A different form of government for Geoff Gallop

10 July 2006

Geoff Gallop in the Sydney University Quadrangle.
Geoff Gallop in the Sydney University Quadrangle.

Geoff Gallop loves big, sprawling ideas. And after 10 years in the practical world of state politics, he is relishing the chance to return to his favourite passion.

"I just felt I had all these ideas I wanted to express, but political life is so disciplined," says the former premier of Western Australia. "Since getting the freedom to think and write again, it feels as if I've been liberated."

Six months ago, the 54-year-old made the surprise announcement that he would leave office to receive treatment for depression, less than a year after winning a second term in office. But his recovery was swift, and this month sees a revitalised Geoff Gallop take up his post as director of the University's Graduate School of Government.

"I want to be part of the intellectual life of the University," he says. "I'm obviously focused on the School, but I have a range of interests and I'm looking forward to developing my ideas in areas like politics, philosophy and religion."

High on the list of issues he wants to explore is finding a way to deal with the complexity of modern government, especially the problem of balancing immediate concerns with broader objectives like reducing greenhouse emissions. "You have to bring the long-term into politics, and I'd like to think that here at Sydney we can find a way of doing that without compromising today's priorities," he says.

Achieving the right balance between the power of the States and the Commonwealth will be another key area of focus, says Professor Gallop, while the nation needs to develop a balanced approach to government that marries economics with social and environmental goals.

"Whether it is 18th century American revolutionaries, Catholic social theorists or modern federalists, I am interested in those who look for a balance in politics. Balance provides a middle way - a third way."

Finding a balance is an appropriate philosophy for a man whose life has been coloured by competing ideologies and frames of reference. Geoffrey Ian Gallop was born into a house divided along party political lines, his mother a staunch Labour trade-unionist and his father a Menzies devotee. The young Gallop began life as a "conservative and a small-l liberal", but in 1971 - under the influence of Gough Whitlam's radical reform agenda - he joined the Labor Party.

The next year he nudged out fellow student Kim Beazley to win a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford. While studying for his politics, philosophy and economics degree he was an active Marxist, attending meetings and anti-Vietnam rallies. But after becoming uncomfortable with the "impatient and authoritarian" radical left, he turned to a broader range of conceptual thinkers that included Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, liberal theologian John Robinson and political theorist Sir Bernard Crick.

"In summary, you might say I went from Herbert Marcuse's One Dimensional Man to Crick's In Defence of Politics," he smiles. "Crick's book was pivotal because it defended a political way of looking at things. It meant accepting different points of view, and finding solutions to problems through dialogue."

After five years lecturing in politics and policy at Murdoch University, he decided to put his ideas into action, first standing for election as a local councillor then entering state politics in 1986. But while proud of his achievements as premier - "people say you can't achieve things in politics, but you can" - Professor Gallop is now genuinely excited about the return to academic life, which he says offers an under-recognised potential to change society.

"I think academics undersell themselves in the contribution they can make to public policy. Politicians are always looking for new ways to do things, there is a real opportunity for academics to have an influence if they're creative. There's a world there waiting for them."

Contact: Kath Kenny or Jake O'Shaughnessy

Phone: M: 0434 606 100 or M: 0421 617 861