My 2020 weekend

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been given a standing ovation by the 1002 delegates to the Australia 2020 Summit in Parliament House.

The Age, 20 April 2008.

Make that 1001 delegates, at most. While I was in the room, needless to say I was not among those giving the PM a standing ovation. In the latest issue of Policy, I have reprinted an article by Owen Harries on intellectuals, in which he – following George Orwell – notes the propensity to power-worship among intellectuals. This was on embarrassing display yesterday afternoon. For nearly twelve years, this psychological need has gone unmet as the dreaded Howard occupied the Prime Ministerial suite. And now Australia’s progressive intelligentsia has someone as PM who, while carefully not signing up to immediate implementation of their ideas, takes them seriously and flatters their egos.

I was in the productivity stream. At that 100 person level – as opposed to the collective behaviour in the 1,000 person plenary sessions – there wasn’t a smothering consensus. But nor was there much debate. It was more a case of people trying to put their pet topics into the stream statement that was to be included in the summit initial report. By Sunday morning I was bored and disengaged.

What of the actual ideas? From my stream, the one that has received most attention was to let people reduce their HECS-HELP debt by doing community service. That one mysteriously appeared in our stream summary document on Sunday morning, despite never having been mentioned in the group the day before. Nobody I spoke to from other sub-streams within the major productivity stream had heard it before either (I was in the post-secondary sub-stream). Perhaps it came from community submissions.

In any case, as I said last year, it is a daft idea. If we are going to pay people to do community work, why restrict the pool of applicants to people with HECS-HELP debts? And in a productivity stream, surely we should be concerned with matching jobs and persons as well as possible? OK, my hand should have joined all the others that were up yesterday as other stream members tried to make their points. But I will try to redeem myself by working to kill this idea.

A HECS-HELP funded community corp is silly and wasteful, but not nearly as bad an idea as a national curriculum. But there is a political momentum behind that one, and I expect resistance in this kind of forum would have been futile.

From Rudd’s perspective, 2020 did not become the farce it easily could have, he has the progressive intelligentsia happy, and the media coverage is generally positive. But the process was massively inferior to the policy-setting systems we already have. There seemed to be an assumption in Parliament House over the weekend that government consultation was somehow unusual, when in fact it is routine and was throughout the Howard years. The issues to be dealt are normally far better defined, the evidence far more carefully collected and considered, and conflicting views more likely to be heard and discussed.

The best thing to do, from the government’s perspective, is to declare 2020 a great success and never do it again.

44 thoughts on “My 2020 weekend

  1. Jon Faine was suggesting this morning that the summit was a way for people to circumvent PR managers and publicists and get different community voices heard again, and that we could be seeing a lot more of the same in the years to come. Certainly there have been other summit-inspired events, like the Youth Summit and some ABC-chaired events. Could be, if Rudd judges this a success by his narrowly-defined political terms, he could decide to have many more.

    Though you’re probably right: if there are too many more summits of this type, people will just become aware of how preposterous it all is, and start laughing at Rudd.

    But then, that’s probably going to happen anyway!


  2. I agree with the first point although I think its even worse than the older example since it is weird insight into the way people think these days — its seems like a campaign for non-altruistic altruism.


  3. no matter whether you applauded or not andrew – you were still there. You knew the thing would be a farce, especially when the big idea – huge statist childcare commitment – was announced before the summit started. You, and others such as Greg Lindsay, had the opportunity to decline attendance, and insist on the point that the state shouldn’t be putting itself in a position to lead the ‘national conversation(s)’. But you couldn’t resist being where the action was. More fool you. You gave it your consent.


  4. Simon – Outside the sessions, I had some useful conversations. And in the session, I helped Bruce Chapman get up his ideas for extending income-contingent loans and I think I helped kill off central planning ideas (coming from business representatives rather than the left).

    The reality is that the government of the day does dominate public debate, whether they hold summits or not. Whether or not that is a good thing, that’s how the game is played in Australia. I can’t see that there is much value in a think-tank not participating just because it know that it cannot win all debates.


