Monday, April 14, 2008

The 2020 Youth Summit - what a feeling!

“Awesome, amazing, inspiring, empowering”.

"We have a strong and committed voice, and Australia’s new leadership has an unprecedented appetite to listen.”

Cutting the voting age to 16, paying teachers based on their performance, getting public transport to within two kilometres of every urban Australian, and a scheme that would slash the price of life-saving drugs are among the top recommendations of the weekend’s 2020 Youth Summit - an event described by those who took part as “awesome”, “amazing”, “inspiring” and “empowering”.

At times spontaneously breaking into song during breaks, the 100 delegates selected to Parliament House from all corners of the nation were behaving like best friends as the two-day curtain-raiser to next weekend’s 2020 summit came to a close.

“I am impressed by the attitude of everyone here,” said one. “Everyone’s a mate, there’s no such thing as enemies.”

“We are going to keep meeting well beyond the summit and make sure these things are done,” said another.

“The thing that I am going to take away isn’t that young people are the leaders of the future, because it’s obvious that young people are leading their communities now,” said another. “We needn’t wait for a time to lead. That time is now"...

As 24-year old Hugh Evans, a former young Australian of the year and the founder of Australia’s first entirely youth-run international aid and development organisation read out the communiqué in the Parliament House theatrette on Sunday afternoon, the Prime Minister slipped into a seat near the back.

He was given a standing ovation – the rock star treatment without the mobbing.

Hugh Evans told the crowd that because of Kevin Rudd, or “Lù Kèwén” as he said the Prime Minister was known in China, young Australians were in a powerful, possibly unique situation.

“We have a strong and committed voice, and Australia’s new leadership has an unprecedented appetite to listen to that voice,” he said.

As he handed Kevin Rudd the 24-page communiqué the Prime Minister held it aloft and declared that he had “only been back in the country for four hours and already I’ve got some homework.”

Turning to address the delegates and attempting to quieten thunderous applause the Prime Minister said, “Hi guys. How is everybody? It’s good to see you.”

“You know, we in this government have an old fashioned view which is that we don’t have a monopoly on wisdom,” he said.

“You ideas will go to next weekend’s summit along with eleven of you. And for the ideas that emerge by consensus from the summit, we the government undertake to respond to every one by the year’s end.”

“We will tell you what we can embrace, what we cannot embrace, and the reasons for each.”

“The good thing about the kind of debate you have been having this weekend is that you don’t need right and wrong answers.”

“That’s an approach that strangles discussion.”

“We need to let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend,” he said echoing the words of the late Chinese dictator Chairman Mao Zedong.

Mr Rudd said he had spoken to expatriate Australians in London, New York, Washington and Beijing on his 18-day overseas tour and had been struck by their commitment to helping to build a new and better Australia.

“We need a vision for this country to be the best educated, best skilled, best trained workforce in the world, not 14th or 15th or 9th or 10th, but the absolute best,” he said to further applause.

“We shouldn’t settle for anything less.”

The one-hundred delegates voted to select 10 of their number to represent them at the main 2020 summit this coming weekend in Parliament House. Because of a tied vote, 11 were selected, ranging in age from 19 to 24.

Key recommendations:

. National paid parental leave

. Youth entrepreneurship hubs to nurture the creation of the "next “googles”

. Automatic enrollment to vote, and a voting age of 16

. Performance and development pay for teachers

. A deployable reserve public service that would intervene at the request of regional governments or in the event of a collapsed state

. A National Migrant and Refugees Settlement Strategy

. A national indigenous home ownership strategy that would guarantee all indigenous Australians the opportunity to own their own homes by 2020

. Rewarding the developers of pharmaceuticals through payments based on their contribution to improving world health, as an alternative to patents

. A goal of having every urban Australian living within two kilometres of a train station, light rail corridor or high-frequency bus route by 2020


Sid Chakrabarti, a 24-year old ANU student from O’Connor has emerged as the only ACT resident who will take the ideas of Australia’s youth to next weekend’s 2020 summit.

Originally from Perth, the economics and law graduate is completing a masters degree in Middle Eastern Studies investigating how and whether to negotiate with Islamist organisations such as Hamas.

When he is not doing that he is coordinating Youth Speak, a nationwide United Nations Youth Association survey aimed at gathering ideas for the future from 20,000 young Australians in schools, homes and detention centres.

One of 100 delegates from every corner of the nation who took part in the weekend 2020 Youth Summit, he is surprised that he was elected to be one of the 11 to carry those ideas into the main summit.

“No-one even knew what the voting system would be, there wasn’t time to campaign,” he told the Canberra Times after his victory.

“We have come up with so many good ideas that, for the benefit of all the people who chose me, I am not going to be intimidated at the big summit next weekend.”

“I’ll have a loud enough voice to stand up there and say – this is what we think. And as long as I can support it with legitimate arguments there is no reason I we should not be heard”.

“And the fact is that by 2020 the people my age are going to be the inheriting the decisions that flow from the Summit.”

Mr Chakrabarti was in the group that discussed Australia’s economy and infrastructure at the weekend youth summit, along with two other Canberra residents Omar Hashmi and Zhi Soon.

One of its key recommendations involves the creation of a series of “hubs” in which would-be young entrepreneurs could get legal, accounting and logistical assistance.

“I have been talking about it for weeks. There are so many passionate young people; they have an idea of doing something, but find they can’t.”

“If we really want things like Googles or Facebooks to start in Australia, if we want that kind of innovation, we need a place for young entrepreneurs to go to get their ideas started, a place with physical support – computers and phones, but also support people to help foster an entrepreneurial culture.”

Sid Chakrabarti wants to get involved in developing such centres himself, as soon as he has finished his Masters. He accepts that that work may take him away from Canberra for a while.

“If that takes me to Sydney or Melbourne then I’ll go there to get that done.”

“But in the longer term I really want to go to the Middle East and do international development and diplomacy work, and that may mean Canberra, working in somewhere like the Department of Foreign Affairs.”

Would that see him following in Kevin Rudd’s footsteps – a stint at the ANU followed by a career in Foreign Affairs? After all, he has just won an election.

“Well, I am learning Arabic as opposed to learning Chinese, but there is a link,” he replied.

“I want to help develop the potential of the Middle East. It is such a complicated area and it is taking away so much of the world’s potential. That’s my long term plan.”

Next weekend at the big summit the 24-year old will also be pushing the case for performance pay for teachers. “We want the best teachers to teach. We don’t want them to become managers.

"We should pay them more, but also pay the bottom 80 per cent according to their qualifications, encouraging them to upgrade."

"The top 20 per cent we should reward for performance. We need to lift literacy rates. It has a massive impact on an economy."