Initial impressions of 2020 Summit outcomes

More by accident than design, I happened to be near a television when it was screening the summations of the 10 groups in the 2020 Summit.  From what I heard, and from looking through the initial report from the gathering, there seem to be a fair few reasonable ideas in amongst it all. Some other parts do seem to be overly full of motherhood statements, wishlists and jargon, but I should wait to see the full report before passing a full judgement.

I found one or two of the speeches by the 2020 presenters a bit hard to stomach, as they seemed rather too pleased with themselves. However, I try to focus on the content, not the personalities. The more people can take a hold of the good ideas, rather than sit back and just hope the government makes it all happen, the more chance there is of good things coming out of it.

Listening to the way some of the group discussions were being summarised brought flashbacks to me of countless conferences, plenary and brainstorming sessions I’ve been to over the years – even more so when I read Annabelle Crabb’s blog and its descriptions of mountains of butchers paper. I did catch myself thinking specifically of some Democrats’ conferences I’d attended in the past – some good ideas amongst some fuzzy feelgood statements, delivered by people trying to summarise a messy and not always well-focused process, with in some cases no clear picture of how the ideas would be put in practice. It was a flashback I was surprised to discover was shared by at least one other blogger!

The summit has been widely blogged on. Links to some of the posts elsewhere are provided at the bottom of this post. A few initial thoughts on some of the sections are below:

Productivity Agenda: A lot of very general themes, with some good boosting of education and learning. Much of it sounded worthwhile without being overly new, but one proposal which would be a very significant and positive change was to enable “the free movement of labour from the Asia-Pacific region into Australia, underpinned by Australian workplace standards.”  The “Golden Guru” concept – retired people acting as mentors in the workplace – is also worth exploring more.

Sustainability and Climate Change: I was surprised at how few solid and fresh ideas this section seemed to have, although recognising and using Indigenous land management knowledge and setting up a sustainable cities program are worth noting. Perhaps the full report will spell out some details. The disagreement over whether or not to allow any new coal fired power stations without carbon capture and storage technology – something I would have thought was a given, frankly – got noted in the media.

Health: Transforming the emphasis of our health policies to focus on preventative and community level health care seems like the central issue to me, and this is well reflected in this section. Making it happen will be another thing, but at least its recognised.

Strengthening communities and supporting families: This section seemed to be well balanced, with important themes – Making social inclusion a national priority; Building and strengthening local communities; Supporting and empowering families; Reducing disadvantage and poverty – each with their own ideas for action.

An important proposal was the need for a “comprehensive, long-term national resettlement strategy” for newly arrived migrants, asylum seekers and refugees – although more detail would be handy. The mention of a Charter of Rights is also positive.

It was good to see the difficulties faced by carers highlighted and some suggestions for better assistance provided.  I was also pleased to see the idea of “a National Disability Insurance Scheme for people who experience catastrophic injury during their life” get a mention. This is something I tried to push before and during the 2004 election.

Indigenous Australia: I was a bit disappointed in this section.  On the one hand, it was good to see the report state that “a major theme at the Summit was the urgency of redressing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disadvantage and to embrace the range of indigenous and non-indigenous stories which are our culture” and particularly that this was seen “as a prerequisite to Australia’s further development.”

However, the ‘theme’ of “increased formal recognition of Australia’s Indigenous peoples” didn’t seem to have a lot of solid follow-up.

The final communiqué of the Youth Summit seemed to cover this better and more clearly than what the full summit managed to produce.

The Youth Summit said clearly (and correctly in my view) that “the negotiation of a treaty or similar document and the protection of Indigenous rights will provide the principles on which we create effective policies and programs.

It also said:

The political and legal recognition of Indigenous Australia should be pursued through the signing of a treaty or similar document between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia. The process of negotiation will ensure all Australians can participate in a national dialogue that promotes understanding between individuals and communities. Negotiation can only occur with a strong and united national Indigenous voice and with the participation of young people. A treaty will create a foundation for a new relationship between all Australians, which allows us to make meaningful change in practical policies and programs.

By contrast, the formal 2020 Summit came up with this rather inelegantly worded and frankly not very strong version, which was listed as a ‘top idea’:

A continuation of the bipartisan commitment shown through the National Apology to inform our national dialogue in order to change the ethos through which Aboriginal affairs and interests over the past 200 years have been constructed was considered critical. This should be supported by a national public education campaign. Bipartisan support will be essential.

The establishment of a new philosophical framework through which we negotiate a new definition of our relationship and how we might define it in the Constitution or Treaty or settlement is necessary.

