The level of public frustration and disengagement with political leaders has never been higher. At the same time, the problems we need them to deal with, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, a crisis in aged care and accelerating climate change, are immediate and urgent. The system is designed to make our politicians accountable, so why are so many of them failing us, and why is there a crisis of confidence in their ability to rise to the challenges we face? Is our system so flawed that we have lost the capacity for progress? Or has our political establishment lost its way, and is it now betraying the people it is meant to serve while undermining its own legitimacy?
Based on his experience working closely with a large number of ministers and their private offices, both at the federal and state level, and his time in the United States, Don Russell reflects on politicians, the political process and the role of government, and explains why our political leaders are as they are. Drawing on his experience, including his involvement in the golden age of public policy of the Hawke/Keating years, and his observations on Australia’s early success responding to the pandemic, he suggests that there is a pathway that can lead to dramatically better outcomes for the country and more satisfying and longer careers for our politicians. People want their elected officials to be informed, to be capable and creative, to be able to devise solutions that work, and then to be able to explain those solutions and bring the community with them. They want their elected officials to lead.
Dr Don Russell has extensive experience in both the public and private sectors, and a unique perspective on policy formulation and the political process. Don served as Australia’s ambassador to the United States in Washington during the Clinton years and was principal adviser to the Hon. Paul Keating during his time as treasurer and prime minister. Until 2018, Dr Russell was the chief executive of the South Australian Department of Premier and Cabinet. Previous roles include secretary of the Commonwealth Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, and senior roles at global firm BNY Mellon Asset Management Australia and Sanford C. Bernstein in New York. Dr Russell is currently the Independent Chair of AustralianSuper, Australia’s largest superannuation fund with $180 billion in assets and 2.3 million members. He has a PhD from the London School of Economics, a MEc from ANU and a BEc (Hons) (First) from Flinders University as well as the Charted Financial Analyst designation. Don lives in Sydney with his wife Lisa Barker and their dog Sunny.