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The Crawford School and Public Policy at ANU

Remarks at launch of Crawford School of Public Policy Strategic Plan 2019-23, ANU, Canberra, 2 May 2019

In my very first speech as ANU Chancellor, back in February 2010, I made it clear where I personally was coming from in terms of ANU’s public policy role, saying:

This is a university which has understood from the outset that the formulation of public policy is not a squalid, low-order enterprise properly left to the technocrats and political megalomaniacs who occupy most of the rest of the nation’s capital, but a high calling demanding the best available intellectual resources, and justifying a substantial commitment from this university’s best brains.

Every great university is characterised not only by the quality of its research and teaching, but also the quality of the contribution it makes in other ways to the wider community – local, national and indeed global. I have never been in any doubt that ANU’s particular value-added in this respect – a direct function of our history and our location in the national capital – has been, and will remain, our contribution to national public policy development.

I have certainly worked hard as Chancellor to ensure that this understanding is embedded in our successive Strategic Plans, and I and the Council have been warmly supported in that enterprise by successive Vice-Chancellors. Thus it is that the current University-wide Strategic Plan identifies ‘Delivering on our Unique National Responsibilities’ as a core objective, with those responsibilities being defined as ‘to national policymakers and national institutions’, ‘to Indigenous Australia’ and ‘regarding Asia and the Pacific’.

It has always been a core part of my own vision for public policy at ANU that the Crawford School of Public Policy – as we very deliberately renamed it in 2012 (not to diminish the legacy of its previous identity as a school of ‘Economics and Government’, but to expand it) – be the visible focal point of that activity: the functional equivalent here of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, the universally-recognised primary carrier of that great university’s public policy brand.

It has certainly never been part of my vision that the Crawford School be the sole repository of ANU public policy activity, any more than the Kennedy School is the sole repository of public policy teaching, research and outreach at Harvard – there are of course multiple other high-quality centres of such activity around our campus in many different discipline areas, including strategic and defence studies, environmental studies, epidemiology and computer science and engineering.

But I do think there is everything to be said for Crawford, and over time (and this is a theme of the Campus Master Plan to be finalised later this year) the Acton Peninsula precinct around it, being the visible focal point of our public-policy activity – the physical location for multidisciplinary policy-focused conferences like the annual Crawford Leadership Forum; the physical location for very regular outreach events of the kind I live in hope that a reinstated Coombs Forum will organize, showcasing ANU public policy talent across the campus and bringing it together with the policymaking and policy-influencing talent across the Lake; the organizational heart of a revitalized ANU Public Policy Fellows Program embracing both the University’s most outstanding public policy experts and the capital’s leading policymakers; the physical location for most of the short-course professional training of our nation’s public service; and the physical location, I would hope, for the Public Policy and Societal Impact Hub we recently established to coordinate and maximise the impact of our public policy activity across the whole campus.

It’s one of the few disappointments of my tenure as Chancellor that I don’t think we have yet fully realised ANU’s enormous potential to further develop, and showcase, its public policy role. Familiar institutional turf-protection instincts, and central management nervousness about doing anything which might conceivably offend or further energise those instincts, does seem to me to have inhibited the practical realisation of some synergies there for the taking – and overall ANU public policy brand enhancement there for the taking – if only we were all prepared to be a bit more adventurous.

The Crawford School Strategic Plan for the next five years, being launched today, lays down strong foundations – albeit at a high level of generality – for what it describes, with encouraging ambition, as the ‘next stage of [its] evolution as one of the elite public policy schools in the world’ – elite in its research, research training, education, staffing and governance, and in external engagement and impact. That’s exactly what I and the University Council, and I know the Vice-Chancellor, want it to be.

This Plan is obviously the product of a lot of consultation and consensus, and that again is an admirable foundation for the future. But it steps very gingerly around the issue of the Crawford School’s place in the larger ANU public policy enterprise, saying not a word that could possibly frighten any of the other myriad of institutional horses around the campus about the role of Crawford as a Kennedy School (or, in our own region, Lee Kuan Yew School in Singapore’s NUS) – viz., a standard-bearing public policy focal point for the whole University.

Appropriate diplomatic caution is no doubt to be expected from the Centre itself in preparing a document of this kind. But I hope that others, including in central management, will be a little less reluctant to grasp this nettle in the future than they have been so far, and that ANU really will take some big steps forward over the next few years, and on into the future – long after I for one have turned into a pumpkin – to fully harness and realise ANU’s huge potential as a world-class, world-recognized public policy leader, with the Crawford School of Public Policy at its heart.