It’s not really Yothu Yindi, is it? Still I suppose it’s there. Good luck with that bi-partisan thing when it comes to a Treaty though.

More promising was the promotion of better

private philanthropic flows to Indigenous organisations in Australia. In addition, improvements in business partnership arrangements between Indigenous enterprises and Australian corporates could significantly enhance the economic development of Indigenous communities, particularly those in remote areas.

Greater corporate participation and partnerships with Indigenous business is necessary. Increased levels of private enterprise could be encouraged in Indigenous communities through incentives such as tax concessions.

Creative Australia:

If their top idea of strongly linking the creative arts and education was the only thing from this summit that was achieved, it would still be enough to say the summit was a success. The focus on Indigenous art and creativity is also welcome, although some of the proposals sound bureaucratic.


I am a big fan of Australia becoming a Republic – I think it is a necessary part in our nation being able to mature – but I still feel it would be a shame if that was what dominated post-summit discussions. Our system of representative democracy is not functioning terribly well these days, and the other outcomes from the governance section listed in the initial report didn’t look sufficiently strong to me. Becoming a Republic is not much of an advance if we don’t reverse the trend of our governments become more powerful and less accountable and our Parliaments being reduced to little more than a sideshow – while the political role of the general public is somewhere between spectator and consumer.

It was good to see in the report that “participants expressed a desire to revitalise the accountability of the Executive to Parliament, as well as to the public.” However, there didn’t seem to be any detail about how this should be done. Also welcome was a recognition of “the need to strengthen the participation of Australians in their governance”. However, it talks about “community and government interaction” and “engagement”, which still sounds a long way short of greater community (and individual) control. Still, if they really give ‘deliberative democracy’ a go, people will start to demand that it becomes a meaningful process, rather than another piece of window dressing for governments when they want to look like they’re consulting.

The mention of a Charter of Rights is also positive, although the detail will be important on this one.

Australia’s future security: It’s nice to read an outline of security issues that is actually about genuine issues of security, rather than chock full of rubbish about the faux ‘war on terror.  Ambitions to “reinvigorate and deepen our engagement with Asia and the Pacific” and “to ensure that the major languages and cultures of our region are no longer foreign to Australians but are familiar and mainstreamed into Australian society” are very positive. The initiative mentioned in the productivity section to allow the free movement of labour from the region would be a big step down this path.

Other comments:

Based on the Initial Report, not much consideration seems to have been given to our migration system, despite the fact both our migration laws and our settlement support systems are currently in need of a major overhaul. Perhaps the more detailed, final report will give this area the explicit recognition and full consideration it merits, given the absolutely central role migration has played, and will need to play in the future, in Australia’s economic, social, cultural and political development.

On the basis of the initial report, I’d also have to agree with the reported concern of Fr Chris Riley that child abuse doesn’t seem to have got very much focus. Professor Freda Briggs makes a similar comment in this report.  I imagine many people feel that it is inherently addressed through a focus on supporting families and the like, but I feel that unless you single it out as a serious existing problem that needs to be specifically acknowledged, then it is unlikely to be given the attention it deserves. In my view, as much as anything this is about changing attitudes and culture about what is unacceptable and how we should deal with it, and that simply can’t happen without a very specific focus.

As I mentioned in my previous post, there’s always plenty of reason to be cynical about these sort of things. However, whilst the initial report is less substantive than I thought it might be, there are some worthwhile ideas in there. Hopefully some of the linkages made amongst people over the weekend will lead to more action out in the community too, regardless of whether the federal government actually takes the summit ideas seriously.

ELSEWHERE: The summit has generated a lot of comment on Australia’s blogs. A list of some of them follows – please note all the links below are also detailed in this seperate post, which is also being updated with extra ones as I find them):