  5. Andrew, I agree it is a tough call not to participate, but doesn’t that put the onus on you and Greg L. now to do all you can to declare the summit a bad idea that has given a leg-up to a whole host of nanny state proposals? Don’t you feel a little queasy that CIS is being painted in the media as evidence that this was an ‘inclusive’ affair – esp. given the degree to which the media were ’embedded’/copted into making it a success?


  6. I don’t think that going to the summit represented consent to the farce, it was just a chance to have a good close look from the inside, catch up with some people, maybe make a good point or two in case anyone was listening, and get a free lunch.

    Interesting the way the Comedy Festival unerringly identified issues which are (a) divisive, (b) at best making zero difference to anyone, like the Republic, but mostly guarranteed to make things worse, (c) incredibly costly and (d) giving coercive utopians more power over everyone else (and career opportunities).


  7. PS A comment on some of the many suggestions for setting up coordinating bodies between the states, public/private sector etc and nationwide initiatives. These ideas would appear to be at worst neutral (what harm could be done?) and at best jolly good proposals. The result in practice rarely meets expectations and the usual thing that happens is that the coordinating body (committee or whatever) that is supposed to lift the efficiency of the agencies that it is coordinating actually becomes another player in the complicated game of pushing and shoving responsibilites, cost, blame etc onto other people. Looking to the coordinating body prevents the players from doing the more effective thing which is to coordinate on their own initiative with the nearest appropriate player and fix up the immediate problems that are in front of them at their boundary, junction or whatever. To be concrete, instead of pushing for a nationwide school curriculum (driven from Canberra), let the states make sensible adjustments on their own initiative that are small but helpful and cumulative.


  8. I think Rafe’s on to something here – the number of proposals for setting up more bureaucracies is quite concerning.

    There seemed to be far too much emphasis proposing bureaucratic machinery to do things, and not nearly enough attention given to what might actually be a good idea to do.


  9. “2020 did not become the farce it easily could have, he has the progressive intelligentsia happy, and the media coverage is generally positive.”

    The political point of the summit was for Rudd, hitherto derided as “Me too”, to differentiate himself from his predecessor in the way he goes about things. From this perspective, the summit was an outstanding success. (Howard would never have done it, not even if he could stacked it with a 1000 Andrew Bolts.)

    “But the process was massively inferior to the policy-setting systems we already have.”

    But it was intended as a one-off addition, not a replacement.

    “The best thing to do, from the government’s perspective, is to declare 2020 a great success and never do it again.”

    The summit served its purpose. Rudd has marked his own territory as an inclusive, listen to all views Prime Minister, contra Howard (even if he ends up acting on a tiny sub set of them); he has successfully co-opted the Big End of Town; he has got his own constituency on board; he got the hapless Brendan Nelson to play along, he even managed to co-opt the Centre for Independent Studies (it must have been so flattering to have been invited.) He might have even got a useful policy suggestion. Not bad for a weekend’s work, not bad at all.

    The only people unhappy were the right wing commentariat, or at least those among them who didn’t get an invite.

    There’s no need for it happen again, and it won’t.


  10. Spiros, it’s not just right-wing bloggers who have condemned or criticised the summit. The views of the LPers on the summit have been critical from the get-go; and Jeremy Sear (otherwise known as has just put up a short critical post of the summit as well. At Missing Link for today –

    – Ken surveys a number of the blog posts about 2020, and is of the opinion that Jeremy… ‘sum(s) up the mood of the meeting.’


  11. andrew – it’s not a question of what debates you win or not, it’s whether you get played for a sucker. Even if you didn’t disagree with the highly statist form of the thing, surely it became obvious that the fix was in as the event got closer?
    Sorry, but history now records you as part of the whole shebang – and given its creepy consensus process, there’s no space to gainsay that. That’s why, surely, liberals should boycott these corporatist style things – because unlike parliamentary systems, they give no space to record a vote of dissent. Yet they become a base to claim legitimacy for a govt programme


  12. Andrew

    Given you were in the productivity stream, I’d be interested in any comments you have on the idea contained in the productivity group’s section in the final (interim) report, proposing “the free movement of labour from the Asia-Pacific region into Australia, underpinned by Australian workplace standards.”

