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Contributing to public policy

The National Institutes Grant enables ANU to provide a national, regional and global public policy resource that addresses major issues confronting governments, business and communities.

The Institute for Water Futures

Water management poses wicked public policy challenges involving communities, government, industries and the environment. How do we balance the needs of today’s increasingly thirsty and demanding world with the needs of future generations? Decisions taken to maximise the social, cultural, economic and ecological benefits we get from water today need to reflect a shared, long-term vision for water and its role in society. This will be effective when backed by science that outlines plausible water futures, technologies that enable innovative social and economic change, and policies that demonstrate equity and a holistic understanding of the complex, multi-faceted role water plays in our communities.

The Institute for Water Futures was set up in 2019 to identify transformative, innovative and robust strategies to build Australia’s collective national capacity to tackle the water challenges of today and tomorrow. The National Institutes Grant will invest $2 million in 2020 with ongoing funding to support this ongoing challenge. The interdisciplinary Institute brings together expertise and decades of experience in the sciences, technology, social sciences and public policy from across ANU. Academic leaders in the Institute include an ARC Laureate Fellow, and several fellows of the Australian Academy of Science and Australian Academy of Social Sciences. New staff have been attracted from overseas, and include two Discovery Early Career Researcher Award recipients. The Institute has active partnerships with leading researchers in the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and in important decision-making organisations such as the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and Bureau of Meteorology.

The Institute’s goals are to: unite science, policy and community through developing a shared vision for water futures; develop and assess model outcomes, and the tools and systems for investigating the range and scope of plausible water futures; assimilate measurements into quantitative scientific information relevant to key policy challenges; and identify transformative and innovative strategies that bring about robust socio-economic, cultural and ecological benefits. Transforming policy, management and governance systems demands deliberative and iterative engagement with decision-makers and local communities, trust between parties, and a comprehensive understanding of local, regional and national current situations and governance regimes. The Institute will work closely with policymakers at all levels, using new and emerging methods and new media technologies, to build our capacity to integrate long-term thinking into managing our country’s water and secure our water futures. The Institute’s first priority water catchments are the Murray-Darling Basin and Great Barrier Reef.

Policy Greenhouse Initiative

The Policy Greenhouse Initiative utilises contributions from the National Institutes Grant to promote public policy contributions, to encourage collaboration within the University, and to build direct engagement opportunities and connections between ANU and policymakers. It attracted a challenging array of projects and collaboration initiatives to its inaugural funding call this year. The policy areas of the nine funded projects include Australia’s policy choices in a new geoeconomic world order, which will facilitate deep and broad conversations between academics and policy-makers on the changing global landscape. Projects that were also funded focused on new policy approaches to addressing childhood poverty, policy and legal revision around armed conflict at sea, a framework for best practice around community consultation for major infrastructure projects, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), disinformation campaigns, and economic and social transformation in Australia’s coal-producing areas. The five funded collaboration initiatives, focused on direct collaboration with policymakers and seeding of future projects, take in areas such as mental health, Indigenous language and improving the impact of research on public policy.

Taking the HECS system to South America

Professor Bruce Chapman from the ANU College of Business and Economics was an architect of Australia’s Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS), an income-contingent loan scheme allowing students to attend university without paying upfront fees. Professor Chapman’s research has since informed multiple changes to HECS, which is now known as the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP). Professor Chapman has also been instrumental in establishing income-contingent loan systems around the world and, in doing so, removing financial disadvantage as a hurdle to accessing tertiary education. In July 2019, Professor Chapman led a team of researchers attending the Income Contingent Financing Conference in Brazil. There they met with representatives from South and Central American countries looking to implement similar systems in their respective nations. At least 20 million people from countries including New Zealand, England, Hungary, Japan, South Korea and the United States have benefited from this ‘global rollout’, with another four countries set to follow suit. By improving access to tertiary education, the systems have seen significant growth in higher education and skills development in adopting countries. The National Institutes Grant’s long-term support of Professor Chapman’s research continues to pay dividends to students and institutions globally.

Making a difference to the nation’s mental health

Suicide is the leading cause of death in Australia in people aged 15–44 and affects friends, families and communities. It is a key public policy challenge, which the Centre for Mental Health Research at the ANU Research School of Population Health is focused on tackling. The Centre takes a research and education approach that embraces the complexity of suicide, working with mental health consumers, policymakers and service providers to conduct research and translate it into service improvements for our community. In 2019, ANU research delivered evidence-based suicide prevention programs in Australian schools and workplaces.

Awards for mental health research impact

Several prestigious awards in 2019 recognised the impact of ANU research on public policy to improve the mental health of Australians. Professor Luis Salvador-Carulla accepted the Research, Evaluation and Quality Improvement Award during ACT Mental Health Month, acknowledging the significant contribution the Centre for Mental Health Research makes to understanding, promoting and supporting people living with a mental health illness. Dr Amelia Gulliver received the 2019 ACT Young Tall Poppy Science Award, celebrating her work on the use of online programs to improve community mental health and reduce barriers to seeking help. Dr Michelle Banfield was awarded the prestigious John James Foundation Tony Ayers Prize for Excellence in Research in Translational Medicine, recognising her contribution in transforming science breakthroughs into clinical application; and the inaugural Consumer Engagement Award by the NHMRC for her work as a consumer researcher.

Pioneering research connects climate change & monetary policy

Connections between climate change mitigation efforts and monetary policy have long been unappreciated. These connections are now being clarified thanks to new research from the Centre for Applied Macroeconomic Analysis. The centre’s research has prompted a rapid rethink of how to manage monetary policy in a world impacted by climate change. It has sparked new thinking about how climate policy should be designed given a particular monetary framework, and a rethink of how monetary policy should be made in a world of climate change shocks and climate change policies. In 2019, this new work was presented at a series of conferences around the world, and its value publicly recognised by Reserve Bank of Australia Deputy Governor Guy Debelle and United States Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard.

Tax policy for the twenty-first century

The Tax and Transfer Policy Institute has launched an energetic effort to promote tax reform in Australia. In 2019, the Institute ran 16 seminars on research on the tax and transfer system at four government departments, on topics ranging from gender equality, new models for policy evaluation, and new methods for statistical evaluation, among others. The seminars were attended by about 420 public servants. The Institute also oversaw an unparalleled secondment program in 2019, supporting five public servants from three departments to conduct research at the Institute. The Institute has also launched new research projects on taxpayer behaviour, savings taxation and corporate taxation.

ACT Climate Change Strategy targets

The ambitious ACT Climate Change Strategy, unveiled in September 2019, offers a plan for reducing the ACT’s overall emissions by 50–60 per cent below 1990 levels by 2025, and achieving net zero emissions by 2045. The targets were proposed based on advice from the ACT Climate Change Council, an advisory body to the ACT Environment Minister. The advice was prepared by Crawford School’s Professor Frank Jotzo, and the ANU Climate Change Institute’s Honorary Professor Penny Sackett and Emeritus Professor Will Steffen, all members of the ACT Climate Change Council.

Toward a brighter future for Australia & Japan

The Australia-Japan Research Centre broke new ground with a series of collaborative research projects and high-profile public events in both countries in 2019. The centre generated new ideas and engaged with policymakers on trade policy in Asia for Japan’s G20 presidency, on immigration policy as Japan looks abroad to arrest its population decline, on how to navigate global trade and financial risks as these become more acute, and on how to manage the growing entanglement of economic and national security policy. The centre has also continued to invest in ‘Japan-literacy’ in Australia and to work with the governments of both countries to strengthen the bilateral relationship.