Kevin Rudd has ended the 2020 Summit final plenary session with a call for action after confessing he didn’t want the “angst” of waking up in 2020 having not done enough to change the country. He will hope that the initial report he was presented with this afternoon will give him a good night’s sleep in the years to come. Tax overhaul, a bill of rights, streamlining state-federal regulations, incentives for renewable industries and a dusting off of the republic referendum were some of the key ideas that emerged in the summit’s report. Rudd said the summit was about “energising democracy” and it was characterised by good humour, mutual respect and Australian directness.
Certainly delegate James Houston showed that directness when he briefly invaded the main stage this morning before being ejected. Houston complained his ideas at the rural session were not treated seriously yesterday. But today Rudd said the summit had lived up to the three tasks he set for it. It produces plans for the long term, generated new ideas and directions, and explored new approaches to governance.
Despite Houston’s antics, the defining image of the summit may well be the one of Rudd photographed through a sea of legs, seated on the floor of the economics session and listening intently. The Australian Financial Review’s chief political writer Laura Tingle told ABC2 it was great to have the Prime Minister listening to all these ideas. “And him sitting on the floor - you never saw John Howard do that” she said. She said the great thing about this summit was that it “wasn’t just about men in suits” before apologising to her suited ABC male interviewer.
The interviewer wasn’t the only troubled media personage at the summit. Co-chair Glyn Davis introduced the closing session with a lament from the media about their challenge to convey to their audiences that the summit was worthwhile. One media executive complained to Davis and asked him “can’t you get them to move around or something…they’re just sitting there talking.” But of course that was what it was all about, and while it was never riveting television, it was very useful policy work and has generated a number of new ideas while polishing up old ones that the Rudd administration can now work with. The initial report is now available in either word or pdf format.
The closing session featured a brief rundown from the ten stream leads and their political counterparts. The first to speak were the leaders of the productivity agenda, Warwick Smith and Julia Gillard. Smith said that the Prime Minister’s idea of opening "one-stop-shops" for children where immunisations, child care and other services could be delivered had plenty of merit. He called it the “parents and children’s centre”. Their other big ideas included “learning for life” lifetime accounts, and promoting the idea of “golden gurus” using the skills and capacities of older Australians. Smith concluded by saying that one national curriculum would be “major achievement”. Gillard briefly noted that education can change the nation’s life. “It isn’t an optional extra,” she said. “It isn’t something we should do its something we must do”.
Next to speak were the Indigenous challenges chairs, Jackie Huggins and Jenny Macklin. Huggins said she was buoyed by the national apology and now wanted to see formal recognition so they could go on to have parity with other Australians. She wanted a new bipartisan dialogue, a new independent organisation with “accountability and service delivery for government” and a focus on education especially in early childhood. Macklin agreed that early childhood learning was crucial. She supported alternative schooling arrangements such as hostels and boarding schools. She wanted an Aboriginal healing fund that “recognised the horror of alcohol and drug abuse”.
David Morgan and Wayne Swan then spoke for the economics session. Morgan said Australia needed to create a national economy supported by seamless regulation. He said we needed to change the 19th century federal model and he proposed a federal-state compact with reformed regulation. There would be the first holistic review of taxation for fairness in 25 years. He said there needed to be more streamlined regulations and a reduction of the patchwork of overlapping administrations. He proposed a commission to drive federal reforms, a harmonised and progressive tax system. Swan said that as a country economy we must “get the fundamentals right to create wealth”.
Then Michael Good and Nicola Roxon spoke for Health. Good said their aspirations were to close the infant mortality gap, structure the industry around individuals, more focus on prevention, become a world leader in R&D and promote a unified health system. The session's big ideas included a health equality commission for all groups but focussing on indigenous health, creating a national prevention health agency focussing on alcohol, cigarettes and junk food. There would also be an Asia Pacific regional health partnership to tackle infectious diseases, a plan to make healthy food choices easy using traffic light rating on food. One contentious item was to bank junk food ads and introduce “fast fruit” into schools. Good also promoted the idea of a “bionic eye” (2020 vision by 2020) and an internet “healthbook” modelled on Facebook to share info with trusted people such as doctors, dentists, family and friends. Roxon added they also wanted to introduce the idea of a wellness footprint similar to carbon footprinting to measure impact of lifestyle on health. She also wanted first aid training to all children by volunteers by 2020, an opt-out system for organ donation, health impact statements from other government portfolios and a mandatory half-hour activity in every sedentary job.