    There isn’t any more detail than this in the report, and the bits of media I’ve seen on it seem to deal with it as just the long-standing (and long blocked) proposal to allow seasonal works in from the pacific islands – although that may have come out of the Regional Security group.

    Free movement of labour from the Asia-Pacific sounds lot bigger than just seasonal workers from selected Pacific Islands plus East Timor – which is why I was surprised to see it expressed in the way that it is.

    Do you know any more or the details behind this idea? Is it as broad as could be inferred from the soundbite summary in the Productivity group’s report, or is it just a grand way of giving more support to the seasonal work idea – which looks like it will finally get a trial go ahead later this year.


    And for what it’s worth, the notion that just by showing up to the summit you are complicit in all its outcomes is just silly. People can either engage with the world or they can sit in their clique and say “bah humbug” to each other – which is both ineffective (unless your clique happens to end up in power) and ignores the many opportunities that can come from the cross-fertilisation of ideas.


  13. John, Simon – As soon as two former Coalition ministers signed up as co-chairs, it was no longer possible to paint this as just a leftie love-in, even if it was always going to be mainly that (by sheer force of numbers among those likely to apply). Though the CIS presence has been noted a few times in the media, a boycott would not have altered general perceptions, and any criticisms we made would just have been dismissed as sour grapes from those who were not selected.

    Andrew – This issue was discussed only briefly. I think the intention was for it to apply to the usual countries that Australia is going to have to bail out anyway. But given the brevity of discussion of any of the ideas, it is hard to know for sure whether the terminology was deliberately vague.


  14. I saw Hugh Jackman going through security at Sydney Airport on Friday night and I must say, those mutton chops are far more impressive in the flesh than on TV. A bit of inspiration for this Movember.


  15. Andrew Norton’s observation on “the propensity to power-worship among intellectuals” is spot on and can even be supplemeted with a marxian take.

    Make no mistake. Luvvies are involved in class warfare just as much as the CFMEU.

    The Luvvies are the result of a schism within the bourgeoise circa 1970. While one section remained committed to creating wealth through industry, the other part splintered off to make money by siphoning off tax dollars as salaries, grants, etc. in the public sphere – whether parliament, GayBC, bureacracy, HREOC, university Cultural Studies departments, Wymyn’s groups, Film Finance Corporation, implementing legislation framed by fellow Luvvies in multiculti and all its class-warfare offshoots, and so on and so forth..

    If the mercantile bourgeoise acts to extract more and more from the proletariat via increasing surplus value, the Luvvies screw the proletariat at the other end through taxation, legalised derision, and brainwashing in the schools, universities, and HR departments..


  16. Spiros/AN

    ““2020 did not become the farce it easily could have, he has the progressive intelligentsia happy, and the media coverage is generally positive.”

    This is precisely the same kind of crypto-Stalinism that Keating’s Luvvies and the MSM conspired in in the late 1980s to mid 1990s. In those days, the MSM was wall-to-wall craven Luvvies all fawning over Keating and sneering at the “rednecks.” It did not end prettily then, and it will not end prettily this time.


  17. “it will not end prettily this time”.

    Gosh, JG, that sounds ominous ..yawn …mega yawn …. Lindsay Fox is a Luvvie? Bob Katter? Andrew Norton?

    Incidentally, wasn’t it you in various blog fora who said, over and over again, that the Luvvies must be very unhappy because Rudd, unlike Keating, wasn’t one of them?

    And yet, and yet, here we are not 6 months into new government’s term, and we see that Keating has been resurrected! Buggar me, you must be disappointed. There’s just no killing that man’s malign influence.

