Who will criticise Kevin Rudd’s 2020 Summit, if criticism is to be done?

I have been looking through the list of participants, and am worried to find that not a single media organisation in Australia is remaining outside the tent. Nor any of our prominent public intellectuals.

From News Limited there is CEO John Hartigan, who is on the steering committee. Fairfax CEO David Kirk is also on the list. Prodigal News Limited son Lachlan Murdoch is there as well. So too James Packer and Channel Seven’s Kerry Stokes. Nor is the ABC left out. Managing Director Mark Scott has an invitation, and so do senior members of his staff.

Then there are the journalists and the editors. Age editor Andrew Jaspan is there. So is his deputy, Paul Ramadge. From the ABC there will be Ramona Koval and Geraldine Doogue. Andrew Denton will be there as well. And I am not listing all the names.

On the list of summiteers are both Gerard Henderson and Robert Manne, both Phillip Adams and Paul Kelly, both David Marr and Miranda Devine. Quite apart from the interesting potential encounters in the coffee queue and the loos, it does raise the question – who will criticise? Who will be vituperative, if vituperation is needed?

Who will fart in church?

Even the alternative media has been co-opted – Monthly editor Sally Warhaft has an invite, and so too the editor of Griffith Review, Julianne Schultz. Also present will be some of Australia’s leading bloggers, including Nicholas Gruen, John Quiggin and Andrew Norton (though these three are doubtless not chosen because of their blogs).

Now I do not want to criticise any of these individuals for taking part. Indeed I can see many of them (though not all) are exactly the kinds of people who should be there.

Other attendees – and here I am talking about the business and other communities as well, not only about media personalities – are the kinds of people you would want present not so much because of their ideas, but precisely in the hope of lifting their horizons and encouraging them to think bigger and better and take up their responsibilities.

It is shrewd list.

Nor do I want to deride the event itself. I have made clear my own feelings on being offered a nomination but I nevertheless feel mainly warm and fuzzy about the summit and the idea of having a big event symbolising the need to think long term and creatively about the nation’s future. I also think some of the most telling contributions are likely to be at the local and school based summits hosted by MPs. That is where we will are most likely to glimpse the national mindset.

The symbolism, and the inspiration, will surely be as important as the substance.

Yet it is also true that an invitation to the Summit is at present the signifier of relevance and gravitas de jour, and therefore also the most powerful currency of flattery. I am suspicious of flattery.

On the one hand the Summit is a harnessing of the movers and shakers in the Australian community – those who are powerful both through their connections, their money and their ideas. On the other hand it is a giant act of co-option.

Surely the process of governance (one of the topics to be considered) would be healthier if a few more media people were outside the tent.

I have mixed feelings in writing this. There has been too much vituperation in public debate in recent times. I quite like the idea of discussions between cultural warriors in the coffee queue. I know and admire many of the people I have mentioned above, and work or have worked with many of them. (I hope to be excused a long and tedious declaration, but if anyone is interested most of the connections are apparent here).

I am sure that the participants will regard themselves as free to be critical, but common sense says that there it is both harder and more complicated to critique a forum and a process in which one is involved as a participant, particularly when flattery is involved.

One point should be apparent. Crikey will not be there, other than as a reporter on events. We are in the position of Groucho Marx.

Suggestions, please, on what we should do about that, and how we might conduct a salon de refuses.

It’s time to book your next dose of Crikey.

Through the week, news comes at you fast. Every day there’s a new disaster, depressing numbers or a scandal to doom-scroll to. It’s exhausting, and not good for your health.

Book your next dose of Crikey to get on top of it all. Subscribe now and get your first 12 weeks for $12. And you’ll help us too, because every dollar we get helps us dig even deeper.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.