There was plenty of cynicism voiced by many people about the 2020 Summit held in Canberra this weekend. I can understand why some might tend to feel that way, but I think there is less reason to feel cynical about it than the average Parliamentary sittings which provide the usual political activity in Canberra.
I believe that the community has a far greater potential than government does for accurately identifying key issues and problems, for devising workable solutions and for effectively implementing them. This isn’t to say that government has no role – it has a crucial role. It’s just that a key part of that role is to enable the multitude of abilities, energies and synergies at community level to operate to its full potential. More often than not, government seems to stifle rather than enable.
So getting together an event which enables the ideas of people in the wider community seems worth a try to me. And for all the concerns about how representative the gathering was, it seemed to me to reach much further into the many diverse segments of our country than most of the summits, conferences and the like that governments hold from time to time.
I’m sure everyone would have a quibble with some of the attendees. I know a fair few of those who attended, and whilst many of them are highly capable, there were at least a couple there who I frankly think are pretty thick. I imagine there was a mix of good, bad and middling amongst the many other attendees who I don’t know. But any sizable gathering will always have variance in the capabilities of those present. And even idiots can come up with good ideas occasionally.
The hype about the summit was probably unavoidable (even assuming the government wanted to avoid it, which it doesn’t look like it did). But there is always a risk that media hype will suck the substance out of things, leaving a hollow husk of insipid soundbites and numbskull narratives dominating the outcome. The thousand ideas still collide and thoughts still contend over on the side, but politics being what it is, the narrative can quickly become the reality and drive off into the sunset (or over a cliff), while those slogging away trying to refine and implement the substantive ideas get left by the side of the road gathering dust. It will be up to the government to decide what happens in that regard.
If the whole show was really just a marketing and branding exercise for the new government, then a lot of the ideas will come to nothing. After all, a lot of what has come out of it are not new ideas, but existing ideas which have not been implemented, even though in some cases they are widely supported. If political considerations and ideological jousting continue to be put first, then not much will change.
However, even in that circumstance, I am sure some good will come of the weekend. One of the best things about such gatherings is usually the networking and galvanising of ideas amongst the participants. Even if the entire official proceedings disappear into the deadening morass of managerialism, shallow spin and autocratic control which characterises most Labor state governments, I am sure that some good things will happen outside of goverenment amongst people from the community and business sectors who got together at the Summit.