BOB DOUGLAS:. A Prime Ministerial “Summit” on Australia’s Future?

Jan 2, 2020

We are at an historic moment of apocalyptic threat to the survival of the human species.

We can either shrug our shoulders and get on with “business as usual,” as we have been doing for many years in the face of growing threats, or we can work together as a nation, and as a species, to rescue a future for our descendants from the mess that our activities have now created..

In an important development this week, Michael Shoebridge, an ANU defence and security expert, called on the PM to convene a. National Summit on the environment and the economy. In an opinion piece in The Canberra Times, Shoebridge emphasised the need for careful planning of such a summit and referred to the game changing summit that was convened by Bob Hawke in an earlier period of domestic crisis.

If Scott Morrison took the initiative for a successful summit, he would win plaudits everywhere, but if it was unsuccessful he would undoubtedly compound his current predicament. So, what is needed for such a summit to succeed?

Shoebridge pointed to the less than successful effort by Kevin Rudd with his loudly trumpeted “2020 Summit”. While that Summit resulted in great deal of well intentioned activity around the nation on a wide set of issues, it did not result in any consensus about a new direction for the nation as had the Hawke-led event. In fact, we have arrived at 2020 in a shocking mess.

I think Shoebridge was right to call for a focus on the economy and the environment. These are the two elements that will determine our future survivability. We need radically to change what we are doing to the environment and how the economy is influencing the way we behave toward it..

If such a summit is to succeed, it must engage us all and excite us all, about the difference it will make to our presently dismal prospects. It must engage thinking in business, labour, community, academia, young people and government at all levels. And it must result in broad consensus about the narrative for the new Australia. That is difficult but not impossible, given the serious situation that the latest climate and bushfire crisis has uncovered for all of us.

We do have a helpful starting point. It is in the document “Australia Remade” that has.been developed by a group of NGO’s, who invited large numbers of Australians to describe the attributes of their desired future Australia. The Report that resulted from this activity identified nine pillars to the future Australia that most people want.

Another important starting point is the recent book “Superpower” by Australian economist, Ross Garnaut, who describes the massive benefits that would flow to us in many domains if we immediately made a major national commitment to renewable energy and zero carbon emissions.

Millions of Australians have lost trust in the political process with its sellout to wealthy special interests. For the “Summit” to succeed, these interests must be rigorously constrained and “John Q Citizen” must be appropriately represented.

So, how should Morrison proceed? He needs first to agree that there is a massive problem, and that “business as usual” will not solve it. Second, he needs to invite us all to help begin to solve it. The summit must be an apolitical affair and all politicians invited to support its development.

Planning for the summit should be undertaken by a small expert group that is outside the political process. Perhaps “summit” is the wrong name for it. Perhaps it would be better labelled a “Citizen Assembly on Australia’s Future.”

Em Prof Bob Douglas is a retired public health academic and a Director of Australia21 for which he leads the project “Survival Matters.”

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