When our parliamentarians make policy announcements, they usually claim to have evidence showing why those are in the best interest of the nation. But we all know their positions are sometimes influenced by partyroom deals, power-broking and political point-scoring. Bad decisions are disguised with fake news and public relations spin – that’s why independent Fact Check units are critical to accountability. At other times, the intentions are good but the implementation doesn’t work as well as expected. So at Australia21, we believe the best way to tackle flawed or ineffective public policies is to present the evidence that supports the case for changing them.
Australia21 puts the facts in front of the public and our politicians, inviting them to use our research as a resource for better decision-making. We don’t confront and accuse; our tactic is more constructive. We help people set aside politics and preconceptions, so they can discover opportunities for fixing entrenched problems. We achieve that through breaking down divides and bringing people with different perspectives together to engage openly and honestly, and think laterally.
Australia21 doesn’t tackle the easy issues. We aim to break deadlocks. We aim to open eyes and minds to fresh solutions. We aim to ask ‘why not?’ instead of ‘why?’. We go where others fear to tread, delving into ‘wicked’ problems that have confounded the country.
Cutting through polarised attitudes
‘Wicked’ problems are complex: they defy definition, hardly ever sit conveniently within the responsibility of one authority or organisation and resist all the usual attempts to solve them. Often, those attempted solutions have been thwarted by unforeseen consequences. People give up trying to find answers because the problems are so notoriously intractable and lead to polarised argument and savage criticism. So it’s very difficult to spark public support and positive media interest in a fresh attempt to break through.
That can be an uncomfortable space to work in, but we believe someone has to do it. It’s more important than ever, in the current political environment that tends to discourage rational debate.
- Why is this a problem?
- Why have previous solutions failed?
- What are other options?
- Is there evidence to support change?
- If so, what can we do about it?
10 ways Australia21 is making a difference
Even though we run on a very tight budget, we’re able to achieve a great deal, – thanks to our reputation as a respected non-partisan think tank, the expertise of our high-level hands-on Board and the pro bono contributions of the diverse networks we’re able to draw on. Last financial year we mobilised around 1,300 hours of pro bono work, including contributions from 45 external experts from around the country. This year we’ll exceed that with a long list of work on complex issues.
We’ve been investing our efforts in a diverse range of projects over the past 12 months.
1. Police & prison officers call for drug law reform
We finalised our groundbreaking third report on illicit drugs, which Jeff Kennett and Bob Carr launched for us in March. It was remarkable, because the senior police and other law enforcement officers who put their names to the report concluded that law reform is essential to saving lives and minimising harm from drugs and that decriminalisation should be considered. The massive media follow up and discussion since has helped to move along the debate about illicit drug policy. You can review that on our In The Media page.
We launched a volume of essays on trauma-related stress in Australia, drawing out the diverse groups of people affected by PTSD and the huge cost to individuals and Australian society.
3. First responder support is tabled
Then we followed up with a large roundtable meeting of first responders including police, emergency services and defence personnel. When word got out about what we were doing, we were flooded with interest from people eager to work out better ways to respond to PTSD – we’re writing up the report now.
We ran a multidisciplinary roundtable on the potential for algal farming to contribute to food and fuel security. We had scientists, business people, government policy makers and politicians in the same room, talking about what’s possible and how we might make it happen. The report is due for launch by Senator Janet Rice in August.
5. Minds are opened to better decision-making
We ran a forum on mindfulness, empathy and compassion to investigate their value in the decision-making of Australia’s political, business, industry, health, education, cultural and community sectors.
We launched the Mindful Futures Network, a venture that will provide a national space to map and develop the application of mindfulness, empathy and compassion at a systems level, particularly to improve the health and proficiency of Australia’s public and private organisations. UK MP Chris Ruane, who pioneered cross-party and public service mindfulness training in Britain helped launch the Network at our webinar in May;
Through our YoungA21 committee and in collaboration with the Australian Lions Drug Awareness Foundation, we finalised a conversation pack aimed at starting discussions with young people about illicit drugs and Australian drug policies – this will be launched shortly.
8. A primary school program is piloted
We supported an Adelaide primary school to pilot a drug awareness education program inspired by our 2014 Smarter about Drugs forum for young people;
We started a project looking at the future of work from the perspective of young people. Making our Future Work will provide new insights for policy makers by talking directly to young people about how they feel about the future and work.
Every $1 donated will unlock $5
We don’t receive any large government or corporate funding, we rely on project-specific grants and support from our donors. Right now, we need to raise more money to carry on our work – and you can be sure every dollar you give will be put to very good use.
We have the equivalent of one half time staff member managing our small but very effective office and operations, raising funds, supporting projects and managing volunteers. We also invest modestly in expert communications help, so our work is spread far and wide in the public arena.
Apart from that, Australia21’s volunteer Board members work directly on projects: running roundtables and forums; forming discussion networks and project teams; talking to politicians, researchers, policy experts and analysts, business leaders, young people, and people experiencing first-hand the issues we explore; writing reports; organising logistics; working with the media.
We also run YoungA21 for 16 to 30-year olds, mentoring emerging leaders and feeding their ideas into our projects.
For our 2017 End Of Financial Year appeal, a group of very generous supporters has pledged to multiply the first $21,000 worth of donations FIVE times. So if you help us reach our target by Friday 30 June, we’ll unlock $105,000 in funding for public policy research.
Every contribution will make a difference, no matter how large or small. But donations of $2 or more are tax deductible, so it’s a good opportunity to write off a few dollars while doing something good for Australia. Please give generously.
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We appreciate any help you can give.