January 16, 2020

Ep. 38: Gordon de Brouwer on economics vs security, climate change, and effective policymaking

In an episode recorded in the second week of December 2019, Allan and Darren welcome Gordon de Brouwer PSM onto the podcast. Gordon has a distinguished public service career in the fields of economics, the environment, energy and international institution building. From 2013-2017 Gordon was Secretary of the Department of Environment and Energy. Prior to that he had been Associate Secretary in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, including as Australia’s G20 Sherpa at the time the G20 was organising its response to the Global Financial Crisis. Trained as an economist, Gordon has also been a Professor at the ANU and worked at the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Department of Treasury.

The episode begins with Gordon’s assessment of the world being a “particularly messy place”, where he makes the observation that many of the countries that were long considered the bulwark of the international economic system are aggressively attacking it, with a nationalist “winner takes all” mindset. Allan asks whether this means an effective global response would be unlikely if global economic turmoil again strikes, and Gordon explains how much of the problem stems from the (unforeseen) loss of faith in institutions that resulted from the GFC and its aftermath.

The conversation then turns to integrating very different conceptual perspectives into effective policymaking. Gordon explains that “social harmony” or “social wellbeing” is a third dimension that must be integrated along with economics and security, citing how social dislocation can be caused in the way national security questions are discussed, and how more generally a full range of interests and perspectives must be integrated into national security policymaking. By way of example, Gordon uses China’s Belt and Road Initiative to show how integration of a market-based perspective can reduce some of the security vulnerabilities that might arise. What kind of policymaking arrangements in Australia might help resolve conflicting perspectives? Gordon outlines his proposal for an integrated strategy office in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Allan asks Gordon about his experience on the panel of the recent Public Service Review (chaired by David Thodey), and the conversation finishes on the topic of climate change, in which Gordon offers his reflections on how different Australian governments have tried to address the issue, and how the public service must navigate the politics of the policy issues upon which it is asked to provide advice. Why has Australia’s political system not yet been able to develop an effective response? Note that the interview took place before the worst of Australia’s bushfires had occurred.

As always, we invite our listeners to email us at this address: australia.world.pod@gmail.com We welcome feedback, requests and suggestions. You can also contact Darren on twitter @limdarrenj

We want to thank AIIA intern Isabel Hancock for research and audio editing, XC Chong and James Hayne for research support, Rory Stenning for composing our theme music and Julia Ahrens for technical support in studio. 

Relevant links

Gordon de Brouwer’s biography (via The Nature Conservancy website): https://www.natureaustralia.org.au/about-us/who-we-are/our-people/gordon-de-brouwer--/

Gordon de Brouwer, “Bringing Security and Economics Together in the National Interest”, speech to Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry, Tokyo, 21 November 2019 : https://www.rieti.go.jp/jp/events/19112101/pdf/s-1_brouwer_paper.pdf

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