    How will it end? Nobody knows. But it’s a fair bet that it won’t end anytime soon. Rudd hasn’t a put a foot wrong. Just as he completely outwitted John Howard last year, this year he’s doing the same to Brendan Nelson. You might have noticed, Nelson was a participant on the weekend. Completely ineffective, of course (compare Rudd’s performance at APEC) but he was there, gushing over Cate Blanchett’s baby, getting Hugh Jackman to autograph an X Men DVD and slobbering over Claudia Karvan.


  18. Also I note on my rounds that the entire Luvviesphere has been fulminating against Rudd with the exceptions of signing Kyoto and the Apology.


  19. Spiros:

    Could you expand on this a little:

    The only people unhappy were the right wing commentariat, or at least those among them who didn’t get an invite.

    after reading this.

    One idea aired was to strip every Australian of their citizenship and only re-issue it to those people who could prove they were environment-climate friendl


  20. Spiros

    You would also do well to know I could not give a rat’s about Nelson. I voted Labor at the last election.


  21. JC, it’s an excellent idea. I’ll pass the test and you’ll fail. That means I’ll get to vote and you won’t. If you don’t watch yourself, you might get sent to a detention centre or deported.

    JG, it was Rudd’s summit. If the Luvvies got many moments to express themselves, it was because he wanted it that way.


  22. i care very deeply about the environment,spiros. i have our trees pruned every autumn

    i’m sure if i grovelled hard enough they would let me in.


  23. “Rudd hasn’t a put a foot wrong”

    That might be true Spiros, but crunch time will come when he actually has to do (or at least put his name to) some thing real, unlike this summit. The budget will be a good first test. A second will be trying to implement all the ideas his own ministers thought of at this summit (including his own). It isn’t going to look pretty next election if almost all of the ideas never get off the ground. It will look like a 2020 nothing fest to the media, not what it looks like now.


  24. “i’m sure if i grovelled hard enough they would let me in.”

    If I were you, JC, I wouldn’t bet on it.

    Conrad, I agree.

    JG, I consider myself more Spartacist than Maoist.


  25. I presume the likes of Ivan Milat would get automatic citizenship under this preposterous idea? After all, he’s more tham made up for his carbon footprint by eliminating his victims’


  26. In Milat’s case, one could argue that the damage he caused to the Belonglo State Forest, where he murdered and buried his victims, was sufficiently carbon negative for him not to qualify.


  27. “It was more a case of people trying to put their pet topics into the stream statement that was to be included in the summit initial report.”

    That too was my experience at the 2020 Youth Summit. I found the informal conversations to be more enjoyable and stimulating, as people were no longer concerned with putting their pet idea into the final report, but rather just saying what they really thought.


  28. “You would also do well to know I could not give a rat’s about Nelson.”

    Well JG, you’re not Robinson Crusoe there, old son. The latest newspoll has Labor ahead 61:39. The summit should push it up to 65:35. I can’t wait for the Liberal boneheads to block things in the Senate. Rudd will call a double dissolution and exterminate them. Labor will be in power forever, if not longer. If you think the cultural studies crowd are prominent now, you haven’t seen anything.


  29. I have had experiences of processes in which the voices of others are given the ability to be heard, but what actually happens is that it is a stage managed means by which leaders, or better communicators or more apparently influential people promote their ideas and use the gatherings / meetings to demonstrate that the majority of people support their ideas / proposals, apparently. It tends to play on people wishing to agree with each other, rather than using an Open Agenda, with sufficient time, to have real debate, that seeks concrete outcomes.

    I view the Australia 2020 Summit in the same way, so far.

    Learning that an idea came into the report of the Productivity stream without it being raised, discussed or debated, indicates external control or influence over the outcomes without the 100 selected people being involved at all. I hope we hear from more participants, who are not simply Labor supporters, of their Summit experiences.

    It seems so far that the Summit was carefully structured to support Labor views, and to give the impression to the rest of us there is broad support for Labor policies, as if they’ve got it right.

