So who’s ready for the future? Who’s not?

Maxine McKew and I aren’t the only ones who think Australia is ready to start a new conversation about our identity. The Australia 2020 Summit secretariat received 7251 nominations for the 1000 spots. I wish them well with the winnowing — and wish myself good luck with my own application.

The real fun now is seeing who’s actually ready for the future, and who just wants to stifle discussion.

Human rights lobbyist Howard Glenn puts it well, and shows that he’s ready:

Why am I enthusiastic about a relatively small two-day conference in April? Because it is a big gesture which says clearly that we have permission to start thinking about the future again. The flow-on effects are already starting. Schools want to have their own future summits, difficult long term issues are emerging for community debate. And that’s before it’s all really started.

It’s only two days and 1,000 people. Who gets to go is not as important as the fact that it is occurring at all, and that there’s such media attention to the attendance. Some will see it as a revival of the mythical Keating elites; the start of European-style social planning; a talk fest. I see it as the start of a restoration of confidence in Australian culture, identity and ingenuity, and a faith that we can think about future challenges, and find what we need to face them.

So what about everyone else?

Looking through recent news stories…

  • Opposition leader Brendan “Mr 9%” Nelson reckons the summit will be a dog’s breakfast. Looking at the state of his own party, I guess he’d know a dog’s breakfast when he sees it.
  • His deputy Julie Bishop branded it an “elite” event — yes, she’s imaginatively dragging out that Howard-era term of denigration, which apparently is not negative when applied to “elite athletes”. Somehow she knew this before she’d even seen the steering committee, let alone the full list of attendees. “Elitism is dead,” says the deputy leader of the party full of lawyers and private school attendees. Yes, that’s certainly reflected in the polls, luv! Keep up this mindless negativity and your stay in opposition will be a long one.
  • All sorts of people with a “special interest” whinge that their own specific focus isn’t mentioned by name somewhere: Gisela Kaplan on the environment; Duncan Riley on tech; Yvonne Zeniou on the parents of disabled children. Folks, a “vision for the future” is not just a list of jigsaw pieces.
  • Disappointingly, steering committee member Tim Costello focuses on the problem of teenage binge drinking which, while perhaps a problem that needs addressing, is hardly “a vision thing”. Let’s hope the “strengthening families and communities” topic doesn’t become a shopping-list for wowsers craving a return to some mythical golden past of endless backyard cricket.

People are wanting to talk about the future. Grass-roots websites have sprung up at and CounterSummit Australia2020 and OzIdeas and BangTheTable and I’m sure there’ll be plenty more.

Is it only the federal opposition that’s afraid of the conversation?