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Australia 2020 Summit: Fiddling while Rome burns.

January 24th, 2009 · Greg Atkinson · 6 Comments

Does anyone remember Rudd’s great talk fest in April 2008 grandly called the Australia 2020 Summit? Did anyone get excited about the contents of the final report, complete with lovely graphics and pictures? Was there some careful analysis and discussion of the ideas raised during the Summit in the mainstream media?

Let’s face it, the Australia 2020 Summit was a waste of time and worse still, it took the focus away from more pressing issues.

So here we are in January 2009, the Australian economy is faltering, the world economic crisis is ongoing and yet our so called best and brightest minds who gathered in Canberra in April 2008 came up with basically nothing that will help us out of this mess.

In fact they never really saw any crisis coming at all. If you think I am being unfair I invite you to read (if you can stay awake) the Australia 2020 Summit – Final Report. If you can find something brilliant in the report then please feel free to share it with me.

My favorite section of the report is the “the future of the Australian economy”. Here the best and brightest decided we needed to be ready for the “continued projected expansion of China and India” (maybe we should have been working on a way to deal with a slowdown in those countries?) and “recognised that government plays a crucial role in the economy, and its positions on taxation, regulation and investment need to be carefully defined to meet economic goals.”

Wow..they are so bright! I would never have worked out that the government plays an important role in the economy and who would have guessed the government should have goals? Let’s get that group back to the think tank and see if they can find where Elvis is working these days, or work out a plan to find the Loch Ness monster!

But do not despair the economic team (co-chaired by Wayne “the genie slayer” Swan) came up with some ideas and “accepted that many of these ideas should be subject to rigorous cost-benefit evaluation or other review.”  Great idea..but this already happens you twits, it is part of getting projects going and is often called a feasibility study.

The biggest problem with many ideas or projects however occurs when politicians get involved and the cost-benefit evaluation process goes out the window, but that does not appear to have been identified as a issue. (after all it was a love-in summit..no negativity allowed)

If you have the patience to read the final report from the Summit you will see it is full of suggestions to review this and explore that etc, but it actually comes up with no concrete actions or anything new. The report discusses the importance of a broadband network for Australia for example, but the government has still made no progress on this issue.  Instead they seemed determined on slowing the Internet down via a filtering system that the Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) say is flawed….so actually we look like heading backwards on that one.

Kevin Rudd boasted in February 2008 when talking about the upcoming 2020 Summit that:  ” For too long Australian policymaking has been focused on short-term outcomes dictated by the electoral cycle.  If Australia is to effectively confront the challenges of the future, we need to develop an agreed national direction that looks at the next 10 years and beyond.”

Interesting comments from a man who was at the same time out trying to score political points by blaming the previous government for everything from high inflation to infrastructure bottle necks.  (of course he did not mention that many of the infrastructure bottlenecks were due to mismanagement by Labor State Governments)

But real issue I have with the 2020 Summit (apart from it being a waste of time and resources)  is that during the period when the economic storm clouds were gathering, the Federal Government was in fantasy land and engaged in a public relations stunt that I guarantee you, will not result in any significant long term benefits.

Of course the media loved the summit; it provided some good photo opportunities, Cate Blanchett was there and all gathered could flatter themselves by thinking they were the Australian Intelligentsia.  But there is nothing particularly brilliant in the final report and if that is all that our nations best and brightest can come up with, then we are in deep trouble. However the fact that many gathered at the Summit were politicians or ex politicians is a sure sign that all our best and brightest were not present…so there is hope for us yet.

The Summit for me highlighted a year where Rudd and Co. fiddled while Rome burnt. Instead of preparing themselves for the challenges ahead and getting up to speed on how to govern, they chose to try and impress people with their long range strategic views. It is a bit like the captain of a ship not worrying about a storm that is approaching, but rather planning with his senior crew the cocktail party to be held in the next port.

2008 was a year of wasted opportunities and in 2009 we will all pay dearly for follies like the Australia 2020 Summit.  I commented back in May 2008 in “The Fluffy Duck and Teflon Man Budget”  that what could expect from a Rudd Government would be “Grand sounding plans and stage managed media events to give the illusion of brilliant policy development” and that my friends is what we have,  interspersed with moments of panicked policy making.

Now in early 2009 I sense that the Government has finally realised how badly they have miscalculated. China is not going to save the day, the Summit was a waste of time and as the ex RBA governor (Bernie Fraser) commented recently; “The Government’s language has been all doom and gloom: they’re scaring the pants off people and we’re talking ourselves into this recession.”

