Policy Life Cycle Analysis of Three Australian State-level Public Policies

 -Journal of Development Policy and Practice



Every public policy tries to set out a new norms and value system. The public become aware of the upcoming new public policy or scheme set out by their government for implementation, through the government’s press releases, television, or newspaper articles. However, the question is: ‘where does the initial idea come from?’; ‘who had the idea in the first place?’; ‘why has the agenda become politically important?’; and ‘how has the agenda suddenly lost its political relevance?’ Explores these questions through the process of analysing the life cycle of three Australian state-level policies Tasmania Together (TT), South Australia’s Strategic Plan (SASP) and Western Australia’s State Sustainability Strategy (WA’s SSS).

In Australia, from 1998 until the first half of the 2000s, all Labor-governed states adopted a strategic plan or strategy based on sustainable development values. The sustainable development concept is often explained from the triple bottom line perspective, which combines environmental, economic, and social dimensions. However, to advance the sustainable development agenda, there is also a need to understand the political dimensions of sustainable development (O’Connor, 2006). The value systems underpinning sustainable development policies are, typically, an amalgamation of ‘hard facts’ regarding economic, social, and environmental dimensions and societal ‘gut feelings’ that represent a sense of responsibility for acting on environmental degradation. In addition to these facts, desires of politicians and policymakers to make a mark in the sustainability policy area and to leave a legacy are also important factors. Hence, the success of a sustainable development policy lies in its ability to mix and match these often-competing factors. Having said that, even if a policy succeeds in finding an optimal way to satisfy ‘hard facts’, societal desires, and politicians’ ambitions, it has its own shelf life. Thus, the real challenge for a sustainable development policy (and, for that matter, any public policy) lies in whether it can have a legacy after its shelf life.

The main highlight of this policy life cycle analysis reveals that institutional factors may facilitate the diffusion and learning of sustainable development value-based policies. However, the actual implementation and continuation of a policy rests on fortuitous factors, such as
  • Electoral politics;
  • the support of policy champions;
  • whether a political entity views sustainable development as a form of political capital that  can assist a party to (re)gain the electorate’s confidence;
  • the fiscal position of the jurisdiction; and
  • whether a sustainability-based policy framework contradicts the jurisdiction’s economic
  • model (as was the case with Western Australia’s extraction-based economy).
Therefore, institutional factors are important for dissemination of sustainability values, but electoral politics as well as political–economic factors are necessary as contextual stimuli to incorporate the prevailing sustainability values into the policy model. At the same time, political–economic factors can also act as triggers to distance from a policy model based on sustainable development if the policy fails to provide necessary political capital to the politician to stay in power. 

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