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

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

  1. Hans Rijsdijk says:

    From the comments it is clear that there certainly is no agreement that a conference is even needed.
    I think it should take place even if it is only to identify without (left or right wing) spin clearly what our problems and more important what possible solutions are. A national conference probably has the gravitas to force governments to act for a change.
    The main hurdle is: who should chair this? The prime minister would be an obvious choice were it not that the incumbent is unlikely to have the capacity, intelligence or motivation to do it. The oppositions leader? Not a very inspiring option: strong personality is not what the first impression is of Albanese.
    Who then? An eminent captain of industry or academic? Ross Garnaut comes to mind. A strong leader should be able to reach some consensus from greatly differing opinions.
    How will such a “non-government” conference be financed?
    I don’t have the answers, but it seems abundantly clear that something must be done ASAP rather than in 2 1/2 years time.

  2. Mike Scrafton says:

    The problems with ‘And it must result in broad consensus about the narrative for the new Australia’ is that what Australia and the world faces is not going to be fixed by a lowest common denominator communique or through compromises reached with the recalcitrant and the ignorant over a vision and a way ahead.

    The problems over global warming, global overpopulation, wealth inequality, ecological collapse, and energy transformation require the coordination and cooperation of experts and specialists – scientists, engineers, urban planners, biologists, ecologists, public health specialists etc . It requires hard decisions that are not only difficult to implement technically but which will be almost impossible to sell politically if they are of the scale and depth needed.

    This is a task that at present seems beyond democracies where politicians are either scientifically illiterate or so venal and concerned with holding power they are prepared to distort the facts, ignore risks, and sell out long term change for short term gain!

  3. Michael Flynn says:

    Yes the plea for united action is timely. But how to do it ? The new fires reality will spark action and inaction of several fronts. We can anticipate contested Coroner’s inquests that may go the dismal way of our ACT experience. The ADF could begin to defend us and slightly disengage from US expeditions abroad. Our MPs could mobilise to form a National Unity Government like the UK under Winston Churchill in WW II. The leader of this Government will not be Morrison or Dutton and will include the ALP and Greens.
    The insurance industry may be more aware that climate policy matters. My thoughts go to the French revolution and the King’s response to drought and famine- a replay here.

  4. Charles Lowe says:

    For Christ’s sake!

    Summits. Who the hell needs “summits”?

    An excuse for confabulation, “consensus” and complexification of confusion.

    We have a Parliament. We have an Opposition.

    An “Opposition” which CANNOT be one. Because it seems incapable of reforming its biggest Branch (NSW) from its own addiction to “wealthy special interests” – the special interests (the big Right Wing Unions) who bribe the Labor Party into complete inability to fairly and properly represent the overwhelming Leftist views of its human members. Infecting the Federal Party accordingly.

    This is, arguably, a worse situation than Labor faced in 1955 – because so few of us know its reality. “Solidarity”, comrades! – keep our filthily pornographic political linen from the faintest trace of even the meagerest of starlight.

    Millions of individual human Australians – you know them: those who are “legal AND NATURAL persons – refuse on conscience, just as I have and still am – to join this fetid and deceptive “organisation”. Because of some half a dozen or less of Dark Triadistic practised specialised bullies.

    Who needs “summits” when the obvious instigator so betrayed so many for so little so long ago?

  5. Simon Sedgley says:

    We had a summit. At its conclusion, the people of Australia were invited to become a nation. The invitation was entitled the “Uluru Statement from the Heart”. The invitation was declined. Get real.

  6. Wayne McMillan says:

    Bob I agree we need a summit, but we need to act now. How about we start up a petition for the government, with immediate action goals? Time is running out.

  7. Rob Stewart says:

    I remember Julia Gillard calling for a citizens assembly and being laughed out of town for the suggestion. Summit, citizens assembly, think tank, work shop, whatever, it won’t happen because Morrison sees no problem – he is PM after all – how good is that! He doesn’t want to hear from whingers. All you have to do is have a go and you’ll get a go. Climate crisis? What climate crisis? Fires? We’ve always had them.

    I know it’s easy to be sarcastic and cynical like I am. But I can’t help thinking we’re just going to sink on our ship of fools.

  8. Terry Mills says:

    I hear that the PM is to convene a Climate Change Action Group headed up by former Drought Envoy, Barnaby Joyce assisted by Craig Kelly member for Hughes and Tasmanian Senator Eric Abetz.

    They will report back in a couple of days, either by Tweet or Text.

    Problem solved !

  9. Jocelyn Pixley says:

    There is no doubt, Bob Douglas, that the need to launch a new vision through open democratic procedures for Australia is urgent. One “Jane Q Citizen” (me) replies that the difficulties are immense. It’s the impossible question of whether institutions help create decent, genuine debate, or do decent, genuinely open and modest people need to transform the institutions? On the second option, I do not see decent personnel (politicians) in the Commonwealth nor NSW governments. Menadue in his re-post below, is equally pessimistic there. As well, decent institutions looking to the public interest as a whole in an open manner are belittled. The legislature is a farce, parliament meets only rarely, and the main opposition is now trying to juggle a fondness for fossil fuels and for being such a small target it’s invisible; the judiciary is attempting to defend the ordinary rule of law but the executive is beyond scrutiny. It has hobbled the public service (see M. Keating also below) and it’s not only wilfully ill-informed. The executive is also pursuing new policies even further from a constructive debate on taking action on the climate emergency. They are wreckers. But public distaste has grown after these rising tragedies, perhaps there lies hope; it was a Victorian government that called for the ADF. The NSW government did not and is continuing its own policies of wrecking. I am sorry to be negative about this urgent matter.

  10. Andrew Glikson says:

    I wonder whether the current fire catastrophe has changed the PM’s view regarding the origin of global heating since he introduced a lump of coal to Parliament?

  11. Max Bourke AM says:

    First time I have ever strongly disagreed with Bob Douglas, we are way beyond another gabfest, the plan of action has been clear for decades, the will to do it has not!!!

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