Book review

The scurvy route to better government

Policy Politics Political leadership Evidence-based policy Australia

Here’s a radical notion to inject into the national policy debate: why don’t we try doing what works? It’s easier said than done, of course, even if the parties weren’t caught in their ideological and political straitjackets. But that doesn’t deter Andrew Leigh, shadow assistant treasurer in Bill Shorten’s opposition.

The central proposition of this new book is one you might expect an academic to get excited about. Randomised trials, he says, are the best way to establish an evidence-based approach to decision-making. But then Leigh still operates very much within the mindset of his former profession of academic economist: by the time he entered parliament in 2010, he had gained first class honours in law and arts at Sydney University and a PhD in public policy from Harvard and had then, at age thirty-two, been appointed professor of economics at the Australian National University. That makes him an unusual politician or, as Peter Dutton once put it (reflecting his own worldview), “a weird cat,” more interested in ideas and facts than ideology and factions. (Leigh hasn’t joined a Labor faction.)

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