So at Crikey we’ve been trying to work out how the 2020 summit will actually run.
Will it be like those awful management courses most of us have been forced to do, but on a vast scale? The ones where you start by introducing the person next to you (OK, skipped because it would take the entire 2 days), then you break into small groups to work with butcher’s paper – in this case using sheets the size of the Parliament House flag – and maybe then a bit of role-playing. Of course, this would be curtailed in the Creative Australia group because the directors would take over and the actors and writers would argue over the script.
In fact, we wonder whether the summit can work effectively at all, because we can’t see how getting 100 strangers in a room to discuss major issues is going to yield anything intelligible, let alone earth-shattering. The co-chairs who will lead the ten streams will have to do something brilliant to extract anything useful from the 15 hours they will be together.
The summit organisers have told us the format of the summit will range from small, “fluid” group sessions of 25, to gatherings of the whole 100 participants in each stream, and opening and closing plenary sessions. And each stream will have a number of “facilitators”, a race normally found with telephone sanitisers on Douglas Adams’s Golgafrinchan ark full of useless occupations.
Included in each stream will be Commonwealth Secretaries. They’ve been polled on what streams they’d like to attend and distributed accordingly. One assumes no Secretary dared to indicate that they’d actually prefer to skip the summit or that, while Creative Australia had nothing to with their portfolio, they’d really like to go because they always wanted to meet Claudia Karvan. We invited all Secretaries to tell us where they ended up. Only two deigned to reply. New PM&C head Terry Moran and Human Services Secretary Helen Williams will accordingly receive an “I brake for Brendan Nelson’s hair” bumpersticker for their SES vehicles. Moran will be in the backroom, he says, as well as roaming around all the streams. Williams says she’ll be at the Communities and Families stream.
The politicians – the PM, Nelson, Ministers, Premiers and State Opposition Leaders – will also be entitled to roam around. One can envisage Rudd slipping, headmaster-like, into the back of the room to watch his Parliamentary Secretaries and hand-picked co-chairs at work, perhaps offering a left-field suggestion himself that will mess up hours of careful work.
Summit organisers have already established a website where participants can offer ideas and chat online. Doubtless that that forum is already abuzz with discussion of the summit papers issued late last week.
A number of participants in the Creative Australia group have already indicated what they’ll be saying. “I am going to Canberra to argue for more money for artists,” said publisher Louise Adler. Corinne Grant also wants more money – “compared to somewhere like Europe, we don’t have enough funding,” she told The Australian. The Sydney Theatre Company’s Jo Dyer also wants more support, and denies arts funding is “middle class welfare.” Add SBS’s Shaun Brown and the ABC’s Mark Scott (along with ex-ABC Board member Ramona Koval), whose views on funding come with the job description, and it’s hard to see what’s going to emerge from that group other than a dollar sign and lots of zeroes.
And this is, to use a Ruddism, where the rubber hits the road about how the summit will work. The Prime Minister will doubtless give a speech at the closing plenary session committing the government to actively – perhaps even “aggressively” – consider the summit outputs, but refusing to guarantee that all or perhaps any will be adopted as Government policy.
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But the danger of opening up the policy process to outsiders is that you lose control and raise expectations. Participants will want to know what they spent two chilly days in Canberra for, and the media will want to see progress on all the great ideas that emerged from it. Eventually the obvious question will be asked – why did the Prime Minister bother with the summit when he didn’t implement any of the ideas from it?