So, who’s for Chairman Rudd’s Australia 2020 Summit?

Chairman Rudd’s got a clever strategy going, unless it’s just a coincidence. The usually-secret Red Book warns of approaching “challenges” like climate change, an aging population and the economic growth of India and China. Then we announce the Australia 2020 Summit.

As any management consultant will tell you, develop a shared vision and folks will endure short-term pain — like interest rate rises and having to change the light bulbs.

Actually I’m not that cynical about it. I’m quietly enthused. After a decade of Howard’s backward-looking short-term thinking we seriously need to look to the future. Fast. Of course, back when Barry Jones was science minister we had a permanent organisation to keep watch, the Commission for the Future. Maybe I’ll read Lessons from the Australian Commission for the Future: 1986-1998 [PDF file] when I get the time. But I digress…

If Chairman Rudd wants 1000 of our “best and brightest” in Canberra on 19-20 April, who should they be?

It’s flattering that Nick Hodge and Peter Black nominated me, bless their sycophantic little hearts. And I’ve already gained four votes at Bloggerati. I’d love to be part of this Summit, sure, because I’d be Fighting the Hallucinating Goldfish hands on. However I have a few more modest suggestions…

Before I name names, though, a reminder about the categories, and some thoughts on the type of people we need to see.

We’re choosing 100 people to work on each of 10 topics:

  1. Future directions for the Australian economy — including education, skills, training, science and innovation as part of the nation’s productivity agenda
  2. Economic infrastructure, the digital economy and the future of our cities
  3. Population, sustainability, climate change, and water
  4. Future directions for rural industries and rural communities
  5. A long-term national health strategy — including the challenges of preventative health, workforce planning and the ageing population
  6. Strengthening communities, supporting families and social inclusion
  7. Options for the future of indigenous Australia
  8. Towards a creative Australia: the future of the arts, film and design
  9. The future of Australian governance: renewed democracy, a more open government (including the role of the media), the structure of the Federation and the rights and responsibilities of citizens
  10. Australia’s future security and prosperity in a rapidly changing region and world.

Maybe that’s not the best breakdown, but that’s what we’re stuck with. I guess it’s what the focus groups are saying.

So how do we pick the people? I reckon:

  1. The majority should be under the age of 40, with a significant number under 30. This is about the future.
  2. The majority should be people most of us have never heard of, not people in the news every week. This is about fresh ideas. This implies that communities need to start identifying and nominating them now.
  3. No-one anywhere in the selection process should ever starting thinking about quotas. None of this 1970s crap about “we must have equal numbers of men and women,” or “make sure there’s a few Asian faces in each group.” The selection should be on talent alone. I’m well aware that’s the most controversial of my suggestions, but if you’re still measuring gender or ethnicity at all it means you’re still classifying people into those categories.
  4. Don’t confuse “opinion” with “vision”. I won’t expand upon that point, or I might rule myself out!
  5. No-one should get a guernsey simple because they did Great Things in some field some time in the distant past. Yes, we need people with experience, but current experience — people who are shaping the future already, and who deserve a wider audience.

Right, time for some names. Here’s my first 5, and I’ll add more over coming days. I’ll list each one with suggested topic numbers in [square brackets].

I haven’t listed anyone for topics 1, 3, 4, 5 or 7 because I know bugger all about them. And while I have a passing interest in topic 10, I don’t know any of the players. Any thoughts? And what do you think my my choices?

Melbourne’s Neil Mitchell has already labelled this Summit a “wank tank”, but then talkback hosts always seem to want action immediately with thought and analysis later (if at all). Discount him. Still, if you want this Summit to matter, and if you want to get your people there, then you need to take the right action.

Talking amongst ourselves is all well and good. But to nominate someone you need to get in touch with the selection committee by… well, we don’t know yet. Stand by.

Oh, and if you’re going to nominate me, category 9 please.

30 Replies to “So, who’s for Chairman Rudd’s Australia 2020 Summit?”

  1. I’m actually quite excited about this. Yes, it could be just a talkfest, but at least we would be talking about things that have simply not been up for discussion for a long time, and I do think that’s the first step for making changes.

    You’re exactly the kind of person I’d like to see on this, so I’m very happy to nominate you once the process is made clear.

    I agree that there shouldn’t be quotas — I think that if we look at people who can address the issues, particularly with the people who are working in the fields now, we’ll get a good balance of gender ethnicity etc. I’m less concerned about age, although I do think there needs to be a balance there. I’d like to see a reasonable sprinkling of academics in the mix, because, despite the perjorative use of the term in Australia, these are the people who think about these things. I’d recommend someone from the ‘Cosmopolitan Civil Societies’ research team at UTS — they have a lot of innovative ideas about how we live in communities.