  • Dave Bath at Balneus is perplexed at the outdated technology used to manage the proceedings and output of the summit, and gives a good explanation of how collobarative softward could have improved the productivity of the event. As he says, “it’s not the ideas stupid, it’s the self-organising of ideas and the linkages between them that creates value.”
  • Peter Martin from the Canberra Times writes about what the economy stream came up with.
  • An Onymous Lefty suggests its all just ‘vague uncontroversial generalisations’; 
  • Sinclair Davidson at Catallaxy runs some right-wing attack caricatures, along with dismissing it as ‘bread and circuses’ and ‘social engineering”;
  • Slim from The Dogs Bollocks criticises the cynics and says the summit will prove to be productive;
  • Gam at Today’s Apathetic Youth is positive about the process and its potential;
  • Andrew Bolt has found a mountain of things to hate and he’s listing a lot of them;
  • HeathG at Catallaxy doesn’t think the results are good for “those of us who would prefer less government and more individual freedom”;
  • Piping Shrike’s take on the summit – written before the event, but a worthwhile perspective on the possible changes it might signal to the way politics is done at federal level;
  • Chris Berg gives a well argued outline of why he is unimpressed, labelling 2020 “a successful version of Brendan Nelson’s listening tour.”
  • The Editor at Grodscorp counts the number of Cate Blanchett mentions in the mainstream media.
  • Bridgit at Grodscorp details the unsatisfied experiences of the Herald Sun’s ‘delegate’, while giving her own view that “the 2020 Summit is to policy development what 20-20 cricket games are to test matches.”
  • Graham at Ambit Gambit is pleased about the potential of the “eDemocracy Big Idea”, although is fearful of the risk of bureaucratic capture.
  • John Quiggin, a summit particpant, gives a few quick thoughts. He emphasises the general benefit that comes from a new openness to ideas, and the fact that it is not just about new ideas but acting more effectively on what we already know.
  • Jim Belshaw shows some reasoned scepticism about the value of the processes used. He focuses on the governance group, and is unhappy with the focus on the Republic to the exclusion of more signficant constitutional and governance reform.
  • Peter Timmins also focuses on goverance, with a more positive tone.
  • John Griffiths at The Concatenate is not impressed.
  • Derek Barry at Woolly Days gives a detailed rundown of all the closing summarising speeches.
  • Gatewatching is fairly scathing about the shallowness of much of the media coverage.
  • Lauredhel gives a few quick observations, including the apparent absence of many people with disabilities.
  • Tim Dunlop at Blogocracy mentions some of the mainstream media coverage and was not impressed with the ABC coverage over the weekend itself.
  • Tigtog has a short summary and some links.
  • Kevin Rennie supports the push towards improving federalism by reducing duplication.
  • Graeme Dobell from the Lowy Institute looks at the security/foreign policy stream.
  • Joshua Gans, another participant in the Productivity stream, writes at his blog about the processes followed, which seem (to me) to be less than ideal in the way the content of the final (interim) report was pulled together. He gives a positive assessment of the event and the benefits of making new connections.
  • Andrew Leigh from ANU – another particpant in the productivity stream, found the summit be a worthwhlie exercise, notes the benefits of building networks, and gives a brief insight into vibe of the ‘early childhood and schooling’ sub-stream.
  • Robert Merkel at LP is also disappointed with the outcomes from the Sustainability section (and links to an interesting and very dispirited comment by Prof Hugh Possingham, a participant in that stream, which might explain why the results of that section didn’t impress me much either: “as for tying the writers/reporters down to specific quanitifiable objectives, and actions to address those objectives – impossbile – they didn’t want a bar of it. I spat the dummy near the end and even that didn’t work.”)
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  2. Have all the fishing lines from all the multi-media players who have risen to a mentioned somebody status fully satisfied that the derived before during and after level of their somebodinesship really represents the positive and negative domains ,in reflection,on the Summit!?That is,if you are convinced something good will come out of the meeting,it is because some original being in persuasion or re-engineered validity transpired as acceptable inspiration,rather than serendipity insipidity!?Being a problem-solver right outside the mainstream at times,I say humph to those,whose fishing lines are so well entangled now,that the more you pull for national reasons,the more the ideas will escape your hooks and have their presence…in defiance of your presence!?

  3. Thanks a million for that summary, which saves the rest of us a lot of work. Personally, I am a bit bemused by the negativity – what did people realistically think could be achieved? and do they really think it wasn’t worthwhile in itself?

    A lot of almost hidden anti-intellectualism going on.

  4. The disappointment of Professor Hugh Possingham comes as no surprise.

    When some people have an agenda other than that stated, of course they wouldn’t be interested in his ideas on sustainability or drought-proofing anything.

    It sounded as if they decided to relegate all of his ideas (and him) to a “Working Party” or 3 – maybe 4. This is where you keep having meetings, with nothing being achieved. It’s just a pretence to shut people up.

    The reason they’re only interested in discussing climate change is to manipulate people using fear and guilt, so someone(s) can rob our country of its primary, secondary and tertiary industries, for their own gain.

    I posted 2 sentences in answer to Professor Possingham’s distress. The first was a repetition of one of his own sentences, so he would know exactly what I was referring to.

    My comment got axed in a flash – more information control!

  5. david tiley:

    I really liked your reference to “almost hidden anti-intellectualism”.

    Think about it.

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