Friday, April 04, 2008

2020 Questions

The summit "starter questions" are here, at the end of each of the ten pdfs or powerpoints.

Below, myself and Canberra Times colleagues Danielle Cronin, Andrew Fraser, Emma Macdonald, David McLennan and Ross Peake summarise the background papers prepared for each of the ten working groups at the

Who will the next generation of Australian farmers be? What are the responsibilities of individuals and the state in managing behaviour-related illnesses? Can public education only be delivered through public schools?

Those are among the list of about 1,000 questions to be dealt with at next fortnight’s 2020 summit.

Released with the ten background papers that will guide the ten working groups, the papers draw on common themes, among them that Australia is aging - by 2030 one in four of us will be aged 65 and over - and that our climate is set to dramatically change.

The papers also deal with Australia’s future in the world, the place of Indigenous Australians in the year 2020, and the role of our parliament, government and the courts.

Unveiling the papers yesterday the head of the steering committee Professor Glyn Davis said they aimed to tell an evidence-based story about how Australia was faring.

“They are not intended to be definitive or comprehensive, but were put together to stimulate discussion. They do not represent government policy,” he said.

“We hope they will trigger a conversation”.

Some of the papers are notable for what they omit. The discussion paper on Australia’s economy includes no mention of taxation. And Japan, the world’s third biggest economy and Australia’s biggest customer, has been left off of the graph showing the evolution of the global economic landscape. The US, China and the UK are on it, just as they are on the Prime Minister’s present overseas tour...

The Economy

Australia’s productivity growth and public investment in infrastructure have been nose-diving while the demands placed on our infrastructure by export growth and economic growth have been accelerating.

The economy working group to be chaired by the former head of Westpac David Morgan will be told that our ports are stretched to maximum capacity, our road freight traffic is growing dramatically, the costs of road congestion are climbing and that we are in urgent need of new electricity generation capacity.

Two ideas to work our infrastructure harder are road congestion and related charges and water and energy priced to reflect their full economic costs.


Australia spends the least on early childhood education of any OECD country. While our students perform well on international benchmarks, there is a large variation in their performance depending on their socio-economic status.

The education and productivity working group chaired by the former Coalition frontbencher Warwick Smith will be told that Australia’s teachers have low status and low incomes, and that as a result we are facing a looming teacher shortage.

Our TAFE enrolments are in long-term decline declining leaving many Australians without any sort of post-school qualification.

Australia’s private expenditure on research and development is amongst the lowest in the OECD.

While there is a “striking consensus” about the importance of skills and contributing to the workforce, Australia needs to translate that consensus into a real demand for education services that will respond to a changing world.


Australia is more vulnerable to climate change than most other OECD nations and receives less rainfall than most other developed nations, with our rainfall levels projected to fall further. We are one of the most urbanised countries in the world and our cities are growing quickly.

The population, sustainability and climate change working group chaired by Roger Beale of the Allen Consulting Group will be told that one future challenge will be to accommodate our preference for larger living spaces, while providing commutable, liveable cities with appropriate infrastructure.

Another will be to continue to provide water to our cities. Projections suggest that the demand for water in most urban areas - except Canberra – is on track to exceed the sustainable supply by 2025.

Australia is the 3rd highest per capita emitter of carbon dioxide in the OECD and our emissions are forecast to continue to rise even with the already announced measures other than emissions trading.

Our creativity, strong science base, agile economy and renewable resources, including sunshine, “hot rocks”, wind and bio-resources, provide enormous capacity for a shift towards a lower greenhouse footprint.

Clean coal technology could have a profound impact on our emissions and economy. Further development of carbon, capture and storage technology might enable us to reduce our carbon footprint and to maintain our significant coal exports in a carbon constrained world.

Much of the world is re-thinking the acceptability of nuclear power in the light of climate change. Australia has a large share of the world's uranium and a role to play within appropriate safeguards.

Strengthening Communities

While Australia is wealthy, some Australians live in extreme disadvantage. Many people with disabilities and long term health conditions struggle to find employment despite a booming economy.

The communities and families working group, to be chaired by the Australian head of World Vision Tim Costello will be told that there are specific locations in Australia in which poverty, illness, disability, crime and unemployment are concentrated.

These are the places with the worst educational results and the ones where the most children live in families with no working adults.

Many working households have low incomes, and there is an older group of Australians who lack sufficient savings to comfortably retire.

