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26 February 2015



Who is taking care of the public interest?

A call to action



Are you concerned that  the public interest (the welfare and wellbeing of the whole population) is being ignored by successive governments? Does government seem more focused on internal politics and vested interests than the common good?  If you answered yes, then this collection of short sharp essays by 39 leading Australian thinkers and agents of change is for you.

Launched by the Hon Kate Carnell AO, CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry on 26 February, “Who speaks for and protects the public interest in Australia?” is a must read for every concerned citizen in Australia.  Among many gems, this publication offers the opportunity to  
  • hear from elders like John Menadue and Fred Chaney and ex-politicians John Hewson and Geoff Gallop on what is needed to strengthen the political system
  • explore indigenous futures with Patrick Dodson and Kerry Arrabena  
  • find out more about community action and new forms of democratic engagement from Phoebe Howe and Amanda Tattersall 
  • read about Bob Douglas's suggestion for a Public Interest Council 
Other topics include climate and the environment, refugees and asylum seekers, mental health, early childcare, inequality and new forms of democratic engagement.    

We are grateful to the Social Justice Fund, which provided financial support to cover part of the costs of this publication.   

How to get your copy
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If you prefer a download please click on the cover above or the title here Who speaks for and protects the public interest in Australia?

Excepts from  "Who speaks for and protects the public interest in Australia?" 

John Menadue AO, former head of Qantas, News Ltd and Secretary of the Prime Minister's Department to both Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser: "The problem is urgent....There are many key public issues that we must address. They include climate change, growing inequality, tax avoidance, budget repair, an ageing population, lifting our productivity and our treatment of asylum seekers. But our capacity to address these hard issues is becoming very difficult because of the ability of vested interests with their lobbying power to influence governments in a quite disproportionate way."

 Former Liberal Leader John Hewson AM:  “Politics has become very short-term, disturbingly personal, negative, populist and opportunistic. … we need to reform the structures and processes of government to effectively remove politicians and politics from key decision-making … one option is the establishment of fully independent policy bodies in key policy areas, such as tax and federation reform.”

Amanda Tattersall, founding director of the Sydney Alliance:  "In the wake of the Second World War, Karl Polanyi wrote that the public arena is made up of three interconnected sectors: the market, government and civil society. He argued that democracy thrives when these three are in balance. If only that were the case today. Since the late 1980s, the global influence of the market sector has increased and, at the same time, civil society has  decreased. This can be felt every day in Australia’s cities. We see it in declining investment in community infrastructure — everything from a lack of public transport to unaffordable housing. First in Sydney, then in other Australian cities, as well as across the world, civil society organisations, like churches, schools, unions, community and religious organisations,  are rebuilding the power of civil society using community organising -  a way of working that trains and builds citizen leaders inside community-based organisations. Community organisers argue that in order to fix our cities we need to fix our democracy. That means we need to build strong and vibrant civil society organisations that act for the common good.

Patrick Dodson, Indigenous leader: "As a nation we have not engaged in a meaningful dialogue about Australia’s colonial past and its ongoing legacy in a way that enables us to move beyond the politics of blame and guilt. We seem to spend a lot of negative energy caught up in false binaries around white guilt and black victimhood, white blindfolds and black armbands, collective rights versus individual responsibility, symbolic reconciliation versus practical reconciliation, the Left versus the Right, and so on. The outcome of this dissonance is policy that responds to ideology and ingrained prejudice rather than the needs or aspirations of those to whom it is directed.

Joyce Chia, refugee and asylum law specialist:  "It has been said many times that Australia’s unusually cruel refugee policies reflect its peculiar history, geography and public attitudes. True enough, but it is not the whole story. For Australia’s refugee policies also reflect its politics — and, in particular, its weak commitment to the ‘liberal’ part of liberal democracy. This is the part that’s designed to ensure that the principle of ‘majority rules’ doesn’t end up trampling the rights of minorities."

Reverend Elenie Poulos, Uniting Church leader:  “In a context where ‘social good’ or the ‘common good’ is assumed to be economic neoliberalism, what’s in the ‘public interest’ becomes whatever advances the neoliberal economic agenda. And for the powerful servants of neoliberalism it becomes a most useful piece of rhetoric — one cannot argue with a policy that is in the ‘public  interest’. But policy reforms which arise from a different set of values — equity, justice, generosity, cooperation, community, compassion, empathy — and respect for the environment and the dignity of every person, are derided as ‘idealistic’, ‘soft’, ‘ignorant’ and ‘socialist’ (and we all know how that turned out!). They are often described as the outcome of sectoral or minority concerns and therefore not in ‘the public interest’.”

Emeritus Professor Bob Douglas AO, co-editor of the essay volume:  “I am suggesting that a Public Interest Council could do for the public interest what the Business Council of Australia does for its members and what Committee for Economic Development of Australia does to keep the economy healthy.” 

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