Online think tanks are a burgeoning feature of public policy contestability in Australian life covering the full political spectrum. However, until 2013, there was no ‘progressive’ think tank specifically focussing on Queensland public policy.
The initial purpose of the TJ Ryan Foundation was to provide a reliable and independent source of policy advice to help fill the void created by massive public sector cuts imposed by the LNP government after it was elected in March 2012. After the election, policy practitioners who had been the mainstay of progressive policy initiatives were suddenly unavailable - many left the public service voluntarily, others were dismissed, and the remainder have conformed to the traditions of the Westminster model and refocussed their efforts to meet different political expectations.
The ALP and the labour movement saw a need for joint action to form the basis for framing new policies and to build links with groups that may have felt alienated by the party when in government. One idea espoused in principle was announced at the 2012 May Day Dinner which traditionally celebrates the role of trade unions. This was to form a think tank to mobilise contributions from independent policy experts mainly from within the university sector, drawing on the widest possible cross-section of opinion. As someone with long experience of universities and a somewhat turbulent period as a Director-General in the Goss era, I sympathised with this aspiration to reach beyond the ideological confines of the ALP. On this basis, I accepted an invitation to establish the T J Ryan Foundation as a source of policy analysis and independent commentary on Queensland public policy issues.
The Foundation aims at inclusiveness and has successfully gained support from people associated with other groups and parties or people with no association at all. The issue of ALP linkage needs further explanation as it was an important consideration for those academics I sought to recruit to the panel of policy experts and, more specifically, to the Board which provides corporate oversight of the Foundation.
My response to all of those approached was to emphasise that this objectivity was also the intention of the two bodies providing modest seed money. Those who have joined are satisfied that the Foundation is truly independent of its initial sponsoring arrangement. To date we have sought Associate members across the range of Queensland universities and beyond and established ‘fraternal links’ with more specialist think tanks and associations within Queensland and with bodies operating nationally and interstate.
Our aim is to provide a progressive perspective to public debate over the direction of public policy in Queensland, and to be an early ‘port of call’ for anyone interested in discussion of public policy in the State. Our research agenda has been set by current issues and events in the public arena, and by the longer-term considerations of the wider public interest which is the higher purpose of universities.
ROGER SCOTT has been resident in Queensland since 1977, when he was appointed J D Story Professor of Public Administration at the University of Queensland. He had completed a doctorate at Oxford University as the 1961 Tasmanian Rhodes Scholar then taught at universities in Uganda, NSW, Northern Ireland and Ontario as well as the Canberra College of Advanced Education.
He was granted the title of Emeritus Professor of the University of Queensland in 1987 when he left for a three-year period as CCAE Principal and then Vice-Chancellor of the University of Canberra.
Between 1990 and 1994 he was the Director-General of the Queensland Department of Education. After resigning from that position, he held a visiting appointment at Griffith University before joining QUT as Dean of Arts and then Professor of Public Management. Since 2001 he has held fractional and then honorary appointments at the University of Queensland.