Future security and prosperity was then discussed by Michael Wesley and Stephen Smith. Wesley’s ambitions were to foster Australia’s reputation as a effective global citizen, reinvigorate relations in the Asia Pacific region and make the regions major languages and culture familiar to mainstream Australia. Their ideas included a regional literacy program, closer relations with the Pacific microstates and developing energy security forums the major regional economies, and examining emerging security threats such as pandemics, climate change and transnational crime. Smith said he was optimistic Australia could do more as a nation state in the world and could be “effective as a global player, a good international citizen, more engaged in international institutions, [and] observe the international rule of law”.
Roger Beale and Penny Wong presented the ideas for sustainability and climate change. Beale said their brief was to act now to safeguard future prosperity and the ecological environment. We needed to decrease ecological footprint while grow economically. We have Enormous assets, he said, to turn to the challenge of climate change. He wanted the agenda to look a ‘whole of government’ policy, with results backed by audit. We need a national sustainable cities program driving water efficiencies (with pay per use) and supporting public transport and we need to transform our footprint while supporting lower income households. He wanted all new buildings by 2020 to be carbon neutral. Wong said there was an overriding sense of urgency we must act now. There was a brief window of opportunity as a nation to respond, she said.
The future of governance in Australia was presented by John Hartigan and Maxine McKew. To huge applause, Hartigan said their first idea was an Australian republic with a two-phase plebiscite. There would be a new online portal to search for government information and interact with powerbrokers which he called “ourgov.com.” (New Mexico already has the rights to the domain!) Hartigan recommended a bill or charter of rights and open and accountable government. He wanted to strengthen FOI laws and reduce time to release government records. McKew reiterated all this with a vision of what parliament might look like to a new member of Bennelong or “Hartigan” in 2020.
Tim Costello and Tanya Plibersek presented the Strengthening Communities findings. Costello said economies exist for communities not the other way around. He wanted to see an inclusive society that was accessible, supportive, and embraced indigenous social inclusion which he called a “linchpin to a buoyant society”. He wanted a human rights charter or national action plan for social inclusion with key measures he described as a “national development index” which the news could report on the same way as they report the financial news today. He wanted Community hubs and a national co-ordination body for communities. He said we could run the Treasury but “a Costello running treasury might not be such as good idea”. He wanted to fix homelessness by 2020. There would be a voluntary taxing of alcohol to treat services. Plibersek said there needed to be a partnership between government, the community and business to “make us a better nation”.
The rural communities session chairs Tim Fischer and Tony Burke spoke next. Fischer’s rather rambling speech mentioned the need to foster food security in remote and rural regions. He said we needed harmonised regulations to remove wrinkles that add to cost burden to all Australians. There needed to be a response to climate change problems and we need to “chase the water in the north”. There should be updated soil and hydrology studies. Infrastructure must be approached from a national perspective and he recommended people take their holidays in Australia rather than abroad. Burke said we needed to understand the climate change challenges, the export opportunities and be part of a global response to the world food shortages.
The creative Australia session chairs Cate Blanchett, Julianne Schultz and Peter Garrett spoke next. The luminous Blanchett said it was a “dense and galvanising two days”. She said that by 2002 creativity should be central to the nation. She wanted double the creative output by 2020 with a sustainable creative sector, and integration between indigenous and settler perspectives. Schultz praised Blanchett’s ability to be there at all barely days after giving birth. She said Australia needed to boost creativity capability create lifelong learning and commit to new investment models. The industry need financial viability. Creativity in art, she said, was no longer the icing on cake but a key ingredient. She said we needed to bring art into schools, expand mentoring programs, bring visual and performance arts into the national curriculum and create a National Endowment for the Arts. Garrett said it was inconceivable to think of a world without music literacy and the arts and they all build cohesiveness in the community.
Finally Glyn Davis presented the initial 38 page report to the Prime Minister who responded by calling the summit an “extraordinary event”. He categorised the weekend as a “very Australian gathering” filled with “overwhelming optimism”. He cautioned for the need to take command of the future and said the federation needed to be fixed. There needed to be more open government and he highlighted climate change as the “overarching challenge. But as Summit cynic Glenn Milne said today, Rudd’s most immediate challenge will be to cut the “ideas monster” down to size. Nonetheless it was hard not to feel the weekend was useful and if nothing other than to create networks with a thousand of the country’s most talented, it can be judged an immediate success. Whether it has any bearing on the long road to 2020 remains to be seen. But as a rare effort to at least engender some longer term thinking, it must be applauded.