  2. @Quatrefoil: It’s nice that you think I’d make the grade. However, my strengths are, I think, analysing, synthesising and explaining — using a high-powered bullshit detector with the sarcasm knob turned to 11. Is this what’s required in such a Summit, or more original creativity? Is mine the snipe-from-the-sidelines role? Or does that sniping need to happen from the floor?

  3. Stilmeister — definitely from the floor!

    I would love to have nominated PPMcG, but he has already gone to the perma-crem below. Bugger it.

    Dick Quan is not one whom I would nominate — nothing against him and heaps of my friends have been his patients — but A/Prof Linday Dyan or Prof Michael Kidd (both med profs in Clinical GP practice) OR A/Prof Merrilyn Walton a clinical practice ethicist who has seen the best and worst (more often the worst) as foundation commissioner of the Health Care Complaints Committee

    Under 40’s could be tricky top nominate… Being a gerontophile its hard for me to think terribly seriously abouut younguns, but a suggestion that I would have to make is a colleague in NGO governance roles Jason Appleby. His day job is a policy analyst at the Aus Fed of Aids Orgs, he is a geek, he is muzikal, he thinks outside the 5th dimension, and has a delicious sense of irony for an under 30thing.

    And of course, I have to nominate the Dep Vice Chancellor (Research) of Sydney Uni. Professor Merlin Crossley

    Sorry for no hyped-up-links, a bit busy and wont have a chance to do later.

    Now, if my peridontist gives me PCA for my root planing this PM another nomination will be flowing in once I regain consciousness!

  4. It was precisely the bullshit detector that I had in mind — I think it will be necessary to make sure that the summit is not in fact a ‘wank tank’. And it will be far more constructive on the inside.

  5. ‘No-one anywhere in the selection process should ever starting thinking about quotas. None of this 1970s crap about “we must have equal numbers of men and women,” or “make sure there’s a few Asian faces in each group.” The selection should be on talent alone.’

    That’s very subjective, and isn’t likely to give us a representative sample of people. One logical step from your argument is that most of these ‘talented’ people are going to be white and male anyway, so they shouldn’t be held back. I can’t agree with that, because it means they’ll mostly be representing that part of society — not others. Also, last time I checked, there were plenty of people out there who thought having a representative sample of sexes, races and all the other parts of society was actually a good way of representing everyone in society… not ‘1970s crap’.

    I notice the list doesn’t list any gender issues. All of those issues mentioned affect women and men, girls and boys differently. Somebody — male and female somebodies — should be up there noting that.

    And, you know what, it’s a good thing to measure gender and ethnicity… because these issues affect different genders and different ethnicities differently.

  6. @Quatrefoil: Thanks for the vote of confidence. At this point all I’ll say is, “It’ll be interesting to see who’s chosen, and how.”

    @Pseud: Ah, good! Someone is tackling me on this question! You’re right, the 10 topic areas don’t mention gender issues. Or race (apart from Aborigines having a whole topic point to themselves), or sexuality, or ethnicity, or adults vs children. My response to that is, “So what?” This is about all Australians.

    “The best and brightest” will doubtless realise that, say, individual health issues will be different for women and men, and take that into account — whether they themselves are male or female is irrelevant. A “best and brightest” who happened to be a woman of Lebanese background, say, would still realise that her role at the Summit is to think about how we can run the health system best for all Australians. And she’d realise that some of those Australians would be men concerned about testicular cancer.

    If she can only think, “I am a woman, I can only discuss women’s health”, then she’s hardly the “best and brightest” and doesn’t deserve a place at the table. We’re looking for people with imagination, empathy and vision, are we not?

    I’m not convinced that “representative” is necessarily the best approach. I understand that, say, men and women might have different thinking styles, and perhaps the groups might best take that into account. But I’m not convinced that the best way to plan for the future is to assemble a microcosm of Australian society.

    Taking the microcosm approach to the logical conclusion, 1 in 20 adults is functionally illiterate. Is having 50 illiterates at a planning summit all that useful?

  7. *makes a face* I just don’t agree, sorry. My viewpoint comes from having worked in development, where you’re constantly asking the target group what they want and need. It’s been consistently shown (to me) that even if you select ‘the best and brightest’, those best and brightest tends to miss the concerns of all people, and often forward their own agenda. Top-down just doesn’t cut it.

