Saturday, April 12, 2008

The summit that will matter

The 2020 Youth Summit - with 100 of our best and brightest - is on right now, on Saturday and Sunday at Parliament House in Canberra.

I'll have the thrill of reporting it tomorrow for our paper. Ten of the participants will take part in the Summit itself next week.

Here's an extract from the excellent opening speech delivered this morning by the Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard:

"Recently, Australian archaeologists have been digging up large numbers of interesting objects at a desert site by the Hope Downs Iron Ore Mine, around 310 kilometres from Port Hedland in Western Australia.

They’re just small things: cutting tools that can fit in the palm of your hand; microscopic seed remains; charcoal from ancient fires.

Not much, you would think.

But using complex radiocarbon tests, scientists have dated them as at least 35,000 years old. And they’re confident that just below these finds there is another layer of human-created objects that push the timeline of these discoveries back to 40,000 years.

It’s being regarded by some as one of the most significant prehistoric records of humanity ever found – with the potential to tell us a great deal not only about the people who preceded us, but our ancient climate as well.

I want you to consider the implications of this.

It means that for 1,000 generations, Australians – in this case the Martidja Banyjima people – have been digging, cutting and transforming Australia’s landscape and climate, and creating a civilisation here, where we live.

But in the last 220 years since the arrival of the First Fleet – and most notably during the last century and a half when the industrial revolution was brought to Australia – our impact on the country has accelerated – to the point where, within the space of just a handful of generations, we may have inflicted irreversible and perhaps highly damaging change on our home.

The next couple of decades will confirm whether or not this is true.

Now, we don’t want to idealize Australia’s distant past. Progress has brought untold benefits. But it has also thrown up challenges.

Not just the challenge of dangerous climate change – but new forms of inequality, new health problems, transport congestion and a host of new moral issues for us to deal with. This is the history on which our future has the built – and the issues you must address.

Each of us stands at the end of that 40,000 years of Australian climatic, economic, social, technological and creative change.

My generation is responsible for its fair share of what has occurred – the good and the bad.

And next week some 900 other members, mostly of my generation, along with ten others from today’s audience, will follow you to Canberra.

There will be a lot of expertise and knowledge among them.

They will propose a lot of policy ideas.

But they won’t be the ones who have to carry the most long-term and perhaps most important of their ideas through to completion. They won’t have to live with the consequences.

As the 1,001st generation of inhabitants of Australia, that responsibility will eventually fall to you."