Perspectives

Perspectives is a series of essays from the Whitlam Institute in which we offer respected public intellectuals an opportunity to canvass ideas and to put their views forward on the policies that would shape a better, fairer Australia. The series is designed to encourage creative, even bold, thinking and occasionally new ways of looking at the challenges of the 21st century in the hope that the enthusiasm and insights of these authors sparks further thought and debate among policy-makers and across the community.

The latest publication in our Perspectives series (released May 2016), Dr Edward Nik-Khah's Smoke and Thalidomide is an enthralling examination of the power of economists - and their constructed institutions - in the mobilisation of the US pharmaceutical industry in the 1970s, and their continued influence in how the industry controls our knowledge about drugs today. Dr Nik Khah will be speaking at a series of public events in Sydney, Hobart and Melbourne in May/June 2016. 

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The thirteenth in the series (released April 2016) The Role of International NGOs: The International Crisis Group as a Case Study was authored by Professor the Hon Gareth Evans AC QC FASSA FAIIA, Chancellor of The Australian National University and President Emeritus of the International Crisis Group.

What makes for an effective international non-governmental organization? And how can any NGO make a difference when it comes specifically to an area as sensitive and difficult, and traditionally the domain of sovereign states and intergovernmental organisations, as the prevention and resolution of crisis and conflict?"

Evans' experience with the International Crisis Group informs this wide-ranging consideration of a new global environment in which "Individual states and state-centric structures no longer enjoy a monopoly over the collective efforts to improve international society and world order".

The latest in the series (released April 2016) The Role of International NGOs: The International Crisis Group as a Case Study was authored by Professor the Hon Gareth Evans AC QC FASSA FAIIA, Chancellor of The Australian National University and President Emeritus of the International Crisis Group.

What makes for an effective international non-governmental organization? And how can any NGO make a difference when it comes specifically to an area as sensitive and difficult, and traditionally the domain of sovereign states and intergovernmental organisations, as the prevention and resolution of crisis and conflict?"

Evans' experience with the International Crisis Group informs this wide-ranging consideration of a new global environment in which "Individual states and state-centric structures no longer enjoy a monopoly over the collective efforts to improve international society and world order".

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The twelfth in the series (released February 2016), Gough Whitlam's Vision of Social Democracy: Parliament and Party was authored by The Honourable Dr. Barry Jones AC – teacher; lawyer; television and radio performer; long-serving politician in the Victorian and Federal Parliaments; and lifelong friend of Gough Whitlam.


"[Whitlam] was uncomfortable with the current definition of humans as homo economicus, whose primary purpose is shopping and consumption, customers, producers, seen purely in an economic context. Education, health, the life of the mind are all seen as commodities and the environment as an area to exploit. All values can be measured in dollars – if they can't be quantified, they have no value" Jones writes.


A passionate plea for political leadership which has the gumption, intellectual power and persistence to "shatter old beliefs, look towards transcendent possibility and tell a story to be proud of", this paper takes us on a political expedition spanning several decades from the Whitlam years to the present. 


In Barry Jones' inimitable style, the paper explores the international shift away from Social Democracy in the late 1970s through the modern 'growth as consumption' economic mindset that has resulted in intense individualism, and a collapse of socially and environmentally attuned policy-making.

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The eleventh in the series (released November 2014), All living things are diminished: Breaking the national consensus on the environment was authored by The Honourable Bob Debus AM - lawyer and broadcaster; NGO leader; and of course long serving politician in the NSW and Federal Parliaments.

"Our history shows that some substantial degree of national political consensus is necessary for the long‐term advancement of nature conservation and sustainable production," Debus says.

"It is well worth recalling that the issue of climate change was, at an earlier time, addressed at the domestic level with a degree of bipartisanship. The Coalition Opposition under Andrew Peacock and John Hewson possessed substantial greenhouse gas reduction targets."

Debus contrasts the history of a consensus on key environmental policy directions hewn from debate, compromise and negotiation. He chronicles the reversal and decline associated with the disruption of the current evolving environmental settlement.

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The tenth in the series (released September 2014), Fossil Fuels, Global Warming and Democracy: a report from a Scene of the Collision was authored by Dr Kevin Taft – Canadian author, commentator and former political leader.

What happens to democracy when the fossil fuel industry collides with global warming?