One minute Rudd and Swan are telling people to spend, next they are telling everyone to prepare for the worst. Which is it…do we spend or construct a fallout shelter?

Of course do not expect the mainstream media to be critical of the Australia 2020 Summit,  because they want another chance to rub shoulders with Cate at the next one!


6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Irene Hamilton // Jan 26, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    Yes, what did happen following that talkfest? Surely there were some ideas that could of been implemented. Where are the actions? Rudd went from the Talkfest to throwing money at local councils. Does anyone have any idea what Australia should be doing? We are Rud-do-less at the helm which is such a shame after all those Howard old fogey years.

  • 2 Senator13 // Jan 26, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    Ah yes, the old 2020 Summit. The Rudd Government was elected on ‘new ideas’. So what does this fresh new Government with ‘new ideas’ do? They go and hold a summit for ideas! Now right away that sounds odd to me. The ideas that came out of the summit were not even new. The entire summit was orchestrated and choreographed right down to the stacking of the participants.

    What followed this talkfest was a rushed Emissions Trading Scheme, an $800 million blow out of the computers in schools programme and the debacle that was the bank deposits guarantee. Let us not forget the 168 reviews, committees and inquiries.

    This is not governing. This is, how Greg puts it, fiddling while Rome burns.

    We need a steady hand at the till.

    Maybe a nice idea would be to cut the business tax rate and actually try and help small business. Small business is the heart of our economy. They create jobs which are the very foundation of our economy. Maybe the Government should focus on the here and now in our own back yard first. Then Rudd can go jetting off and worrying about the year 2020.

  • 3 Greg Atkinson // Mar 24, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    I wonder how many of the “great” ideas from the Summit have actually progressed past the chat over cocktails stage? I think I could have achieved the same results via an esky full of beer and a decent BBQ at a fraction of the cost. Of course Cate would not have been there but I suspect we would have been able survive okay.

  • 4 Pete // Mar 25, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    I agree the summit was clearly pointless. I initially was very happy with the idea, until I realised that it wasn’t going to actually achieve anything. Sort-of like asking bank CEOs in 2005 how the economic outlook is for 2008.
    “Bullish!” (idiots)

    Screw Bernie Fraser and his ‘confidence’. Last thing we need is a Gov. who looks like it is in COMPLETE denial of the problems we face. The notion that they might pretend to be bullish to affect confidence is pathetic. Facing reality, I think the Gov is actually far more bullish than it could be.

    I really think Rudd is a PM for 2002. In 2002 he would have been good. He has all these ideas to make things better, all these little pet projects like Climate Change that he wants to implement. I think he truly wants to be remembered as a ‘great’ PM.
    Well you know what Kevin? Stiff sh#t! You’ve started as PM at the end of a very very wasteful resources boom, with a housing problem that neither you nor Howard addressed during the election time and have barely addressed since except for some pathetic FHOG patch-ups that are making the problem even worse. All your dreams of making changes in this world will have to freakin wait, as you won’t have any money to spend now that you’re already in deficit. Did you just say Quantitative Easing? Whats that?

    The problem is that we have Rudd, the bullet dodger. What we need is a PM who is a real leader. One who will take a hit, doesn’t care about being liked and puts his country at #1 and re-election at #10. Unfortunately, the entire public service and political system ensures that every single candidate that gets through to the top of Labor or the Libs is a born and bred vote fetcher. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be given the chance.

    Call me weird but I kinda miss Keating. He seems to have the right view on this mess. Plus he’s hilarious

  • 5 Greg Atkinson // Mar 26, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    Pete in some ways I miss Keating as well although he seems to be getting very grumpy of late . I think we should apply a gag order on ex P.M’s and wannabe P.M’s…they seem to become very spiteful after they leave office. So far Howard is keeping a pretty low profile and I hope he maintains his dignity and stays above the fray.

    You are spot on about the fact the political system tends to churn out vote fetchers. We also tend to end up with a lot of pretty unimpressive people in parliament….just check out the backgrounds of some of the MP and Senators and you can sort of see why they joined a political party.

    I wonder if anyone knows of one concrete action that came out of the Summit?

  • 6 Pete // Mar 26, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    Keating seemed to have a pretty good idea of what was going on in the GFC in an interview earlier this year:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AaiHknko6dM (there are 3 parts)

    If Howard knows what is good for him he’ll stay quiet…he’s not real popular right now. I cringed when he got that Freedom medal (or whatever it was) from GW Bush.

    I wonder if this is exactly how people have felt throughout history with poor leaders?

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