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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2590

Australia grows even taller: The 2020 summit

By Raj Gonsalkorale

My worst nightmare is to wake up in 2020 and to realize that I had an opportunity to do something about Australia’s future in 2008, and I had not taken up that opportunity – Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister of Australia

Cynics may label the Australian 2020 summit as a Prime Ministerial publicity stunt or just a talkfest. And there are such cynics within the Australian media besides the Federal Opposition of the country who probably has nothing else to say about this event. What they do not realize or do not wish to acknowledge, is the fact that this event has lifted Australia a few more notches in the maturity scale in democratic and visionary governance even if the actual substance of the outcome may be subject to debate.

The cynics are in this sense very short sighted and sadly lacking in their ability to recognize visionary thinking, and hopefully, their numbers will be small compared to a vast majority of Australians who will see this event as a significant step in bringing people closer to setting long term governance targets for the country.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd richly deserves credit for making this event happen and bringing people from a variety of interest groups under one roof for two days to assist in chartering Australia’s future for the next two decades and beyond. One thousand selected delegates representing these interest groups gathered to work in ten focus areas including health, education, science and technology, arts, indigenous affairs, rural development, economic affairs, defense, security, inter State relations and several other key subjects.

At the end of the second day, they presented the Prime Minister with a total of 38 “big ideas” contained in an interim report. A detailed report on all these plus other ideas discussed at the summit will be submitted within a few weeks and the Prime Minister has undertaken to study all ideas and submit a public response by year end detailing which of the ideas will be taken up for implementation, which will be subject to further deliberation and which will not be taken up for implementation.

The interesting point that is lost on some is the fact that this summit was preceded by mini summits in all States, as well as a Youth summit, all of which had been tasked to undertake preliminary discussions and take ideas to the main summit that was held over the weekend in Canberra, the Australian capital. The process of consultation therefore began at grass root level where a larger segment of the population had an opportunity to contribute towards eventual discussions of ideas at the Canberra summit.

The Prime Minister indicated in his closing speech at the end of the summit that the consultation process has not ended with the summit, and that a website that will be launched within a few days will allow those who attended the summit, as well as those who attended the regional mini summits, and any member of the public, to submit their views and ideas on the future direction for Australia in the next few months.

There cannot be any doubt that this is a new direction in Australian politics where such an extensive consultative process has been introduced to canvass views from the public as to where they think Australia should be by 2020. Of course one cannot expect all views to be taken note of and included as government policy, and for some to feel that they have not been heard. No one can satisfy everybody and there will be some disgruntled people who might join the ranks of the cynics as a consequence. None can deny however that an effort had been made to have a wider consultative process.

What is important is that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has lifted the bar on democratic governance and introduced a methodology to involve a diverse set of non political leaders and interest group representatives and the public in a consultative process, and obtained many big ideas from these people, making it impossible for either his government or even a future Liberal/National coalition government to operate below the bar that he has established for democratic governance.

The opportunity that Prime Minister Rudd provided has galvanized many industry leaders and interest group leaders, and introduced some freshness to the way a long term governance agenda should be set, moving the existing, tired old ways of doing it in 3 year Parliamentary term cycles, towards a longer term vision of two decades.

If he does not deliver, his opponents will have a chance to present his failure to the public at a future election, but they will not be able to offer an alternative that is anything less than what has been promised and not implemented. This is where the ultimate winner may definitely be seen as the general public of the country as both major political parties will be held accountable for delivering a long term vision that goes far beyond what these parties offer during elections every three years.

The writer is not aware of a similar long term goal setting process conducted in any other country where the public has had an opportunity to present their ideas through non political representatives, and for these to be so publicly and transparently given to the government, raising the stakes in accountability to those who collaborated to submit such ideas.

It has been an exhilarating experience to witness real democracy in action. Australians should be thankful to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for his vision and for bringing some fresh air to a stale old process where a few party hacks decided what is best for the country.

- Asian Tribune -

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