That's the question Dr Taft poses then unpacks in his absorbing Perspectives paper for the Whitlam Institute. Dr Taft situates his examination of Alberta as a 'petroleum economy' within a broader theory of petrostates. Taft argues that in this new kind of petrostate, democracy is caught between the need to respond to global warming and the demands of the fossil fuel industry.

This publication follows a forum in 2014, Carbon Exports, Climate Change and Democracy.

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The ninth in the series (released December 2013), Climate Change in a New Democratic Age: Why we need more, not less, democratic participation was authored by Dr Randal G Stewart. This paper examines the role of three key groups in the climate change debate - scientists, economists, and the bureaucracy - as the lens through which to consider the capacity of democratic decision-making processes to establish effective climate change policy.

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The eighth in the series (released February 2013), Precarious Work: The Need for a New Policy Framework was authored by former NZ Attorney General and Labour Minister Professor Margaret Wilson, who has written a detailed account of the rise of precarious work arrangements in Australia and New Zealand. Professor Wilson says Australia and New Zealand currently rank fifth and fourth on the OECD scale of countries with the least employment protection laws, meaning precarious work – characterised by few benefits, low pay and a lack of access to collective bargaining – is becoming more common. Professor Wilson argues that since precarious work is identified with those who work on the margins of the labour market, such as women, young workers and older workers, we must look at how best to structure the policy agenda to protect those who are currently the most vulnerable.

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The seventh in the series(released October 2012),

Federalism, Public Education and the Common Good was authored by Professor Alan Reid AM, Emeritus Professor of Education, University of South Australia. The paper is a call for Australian schooling to reclaim its place as the nursery for citizens and democratic renewal in what might be described as a common endeavour for the public good.

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The sixth in the series (released 23 March, 2011), Rethinking Australia's Employment Services was authored by Lisa Fowkes. The paper examines the tumultuous twenty year history of policy change and experimentation in employment services. Lisa brings an insider's perspective, having for many years been a key figure with Job Futures, an extensive national network of community-based employment services.

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The fifth in the series (released 7 December 2010), Democratic Challenges in Tackling Climate Change was authored by Professor, the Hon Barry Jones. The paper examines not just the urgency for Climate Change action, but the accompanying political challenges.

Barry tackles this vast issue with a remarkable distillation of the science and scientific history of climate change; a direct and vigorous exposition of the political meanderings that risk leaving Australia without any effective response; and a powerful argument for Australian initiative. Yet underlying his essay is an optimism that it is not too late, if only we choose to act.

Perspectives 5 the Hon Dr Barry Jones AO 

The fourth in the series (released 22 November 2010), Commoditising Banking: refashioning the private public partnership of banking around the relative strengths of the private and public sectors  was authored by leading economic thinker and commentator, Dr Nicholas Gruen, and calls for banking sector reform. The essay argues that Australian banks' profitable navigation of the Global Financial Crisis may be pleasing shareholders but the political and community reception has been hostile. Dr Gruen proposes a viable, low risk policy reform which would address the current inequity in the structure of the Australian banking system.
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The third in the series (released 30 November, 2010) The Northern Territory Intervention and Human Rights: An Anthropological Perspective was authored by leading social anthropologist Dr Mary Edmunds from the Research School of Humanities and the Arts at the Australian National University. The paper draws together the history, circumstance, culture, principles and practice surrounding the Northern Territory Intervention. It is a considered and robust examination of the tension between our human rights obligations, the imperative to act, and the way these intentions are experienced on the ground.

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Prompted by the very warm reception this paper received, the Institute, together with the Human Rights Council of Australia, convened a special public forum on the NT Intervention and Human Rights hosted by Minter Ellison on May 17, 2011. Our speakers were Dr Mary Edmunds, Acting Commissioner, NSW Land & Environment Court; Professor Nicolas Peterson, Professor of Anthropology at the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences; and Mick Gooda, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner. All presentations are available to view online on our YouTube Channel.

The second in the series (released 16 February 2010), Secondary schooling and the education revolution: Looking for means towards the end? was authored by Professor Jack Keating from the University of Melbourne. The essay argues that a genuine education revolution cannot be achieved without structural reform of schooling in Australia.
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The first in the series, An agenda for social democracy, was authored by Professor John Quiggin, Australian Research Council Federation Fellow from the School of Economics and the School of Political Science & International Relations at the University of Queensland. The essay addresses the question of where we want Australia to be at the other side of the Global Financial Crisis with a thoughtful, some may say provocative, exploration of what may be required to give practical effect to a social democratic economic agenda.
An agenda for social democracy

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