    A a parent, and someone who believes in freedom and other democratic values, no national curriculum will be satisfactory. What is learnt in Schools freely chosen by families is best left to Schools and communities, but even more importantly between life experienced apolitical Staff / Teachers and Students and their parents. Independent, self-directed, self-assessed learning based on personal interests is best of all, for those who understand and choose it. Rather than having their lives messed up by the State, young people take responsibility for preparing for their lives as effective adults in and with support of their chosen learning community. Extrinsic curricula is not necessary in this approach to learning.


  30. Andrew in main article: “[namedropping] Owen Harries on intellectuals, [who, namedroppingly cites] George Orwell […] the propensity to power-worship among intellectuals. This was on embarrassing display yesterday afternoon. For nearly twelve years, this psychological need has gone unmet […]”

    You know, to be honest, I’d much rather have a Prime Minister who attempts to connect with the ‘intellectual elites’ than the ‘intellectual human waste products’ like Alan Jones.

    Like it or not, Rudd managed to do something Howard would never have imagined attempting: bringing in people with skills in their field, despite a wide range of political views, and have them discuss the future without injuring each other. Now that’s consensus politics.

    Makes a vast change from the last government, who will be most remembered for confrontation, dog whistles and wedge politics.


  31. andrew

    you say that not going to 2020 would have had you and others accused of sour grapes. Well, so what? It’s opportunities like that, when one is the uncomprehended minority, that is the best opportunity to get a point across. Yes, one will be misinterpreted – but you were, after all, quoting Orwell, who was pretty systematically misinterpreted for most of his life. The same reasons you give for going to the conference sound might similar to the reasons many gave for, eg, not being candid about Spain…’the right will use it’, ‘it’ll demoralise the left’ etc etc. To quote Orwell and then end up in the great Room of the People as dear emperor is applauded, and then criticise all those other intellectuals, suggests a lack of self-awareness, I would suggest.
    We don’t get many tests. You failed this one.


  32. Pete – Howard actually held a more focused version of 2020 in the Constitutional Convention, which the usual suspects attended, though they were actually elected – unlike the people (including me) who went to 2020.

    Simon – I hardly forfeited an opportunity to get my point across. I did so both at the summit and to journalists later, and should do so in more detail on the community corps in The Australian’s higher ed supplement tomorrow.


  33. I am usually off subject,cannot help it,really,John Greenfield presents himself here,and I dont know wether I am in any of his descriptors.Then there is Pete from Perth who engages the thought that those attended had some skill in their areas!? I just dont know, if I can assess that in anyway whatsoever,if the future,2020 implies you forget who you are,and your prospects and problems..and what you care about as an Australian!? I notice in myself,as a observer participator,by comment on blogs,my world and national view is being torn asunder regularly,and a small little child like feeling, grasps inside myself for some integrity.. in how I see things as they are ,have been or could unfold.Desiderata,however seems like a box over my head.And some young woman having a go at older men!?


  34. What planet is Pete from Perth living on? If only real expertise had been on display at the Comedy Festival the report that came out might have been worth reading. Practically every resolution is one or other of: a motherhood statement that nobody needs to be told: or a high sounding platitude that makes no realistic or programatic contact with an issue,:or a plea for more money for some interest group.

    And from the polls that I have seen the public has seen it that way as well despite the best efforts of the media.


  35. Just a couple of observations:
    1. Ideas are easy – implementation is hard. We all have lots of ideas. Most can be dismissed quickly as totally unworkable or foolish. The rest can really only be tested by trying to implement them. That’s hard enough in business – where i came from – but very hard in government where to implement well you need to persuade people to co-operate (unless the idea is something where you can come straight out and use the coercive powers of government).
    The scary thing about some of these is that Rudd will get himself on the hook before proper evaluation. I thought he was too smart for that, but I am not sure now.

    2. Can you imagine Howard receiving a standing ovation? He would be embarrassed as hell and I am sure would have stopped it.


  36. “And from the polls that I have seen the public has seen it that way as well despite the best efforts of the media.”

    What polls would they be Rafe? Web site polls, perhaps, where people with a bee in their bonnet and a lot of time on their hands, say, people like you, can vote as many times as they like?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s