/Askew One

Under review: rival visions for people and communities

Later this year Brad Hazzard, NSW Minister for Planning and Infrastructure, faces a difficult decision. Will he prepare new state planning legislation that prioritises a desired outcome: healthy, functional…
Our thinly spread efforts to prop up the environment are failing and it is time for tough decisions about what we can realistically preserve. Flickr/rexboggs5

Farms versus nature: how do we decide what to protect?

Australian farmers take pride in their efficient and productive farming systems, competing in the global economy and without many of the large subsidies given to their counterparts in Europe and North…
Mark Scott, managing director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. AAP/Alan Porritt

Mark Scott on the future of your ABC

Welcome to In Conversation, our series of discussions between leading academics and major public figures in Australian life. In this instalment, Mark Scott, managing director of the Australian Broadcasting…
Our teeming attack on the natural world threatens to turn the wilderness into a fetish item. AAP/The Wilderness Society

Squaring up to difficult truths: population and the environment

Elephants in the room, part one For all our schemes and mantras about making this or that part of our lives environmentally “sustainable”, humanity’s assault on the planet not only continues but expands…
The Police Association of Victoria fought hard and smart to ensure they won a payrise promised to them during the 2010 election campaign. AAP/Julian Smith

The thin blue bottom line: how Victoria’s police re-defined public pay battles

The Police Association of Victoria recently secured a pay rise of nearly 19 per cent over four years for its members. Lessons drawn from the Police Association’s success should bolster the bargaining power…
Not a deterrent? This boat arrived on Christmas Island after the “Malaysia solution” deal was finalised. AAP/Josh Jerga

There are better alternatives to the ‘Malaysia solution’

The government’s controversial “Malaysia solution”, in which Australia “swaps” refugees with Malaysia is being challenged in the High Court this week. Asylum seekers are being backed by the Australian…

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