I’ve been neglecting my blog recently as I’ve been in Australia on personal business. I’d hoped to attend the first Canberra Barcamp but wasn’t able to go at the last minute. As a result, I spent much of the weekend watching the coverage of the Australia 2020 summit.
The similarities to a barcamp, even with 1,000 people in attendance, were pretty significant. Participants were equipped with white boards, sticky notes and some even sat on the floor in the more popular sessions, like Australia’s Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, in the session on the Australian economy.
Kevin Rudd said the purpose of the summit was:
‘…to do something new. Today we are throwing open the windows of our democracy, to let a little bit of fresh air in. Rather than pretending that we, the politicians of Australia have all the answers, and the truth is, we don’t, we are turning now to you, the people of Australia.’
The event started on Saturday and was broken into 10 separate sessions on the Australian economy, sustainability and climate change, rural change, health, communities and family, indigenous Australia, creative Australia, governance, productivity and Australia’s future in the world. Each working group was asked, by the Prime Minister, to deliver the following:
‘…First, to nominate at least one ‘big idea’ in their area for the future. Second … submit at least three, and I am sure there will be more, concrete policy ideas, at least one of which is to involve no cost or negligible cost… Third … identify at least three specific goals for which we should aim by 2020.’
As with most large gatherings there remains a degree of scepticism that the goals will be achieved. But, there is also a degree of hope. In 48 hours 1,000 Australians came together to suggest Australia should, amongst other things, open up schools 24/7 for ‘after school care; develop a bionic eye; lead the world in creating a green and sustainable economy (less than 12 months ago Australia hadn’t signed the Kyoto agreement); encourage retirees to act as workplace mentors; provide rural-city student exchanges; provide universal first aid training and digitally archive Australia’s art collections. Oh, and that republic thing seems to be on the agenda again.
I have to say that I was one of the sceptics when the Australia 2020 summit was announced. Though the public was asked, and did, contribute to the agenda, I thought the overarching event with 1,000 of Australia’s ‘best and brightest’ might tend to be elitist. I still have some reservations, but I can’t help feel a resonance with many of the ideas and suggestions. I think there were a few things that the summit organisers could have done to increase participation even further, but on balance it was well organised and aggressively covered by the print and broadcast media. Where the organisers may not have thought of ways to keep the debate alive, bloggers are rising to the challenge.
It will be interesting to see how the Australian government goes about implementing some of the ideas; there are some big, although not impossible, challenges (Kev, if you’re reading – try this: http://www.sicamp.org/). The Australian Prime Minister has committed to a public response by the end of the year, although I have a feeling some of the suggestions will be implemented far quicker (he announced a couple as policy objectives in the last election).
For me one of the most interesting things has been the reaction of friends, family and colleagues who have all said they feel there is a better chance of being ‘part’ of the way forward, one in which people, not just politicians, ‘own’ Australian policy. It might be a tall order for the Australian Government to make good on some of the ideas that have been suggested – but they’re willing to get stuck in and give it a shot. As Kevin Rudd said:
“We can either take command of the future, or we can sit back and allow the future to take command of us.”
So, anyone up for UK 2020?