As we approach the 2022 federal election, we are reminded that governments and their cabinet ministers come and go with the flow of three-year election cycles.
Australia belongs to a small group of countries that run national elections every three years.
This is a relatively short term of office: four- or five-year election cycles are the norm.
So why should we care?
Because we live in an age of wicked problems that do not follow short election cycles.
Such problems require understanding of complex systemic contexts and are highly interconnected with other problems - for example, the nexus between pandemics and climate change, or between economics and security.
Wicked problems resist cookie-cutter solutions, and they are long-term systemic challenges.
These challenges are compounded by global power shifts and growing importance of non-state actors.
Those already shrink the control that individual governments can wield through national policies. Moreover, a deepening gulf between the demand and supply sides of government has led to polarisation, populism, protest, and internal conflict in a range of countries, including the United States.
Thus, strategy and statecraft often appear elusive in the face of wicked problems. The need to develop strategies and long-term approaches that are fit for purpose is very urgent.
Thinking in systems and long-term is extremely difficult in a policy environment that essentially runs on short-term cycles, capacity, and incentives.
This short-termism spurs the public service to outsource the function that is critically important for 21st century policymaking: a holistic platform for long-term strategic imagination and thinking.
In the process, public servants become more contract awarders and administrators. Short-termism also fuels pressures and tendencies to focus on serving the ministers of the day.
Yet, the public service is meant to serve society at large. To serve society, public servants should see themselves, first and foremost, as policy entrepreneurs.
Governments everywhere need to be supported by knowledge workers able to think out of the box, across narrow policy desks, and outside departmental stovepipes.
This requires what the Nobel laureate Murray Gell-Mann called "a crude look at the whole".
To help address these urgent challenges, we have developed a strategic-diplomacy framework that offers a pathway to enhance state capacity and maximise policy space.
Harnessing complexity requires a paradigm change in strategic imagination and statecraft mindsets.
Strategy should be the art of creating multifaceted power - military, economic, technology, network, information, resilience - and statecraft as the skill of governing a sovereign state.
Yet, national and international institutions are lagging behind, with the tendency to break problems into components that are addressed in isolation, rather than treating them holistically in their systemic context.
But while policy co-creation - involving academia, public service, and civil society - can help to develop a mindset and frameworks to facilitate policy innovation and integrated policymaking, it is not the silver bullet.
The public service must itself develop an in-built infrastructure to allow for constant reassessment of policy solutions.
This can only be achieved by encouraging out-of-the-box thinking, and using mistakes as opportunities to learn and innovate.
Considering the above, the incoming government will need public service support and innovative thinking, especially in three ways:
From a one-system perspective, the new government should spare some fresh eggs beyond the alliance basket.
A systems approach requires tackling the enduring problem of how to shape the policy environment, even as Australia updates deterrence and threat responses. All three tasks - shaping, deterring, responding - could depend on getting Australia's regional role right, beyond AUKUS or the Quad.
For example, Australia's hegemonic aspirations in the Pacific will continue to be more demanding than expected.
And, a much more strategic approach to south-east Asia is needed, including finding ways to cultivate meaningful partnerships with key countries like Indonesia and Vietnam. Ultimately, building resilience is about diversifying strategic relationships and avoiding single points of failure.
In sum, Australia needs a diagnostic and policy framework to navigate the transformative shifts in political, economic, ecological, and social dynamics globally and regionally.
We do not claim that our framework will immediately change the world.
But it can inspire and spark the bold and bolshy minds that trigger change and foster policy innovation in Australia and beyond.
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