Q & A with Diana Perche and Peter Chen, editors of the Australian Politics and Policy Open Access textbook

Diana Perche is a Senior Lecturer and Academic Coordinator at the Nura Gili Indigenous Programs Unit at UNSW Sydney. Prior to this, Diana lectured in public policy at Macquarie University from 2005–2016, and was the director of the Master of Politics and Public Policy. 

Peter Chen is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Government and International Relations where he teaches Australian and regional politics, media politics, and public policy. He is the author of Animal Welfare in Australia: Politics and Policy (2016) and Australian Politics in a Digital Age (2013) and the co-editor of Double Disillusion: The 2016 Australian Federal Election (2018).

The first edition of the Australian Politics and Policy Open Access textbook was published in 2019. How did this project come about? When and how did you decide to make the book open access? 

Open access came first. Colleagues in the political science department at Sydney University had been talking about an open access textbook for some years, as a few of them have a strong commitment to open access publishing. We knew there were others who felt similarly in the community. Thus, when a call for proposals was put out by the DVC Education for open access textbooks then, we jumped on that opportunity.

How do the editors and contributors collaborate on this project? 

There’s a spreadsheet! For the original project we recruited a large team of editors that broke the project into sections and worked with authors to shepherd them through the writing, peer review, and editorial processes. This was all a result of the good will of the editorial team and authors, but we were strongly supported by peers who served as reviewers and ensured the product was of high quality. Once the original edition was finalised, we moved to a smaller team who work to select chapters for revision or commission new chapters. 

The third edition of this title was published in January 2023. Can you tell us a bit about the new additions and revisions readers can expect?

Each time we update the book we add new chapters and revise existing ones, so on that front the book includes the “normal” updates (such as a revision of our chapter on Federalism, given the significant changes to federal-state relations we saw during the pandemic); our other updates appear in the chapter on Western Australia, the COVID-19 Response, and Media chapters. Our new chapter additions include a stand-alone chapter on social movements and one on arts and cultural policy. Significantly, and why the book is now 53 chapters long, Diana Perche (UNSW) was the lead editor in the production of a new eight-chapter section on public management, policy and administration. This new section was supported financially by the Australian and New Zealand School of Government, and makes the textbook a very robust offering. All for free! 

What are some of the key differences between the junior and senior editions of Australian Politics and Policy? 

One of the big decisions we made early in the process was to have two versions of the book, the junior and senior editions. The reason for this was to allow the work to be useful across the higher educational landscape, from first year students into masters programs. Overall, most chapters are provided in the two versions: the more concise junior ones and the longer senior ones, where additional detail and complexity is included.

Do you see the Australian Politics and Policy Open Access textbook as purely an academic resource? Or do you also hope to engage a more general readership? 

It is a textbook, and that genre has some constraints that make it more oriented to teaching. The volumes are stocked in some public libraries, and being fully online they are widely available, but we’ve not had a lot of feedback from what you might call the “general public”. We have, however, found that the volumes are of interest to teachers who teach politics and civics in high schools, so it’s good to engage with people who are stimulating the interest of students who might go on to study politics and/or policy at university. 

For readers who wish to learn more about Australian politics and policy, what other resources would you recommend? 

There are great explainers and other free resources provided by the Museum of Australian Democracy [https://www.moadoph.gov.au/] and the Parliamentary Education Office [https://peo.gov.au/]. Katharine Murphy’s podcast Australian Politics, produced by the Guardian [https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/series/australian-politics-live], is always good listening and up to date. For more substantial reading, there are other good textbooks around including Alan Fenna and Rob Manwaring’s Australian Government and Politics (2021), Stewart Jackson et al’s Australian Politics in the Twenty-First Century (2022, 2nd edition) and the classic Althaus et al Australian Policy Handbook (2022, 7th edition). You might be able to find them in your library!