Problem gambling is an added pressure for some Australians and despite declines in the use of some drugs, substance abuse and binge drinking remain significant problems with a range of costs borne by the entire the community.

Australia has a relatively high crime rate, and people feel less safe than in many other countries.


Australians enjoy one of the longest life expectancies in the world. However we live with a significant burden of ill-health and our ageing population will significantly increase the future demand for health care.

These days communicable diseases have given way to lifestyle-related chronic illness, many of them associated with growing rates of obesity.

The health working group, to be chaired by the director of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research Professor Michael Good will focus on whether governments have struck the right balance between spending on treating disease and preventing illnesses.

It will be told that current health funding remains overwhelmingly focused on treatment and that health outcomes are significantly worse for low socio-economic groups and rural and indigenous communities. Lifestyle risk factors are more prevalent in these disadvantaged sectors and the often lack good access to health services.

Australia spends an average amount on health compared to other OECD countries and has the opportunity to improve productivity through new systems and approaches to care.


The government has apologise to the stolen generations and promised to close the 17-year gap in life expectancy within a generation.

The indigenous working group chaired by Dr Jackie Huggins of the University of Queensland will be asked to consider the next steps needed and to overcome a housing shortfall identified as a `”major starting point”.

Australia’s indigenous population is largely urbanised, and is significantly younger than the rest of the population. Indicators of disadvantage are severe across all Indigenous populations and outcomes have not improved significantly in recent decades.
Future efforts must be effective and have real accountability. The paper finds that while mainstream attitudes towards indigenous disadvantage are generally constructive, the public is not well informed and needs a deeper understanding.

Urgency is required if we are to preserve Australia's indigenous languages and traditions. We could learn from effective initiatives overseas

Regional Australia

The agricultural sector accounts for 3 per cent of Australia's gross domestic product and 20 per cent of merchandise exports, but generational change makes it unclear how and whether the next generation will remain on the land.

The working group chaired by the former National party leader Tim Fischer will be told that the average farmer is already older than 50, with the largest proportion of them in the over-65 age group. There are also fewer of them, with their farms getting bigger.

The background paper says that declining rainfall may have consequences for the way we farm in some marginal areas and suggests re-examining the definition of drought.

However it says if managed well climate change could provide opportunities for regional Australia through things such as carbon credit schemes, water trading, wind farms, and possible increased reliance on biofuels.

Creative Australia

More than half of Australia thinks that the arts are “elitist and pretentious”. One third thinks they are irrelevant to their lives.

The ABC stands out as being appreciated - 85 per cent of Australians believe that it provides a valuable service – but it and the SBS are under-funded compared to counterparts overseas.

Cate Blanchett’s Creative Australia working group will be told that Australia trails Europe in the public funding of arts and culture, but exceeds the US where private philanthropy plays a greater role.

It will be asked whether private philanthropy could play a greater role in Australia and whether Australia’ art collections funding should remain fragmented between the states or managed from a national perspective.


Australia is a world leader in the turn out of registered voters at elections, but we may not be getting a good deal from our elected representatives.

The working group chaired by the head of News Limited John Hartigan will be asked whether ordinary people's views are heard in the Cabinet room, whether governments are too sensitive to opinion polls and whether they get their information from the right places.

The background paper raises the need for a bill of rights and also talks about the way in which interactive technology can change the nature of political engagement.

The role of lobbyists, think tanks and the media are open for discussion as well as the role and limits of freedom of information laws.

The paper asks whether the right structures are in place to ensure that decisions are made in the interest of the nation, rather than just the interests of political victory.

It asks whether we need an Australian head of state, whether the structure of federalism is the right one, and whether the parliament needs fixed terms.

It says that increasing public expectations of government will require an increasingly skilled and flexible public service.


Significant shifts in the balance of global power are taking place, with the economies of China and India developing strongly and exercising a greater gravitational pull.

The working group chaired by Professor Michael Wesley of Griffith University will be told that in order to remain effectively engaged internationally, Australia needs to build and maintain high levels of “international literacy”.

Throughout the world the proportion of people speaking English as a first language will decline. By 2050 around two-thirds of the world's population will not speak English as their first language.

Australia should be able to meet the challenge using its unique geographic location, its large educated and multicultural population, its half a million foreign students and the one million Australians who live abroad.

Australia has a long history as a significant development partner in our region, something that will become more important as some of our neighbors deal with the problems of chronic poverty, high birth-rates and stagnating economies.

Australia has benefited greatly from globalisation and it has a very strong interest in rules-based, multilateral international agreements.