    I like your optimism that those best and brightest will think of everyone’s needs, but again, it’s so easy for it not to happen. Also, give people in those ‘isms’ some credit — just because one happens to have dark skin or a vagina, doesn’t mean that person won’t talk about the issues for everyone who doesn’t. They just have a point of reference which allows them to understand issues from a further angle.

    I don’t know about the illiterates. You made your example in jest, but it actually highlights a greater issue in our society — that in such a highly educated country we still have many people who are functionally illiterate. Why shouldn’t their views be represented, perhaps not by 50 people, but certainly by someone who gets it at least?

    Another interesting point, one I got from Crikey today I admit. Apparently the conference is going to be pay-your-own-way — effectively excluding anyone who can’t afford it. So now we’re cutting out anyone who’s poor who has an excellent viewpoint from which to tell us what needs to be done about poverty in Australia. Is that right?

  8. @Pseud: Well, if we can agree to disagree on some things, and agree to agree on others, I think this is how it turns out…

    We’re have to disagree about the quota thing, I think. ‘Cos when you say…

    [J]ust because one happens to have dark skin or a vagina, doesn’t mean that person won’t talk about the issues for everyone who doesn’t.

    … then the opposite is true too. Just because one happens not to have dark skin or a vagina, doesn’t mean that person won’t talk about the issues for everyone who does. Symmetry.

    On the other hard, I think we actually agree that the “best and brightest” may well be very good in one field but complete idiots in another. And yes, Crikey is correct. The “best and brightest” have to pay their own way.

    On “adult functional illiteracy”, remind me to tell you some stories about that from when I worked for the ABC.

  9. Okay, here goes’

    i. You [category 9]

    – because you asked so nicely and deserve to go.

    ii. Graham Bell [categories 1 and 10 – and 4 too]
    – because nobody knows me and I’ve never been on “Lateline”. I am OVER 60 and intend living past 2020 – out of unbounded curiosity and a keen desire to get back some of what I’ve paid in taxes.

    Besides, I do
    — ask awkward questions.
    — have radical but attainable visions for the future.
    — know what doesn’t work and WHY it doesn’t work.
    — live in the Other Australia – free of the usual “essential” services.
    — understand a bit about the visions for the future of our international competitors, partners and potential conquerors.
    — have great, if cautious, optimism.
    — want to see Australia become a great prosperous country.

    Nominating myself isn’t cheeky. If I don’t do it, who else will? 🙂

  10. G’day.

    Thanks for your info.

    Didn’t apply to attend after all.

    Did a cost-benefit analysis and the groceries-and-power-bill won out over a jolly weekend away. I simply couldn’t have afforded to go down to Canberra even if I had jumped through all the hoops of whatever the selection process is supposed to be.

    Instead, I’ve started putting a horribly rough-and-ready Counter Summit on the internet. It’s aimed at the neglected people on the other side of the Digital Divide [but they don’t have computers, I hear you say 🙂 ] …. however, anybody at all can join in

    It’s at


    it’s nothing flash and it probably won’t work …. but it has the possiblity of becoming a sort of a minor alternative forum.

    I just gave it a go, that’s all.

  11. Ahhhh, Mr Stilg, 1 in 20 Australians are functionally illiterate? Make that 9.2 out of every 20 being functionally illiterate and innumerate. The ABS Adult Literacy and Lifeskills Survey completed in 2006 found that 46% of Australian adults (not including identified Indigenous people as they were outside the scope) are functionally illiterate.

    Ten years previously the figure stood at 47%, so in ten years we made a 1% improvement in adult rates; although PISA reading and writing results against set benchmarks for school students have been in decline over the same period (a 3% or so drop in 9 years).

    The Survey results are freely available on the ABS website, just search for ALLS.

    So make that 460 illiterates at the Summit…

  12. @Jim and Graham Bell: Ta for the links, I shall check out both your offerings over the next few days.

    Meanwhile I’m trying to decide who should be my second referee for my own nomination. The first will be my long-term colleague Zern Liew, since he knows my work and my mind well(poor chap) and has the right kind of letters after his name to attract attention. But who else will appeal to the Thought Leader of Topic 9…?

    @Neanderthalsis: Thanks for the more accurate statistic, much appreciated. I was relying on some rule-of-thumb figure that was sitting in the back of my head — is that a bad mixed metaphor?

    I was saddened the first time I saw a chap needing his new employer’s help to fill out the Tax File Number Declaration form at a post office, since his own “functional literacy” wasn’t up to it. The System had failed him.

