High Commissioner’s Address to Convocation Ceremony
Takshashila Institution, Bangalore
22 April 2018
(check against delivery)
Thank you for your kind introduction.
I’d like to acknowledge Ms Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, who is the special guest this evening and who is a great champion of her country and of education.
To Nitin Pai, Director of the Takshashila Institute, I truly appreciate the opportunity to be here today to mark this occasion with you all.
For those of you who graduate today, my warmest congratulations to you.
You are following a noble tradition - the study and practice of public policy.
Many of you already have or will make it your profession. Some of you will be in the business of Government, or of think tanks and public policy.
The Theory and Practice of Public Policy
The recitation from the Arthashastra at the commencement today, draws a link between the modern and the ancient.
The Arthashastra was a visionary document. It outlined a vision of statecraft that was broad ranging. It focused not just on civil administration, rule of law and management of the economy but also foreign policy and leadership.
The essential message from Kautilya’s great treatise on statecraft – that civil service is service to the people – resonates today in India and the world as much as it did over 2000 years ago.
As a civil servant myself, this has been the one principle which has guided not just my choice of career, but the choices I make daily when I shape policy agendas for my government.
Service to the people is easier said than done.
Public policymaking under challenge
The times we now live in are as challenging as any I can recall in over 30 years of my public policy career. We are seeing multiple, concurrent structural shifts in our societies and among nations of the world.
● The rise of social media is changing the way people interact with governments and with the political process.
● The so-called Industrial Revolution 4.0 with robotics, 3D printing, artificial intelligence is changing the way that economies develop and prosper, with big implications for jobs and social welfare.
● Climate change, which is raising economic risks and is driving big changes to energy generation and economic development
● The long-overdue empowerment of women and minority groups is changing social relations in many societies.
● And the shift of global power from West to East is changing global power relativities and creating a more contested international environment.
Now is the time when we need the best public policy skills to help us navigate through these challenges.
For, in the end, the business of public policy is the business of solving problems.
It is easy to be distracted by the noise, by politics and populism, to feel the pressure of pace and speed and to try to come up with something clever and quick.
But in my experience, the best way to tackle these problems is to apply the fundamentals of public policymaking.
All those principles you learn as a public policy professional – identifying the problem accurately in the first place; developing solutions that are soundly based on evidence, that are simple and enduring; and making sure that implementation is effective – all these principles still apply in this new environment.
The Foreign Policy White Paper – a case study
Here’s an Australian example: In November 2017, the Australian Government published its first Foreign Policy White Paper in nearly two decades.
The paper set out to articulate Australia’s foreign policy stance in a clear-eyed and evidence-based way. We started by looking at the world as it is, not as we would like it to be.
We drew the unsurprising conclusion that we now live in a more contested international environment.
What I am particularly proud of, however, is the policy prescription we put forward on how to deal with this environment and to secure and protect Australian interests.
First, we articulated the kind of world we wanted to live in. That is, a world with open markets, one governed by international law, where human rights and freedoms are protected and where states work cooperatively on global challenges.
Then we created a plan for how we, as Australia, could get there. Not surprisingly, the focus is predominantly on the Indo-Pacific, which we see as our strategic region. Our strategy is built around several key priorities:
● Strengthening our long-standing alliance relationship with the United States
● Strong and constructive engagement with China, our largest trading partner.
● Building networks of relationships with key powers in the region – for example, ASEAN and other major Indo-Pacific nations such as India, Japan and Korea
● Pursuing free and open trading regimes in the region, which build positive connections between countries;
● A well-targeted aid program that focuses particularly on Australia’s pacific neighbours; and
● Recognising and asserting Australia’s considerable soft power as an attractive country to live, work and study in.
You may have missed it in that long list, but significantly for us, the White Paper elevates India to the top rank of Australia’s international partnerships.
India as a strategic partner
While India has always been an important partner for Australia, it is clear that our strategic alignment now is stronger than it has ever been.
We are two Indo-Pacific democracies. We are both countries with strong maritime interests in the Indian Ocean. And we are both countries that share important values in common.
India’s economic growth and bright prospects are of course another factor in our greater engagement.
The India of today is full of promise and opportunity. The twin forces of globalisation and economic growth have lifted millions out of poverty – not just here but around the world.
It is now the world’s fastest growing economy and in the next twenty five years will grow to become one of the world’s largest and most influential nations. The pace of change is accelerating.
The India we will see in a decade from now will vastly different to the India we see today.
As a result, our economic relationship has grown strongly and the complementarity between our economies is deepening.
One example is education. India’s largest policy challenge going forward will be to harness the capabilities of its large and young population to truly reap a “demographic dividend”.
Education is the key – be it basic education, higher education or vocational skills. And Indian policymakers and people get this.
In particular, they get that world-class, English-language education will be critical to making India competitive in the global economy over coming decades.
This recognition is why the Australia-India education relationship has expanded and deepened so much over the past decade.
And because education is such a powerful way to connect people and build understanding of each others’ countries, it is my hope that this relationship will continue to flourish into the future.
Public Policymaking in India
As public policy thinkers, advisers and practitioners in India at this time in history, you carry a special responsibility to live up to Kautilya’s vision.
Sound public policy settings are fundamental to making India prosperous and secure. Policy decisions taken today will continue to affect peoples’ lives for years, and sometimes decades, into the future.
So we need policy makers who are not just well-educated in the art of policymaking.
We need people who are wise, who have integrity and the courage to do the right thing, and not just the expedient thing.
In short, we need leaders. We need people of character.
How you do something is as important as what you do. In this field as in any field, your most valuable commodity is your reputation.
And one thing worth focusing on, as David Brooks in his book The Road to Character reminds us, is to consider which of your virtues people will speak about at your funeral. Were you kind or brave, will you be remembered as a person of integrity?
That leadership will be shaped by not just what you formally studied at Takashashila but the debates you had during your study and the networks you established.
Those networks will help extend your influence throughout your career whether it be in government administration, the legal or political branches or like me in foreign policy.
And they will be critical in helping you make the right choices. Don’t stop engaging in policy debate with your colleagues once your studies are over.
Wisdom doesn’t reside in one mind alone. It is your networks who will help you test ideas, bring in new perspectives and come up with creative ideas and solutions to problems. Importantly, it is they who will also point out the flaws in your ideas and help you avoid making mistakes.
Women in Public Policy
I can’t conclude without drawing attention to the role of women. It is still the case that there are too few women who are visible and influential leaders in public policy.
In order to discharge our responsibility to serve society, we need to consider impacts of our decisions on all members of the community. There is a wealth of evidence out there to show that we do this best when our decision-makers and advisers reflect our full diversity.
This means including women. And including women in roles that actually matter, rather than in ancillary or secondary roles.
I do not pretend for one minute that we in Australia have completely solved this issue but, for the first time, we have achieved parity between men and women as Secretaries of Australian Government Departments.
Women in public policy and foreign policy bring different ideas and approaches that can only enhance the practice of statecraft. So to the men in the room, do more than make space for those voices.
You can create the space for those women to come through, encourage them and support them to lead. We all benefit from diversity of thought.
Finally, today is a significant day in your life. You must be proud of what you have achieved. And for those of you with family who’ve supported you along the way I should not close without also acknowledging their commitment to you as well.
Congratulations on your success in study – I look forward to hearing of your future achievements. Those achievements will be what delivers on the promise of a rising India.