AUSTRALIAN PUBLIC POLICY labours under the weight of illustrious ancestors. There was, in this country, a period that has been labelled the ‘Age of Mandarins’.[i] During the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, titans such as HC ‘Nugget’ Coombs, Roland Wilson, John Crawford, Arthur Tange and others dominated the world of policy and public administration. These giants embarked on what Stuart Macintyre – in his recently published history of the period – has termed ‘Australia’s boldest experiment’.[ii] Along with political leaders of vision and skill, they fashioned (beginning with the post-World War II reconstruction effort) the very basis for modern Australian society – its institutions, its laws, its population, its social schemes, indeed its very way of life – through careful and at times brilliant planning, public policy and politics. They were nothing less than architects of the Australia of today.
In the words of HC Coombs, what was being seized was the ‘opportunity to move consciously and intelligently towards a new economic and social system’.[iii] And while there was more than a little flavour of ‘socialist’ central planning that subsequently has fallen out of favour in today’s policy vernacular and public consciousness, in many ways the success of these titans has left an enduring glow: today’s public servants still see their ability to positively shape – through innovative public policy – Australian economic and social life.
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