  13. Stilgherrian [@4:51pm].

    Okay. You’ve convinced me: I’ll Third or Fourth your nomination, if you like 🙂 .

    And if I win Lotto or find out that Kerry Packer was a long-lost uncle who included me in his Will, I’ll see you in Canberra.

    Anyway. Good hunting.

    Their nomination form surprised, perhaps alarmed, me. This is a forum/ summit about the future yet their nomination form has the Dead Hand Of The Past written all over it. Could have been worse, of course; they didn’t have questions like – “Wife’s name?”. “Religion?”. “Schools attended?” [to confirm previous question]. “Society and Lodge membership?”. “References?” “Father’s business or occupation?”

    b.t.w., As a matter of courtesy, I tried to email the Australia 2020 Summit at their site and kept getting delivery-failure notification. Wonder how many others experienced the same level of customer service?

  14. @Graham Bell: While I appreciate the support, when the Australia 2020 folks phone you to ask about me — what would you say?

    My dilemma is that the people who’ve paid most attention to my work in this field haven’t known me long. My “old” referees, the ones with respectable titles, aren’t across my recent work. Or am I worrying too much?

    The nomination form is a bit strange, isn’t it! While I understand their need to streamline the application process, things like “explain in 100 words or less” are, as I’ve said somewhere before, a bit like a TV Week competition. Everything fits into the neat little boxes, so we can choose someone who thinks outside the box. [Bzzzzztt!]

    Not having a working email address is inexcusable. It’s possible to choose and register a new Internet domain, purchase hosting, install a content management system like WordPress (which runs this site) and set up and test email addresses all in under two hours — I know, I’ve done it. My guess is that they didn’t anticipate the response levels.

    And that comes back to the process. Why are they collecting all these paper and manually-filled forms? Why aren’t they using an online form which automatically puts the information into a database?

  15. Stilgherrian:

    What would I say? Don’t know you from a bar of soap but so far as I know, you were never on the HIH or Ansett boards…. nor involved with Treasury or Defence Procurement or Immigration policy making …. two things that would get you in the door for sure. Seriously though, if you did put my name down, it would be very informative to see what happened next.

    Asking for referees is definitely a Blast From The Past – strange indeed. My own problem is that I’m of an age where many who knew well my abilities and experience are now dead – offering to hold a seance for the selection panel to speak with them would go over like a lead balloon.

    Yes that is strange too. A workshop/summit about The Future and they ask for pen-and-paper stuff. It may be that speech and hand-written communication is much better for making very subtle assessments about the nominees [if I were running the show, I might have done the same] …. or …. given the way Australia’s moribund “elite”[??] behaves, it’s more likely to be sheer control freakery plus ignorance of modern technology.

    Theres a stench of game-playing about the way the whole show is running so far – the apparent minimizing of women participants for a start. And who said social darwinism was dead? 🙂

    Apart from not being able to afford to go to Canberra for a dirty weekend – even if I had written a nomination, there is no guarantee it would have got there in time [we have standard snail-mail out here in the bush – not a yellow postbox within a bull’s roar – that they haven’t considered that issue is strange as well].

    Why don’t you put in a nomination over the phone today [with a paper backup], explain what you have done and what your own vision is for policy making and just see what happens. [If you do get to the Grand Summit, bring us back a doggie-bag from the banquet, please].

    Harking back to Pseud’s and your comments on 5th February. I would be tempted to omit gender or sexuality or ethnicity issues from my list too because, by now in the year 2008, these SHOULD no longer be areas causing great concern. [That they still are is quite another issue].

    Wonder if this whole show might be to set up a Bunyip Aristocracy? [How’s that one to keep the conspiracy theorists happy? 🙂 ].

  16. @Graham Bell: Ah, if you’re ever “in the big smoke” do let me know and I’ll buy you a drink (or three)! However I have decided on my second referee and I’m filling out the form now.

    “Postal address” for the referees, they ask? But not “email address”?

    “Title”? I’m always tempted to write “Lord” or “Demi-urge”. Maybe I should do a Gough Whitlam and put “Comrade”…

    Oh well, onto the good bit: “Please write 100 words or less on why you (or your nominee) should participate as a delegate in the Australia 2020 Summit.”

  17. Stilgherrian:
    Good one!

    Might be many months before I get to civilization again – but thanks.

    Real world needs keep intruding so the Counter Summit blog won’t be finished until next weekend. 🙂

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