Professor Peter Shergold AC. One of the speakers at the event.

Learning lessons from history

02 December 2012

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The HC Coombs Policy Forum is a strategic collaboration between the Australian Government and ANU, at the Crawford School of Public Policy. It focuses on supporting policy-relevant exploratory and experimental work at the interface between government and academia.

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How to learn the lessons of the past to ensure politicians and the public service aren’t doing the policy equivalent of reinventing the wheel is the subject of a special event today.

The one-day workshop – Getting it right: Using history to inform public policy – will bring together senior government officials, leading academics and commentators to discuss the role history should be playing in today’s politics and policy. Among the speakers are Professor Peter Shergold AC, former Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and now Chancellor of the University of Western Sydney, Australian Public Service Commissioner Stephen Sedgewick AO and Michelle Rayner of ABC Radio National’s Hindsight.

Event organiser Associate Professor Nicholas Brown of the School of History at ANU said that the immense pressures on government to produce policy answers meant that historical perspective often suffered.

“Corporate memory – a sense of what has been done before and why – is one of the main casualties of lean governments. This workshop will assess what is lost with such history, and what can be gained for policy makers in its recovery,” he said.

“A historical understanding of public policy isn’t about dwelling on the differences between past and present, or even telling a simple story of reform and reaction. It’s about understanding what has shaped the problems that policy addressed, and why they mattered.”

Paul Harris, Deputy Director of the HC Coombs Policy Forum at the Crawford School of Public Policy, said that the event was part of the Forum's mission to enhance public policy by strengthening the links between the research community and government.

“Hindsight is just as important as foresight when it comes to strengthening strategic policy capability. By bringing people together and improving mutual understanding we can enhance the ways in which historical research supports and informs current public policy challenges.”

The workshop is presented by the HC Coombs Policy Forum in the Crawford School of Public Policy, the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences and the Australian Policy and History Network.

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