Will Peart Reflects on Recent Australian Policy and History Workshop

Will Peart is a postgraduate student, and recently attended a workshop hosted by the Australian Policy and History Network, titled “How Australians Should Live: Historical Perspectives on Current Policy Challenges”. Will has written about this workshop for us to share:


logoAPH-newFour postgraduate and early career researchers from Deakin University’s Arts and Education Faculty presented their ideas at an Australian Policy and History workshop last Tuesday, hosted by the Australian National University in Canberra. Entitled ‘How Australians Should Live’ the workshop encouraged us to reflect on the relationship between our research and current debates about public policy. Through presentations by researchers and feedback by workshop leaders we were challenged to think about our research from a different perspective, to ask questions of our research findings that had a bearing on how Australians should live in years ahead and the role of policy in producing change. Many presentations highlighted instances where public policy design suffered from an ahistorical understanding of the problem it was trying to fix. Others presented cases where a policy approach had developed over time, gained its own momentum, created its own problems and by the 21st century had a history in and of itself. These historical insights were used to analyse current processes of policy formulation, with some potential to inform policy decisions made by institutions in the future.

All participants from Deakin University were members of the Contemporary History Research Group and the workshop emphasised a methodology prioritised by this group, which is to historicise the present.

  • Dr Kirstie Close-Barry identified continuities between the ‘Developing the North’ White paper, released in 2015, and prevalent discourses circulating in government spheres about the use of land and management of labour in the Northern Territory.
  • Rebecca Cairns showed that the history of Australia’s official interest in Asia waxed and waned for instrumental reasons, such as trade or defence strategy, and this way of measuring the value of learning about Asia was reflected in the school curriculum.
  • Anna Kent discussed how Australia’s provision of tertiary scholarships to Indonesians had played an ongoing role in the bilateral relationship, and how administrative changes to the program continue to change the impact and outcomes of the scholarships.
  • Will Peart considered the singular importance of home ownership in current debates about housing affordability and whether this had a relationship with the mid-19th century ideal of land proprietorship in the Australian colonies and its association with economic independence and/or interdependence, citizenship and social fixity.

The event gave participants the opportunity to get feedback on their research from a group of workshop leaders with a fantastic depth of experience, consisting of Frank Bongiorno, Nicholas Brown, Meredith Edwards, David Lowe, Stuart Macintyre, Sean Scalmer and John Uhr.


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