Winner of the IPAA WA 2015 Young Professional 'Expand Your Horizons' Scholarship, Ms Cassie Houghton, reviews her experience at the IPAA 2015 National Conference in Sydney.

2015 was a big year for me, as I finished my Master of Public Policy and Management at the Sir Walter Murdoch School of Public Policy and International Affairs and I was fortunate enough to be awarded the IPAA WA Young Professionals Scholarship to attend the National Conference in Sydney. I’d like to thank IPAA WA for selecting my application and providing me with the invaluable opportunity to travel to Sydney and network with other public policy professionals from around Australia and the world at the IPAA National Conference on Federation reform. The experience was so valuable to me for many reasons: housing was a key issue being discussed; it contributed to my understanding of the Federation in general; and it highlighted the need for a more effective communication direction for long term policy initiatives.

The theme of the conference was Federation reform; around resetting the relationship between the Commonwealth and the States that was originally set up at Federation. I was particularly keen to attend because housing and homelessness was one of the four key themes being addressed, along with health, education and tax reform. Health, education and tax reform are usually the top issues for any government to have on the top of their agenda, but it was pleasantly surprising that housing and homelessness was also recognised as a key issue.

At the time of the conference, I was finalising my Masters thesis on the constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples – another key issue for the Commonwealth and States. While the topic was not overtly addressed, the “Recognise” campaign was the beneficiary of the charitable donations in lieu of gifts to speakers. The “Recognise” organisation has been travelling the country spreading the word about why Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be recognised in the Constitution. All speakers were more than happy for their gifts to go to this worthy cause.

One of the opening sessions of the conference set the scene for the reform of the Federation, and discussed the possible allocation roles and funding for the Commonwealth and States. The session was delivered by the late Hon. John Bannon AO – a member of the Prime Minister’s Expert Advisory Panel on the Federation White Paper, and former Premier of South Australia. He was a wonderfully engaging speaker, on what was to unfortunately be one of his last public appearances. I feel honoured to have heard him speak, and will cherish the opportunity to see someone so passionate about their public life and academic pursuits well into their retirement, while quietly suffering from illness.

The main takeaway message I took from the conference was not about Federation reform itself, but about the need to bring the public sector and the general public along with you. The nature of these policy areas are incredibly complex and multidimensional. There is no one size fits all for each policy area, or each state. It is a complicated beast, and will take years, possibly decades to reform. This long term outlook, coupled with the fact that I was one of very few “young professionals” in attendance made me wonder about the continuity of any of these reform initiatives.

It is a common experience amongst the public sector that as a staff member leaves, a large proportion of their intellectual property and experience goes with them. So what is happening with an ageing population, and ageing public sector workforce? How will the young professionals of today run the public sector of tomorrow? Young professionals need to be incorporated into the conversation now. Young professionals are definitely interested, as can be seen by the enormous amount of graduate program applications every year, and there are a core group of very interested, “young policy wonks” out there, they just crave the opportunity to contribute.

In the reform of the Federation, and many other long term policy initiatives, young professionals have the opportunity to shape the public sector we want to lead. I encourage you to invest in your professional development, to better equip yourself to meet the upcoming challenges head on. One of the ways to invest in your professional development is through personal IPAA membership, with discounts to various training courses, networking events and member-only opportunities like mentoring and scholarships.

I look forward to 2016 and my new role as YPAC Communications Advisor. I hope to continue my personal learning journey and to assist other young professionals in theirs.