Monday, April 21, 2008

The cardboard box Summit.

That's what the lunches were presented in.

Much expense was spared.

Joshua Gans is back in Melbourne and offers his initial thoughts.

An extract:

"In the end, for me I will get just what I expected, a bunch of new connections and hopefully friends who share a common interest in wanting to make things better. I think the Government will get some more ideas, but importantly, will be held to account by those who spent considerable energy in trying to make things better. In the relative disorganisation of the Summit agenda and process, they have formed a coalition of the “best, brightest and now restless” who will not want to let things just be."

Below, Shane Wright of the West Australian offers a thoughtful critique:

Nine years ago, 55 per cent of the population voted against the idea of an Australian republic.

At the weekend, of 100 handpicked attendees to Kevin Rudd’s 2020 summit, just one voted against the proposition.

If that doesn’t highlight the difference between the 1000 or so “summiteers” and the rest of the population — and their views on the subject — then nothing does.

The concept of bringing together the nation’s “best and brightest” was the Prime Minister continuing the election campaign he started when made ALP leader back in December 2006 and which has yet to let up.

Everyone has been brought into the ALP tent, Mr Rudd has presented himself as an “ideas man” and now there’s plenty of concepts off and running. But just what are these ideas?

Many are reheated thoughts that were put into the freezer during the Howard years and have been slapped back into the oven because of the change in political temperature. Some would sit aside motherhood and apple pie. Nationwide harmonisation of regulations and standards is a nobrainer. Did we need a summit of 1000 to restate the obvious? Other concepts seemed more driven by ideology than key outcomes.

The future security panel’s brief should have been pretty clear, but instead one of the final suggestions printed for public consumption was to “ensure Australia’s commitment to gender equality is reflected in domestic and foreign policy”.

Then there were the concepts that seem almost impossible to police, such as a proposed ban on unhealthy food ingredients. Where does a food bar that perfectly suits the need of a marathon runner but which is just a love handle builder for kids sit?

There were some good ideas to come out of the weekend. The creation of a “community corps” whose members could pay off their HECS or HELP debts by working in rural and remote Australia would go some way to delivering some badly needed skilled employees to the regions.

A review of the entire business and personal tax system, with a focus on finding taxes to ditch or change, is way overdue.

But last time I checked, this sort of thing is actually core government business. In purely economic terms, the question has to be asked — do the costs of bringing together 1000 people for a weekend, the time spent by Mr Rudd and his front bench and the hundreds of departmental “volunteers” outweigh the benefits of some of the ideas that have been shaken out?

There’s nothing as stirring as John F. Kennedy’s plan to send a man to the Moon, except perhaps Mr Rudd’s own thought to develop a bionic eye. But the bionic eye sits well down on a list that includes harmonising State and Federal health infrastructure funding. Those concepts not ideologically driven are mostly bureaucratic incrementalism.

Mr Rudd has set himself to respond to all the proposals by year’s end. If he is to show the summit was about ideas and not just electoral appearances, he must be ruthless, focus on the few good concepts and get them running quickly.