Each participant in this weekend’s 2020 summit was asked to write 200 words on their main idea, and an issue that they’ve changed their mind over in the last 10 years.

Here are some. (Needless to say, we’re eager to sight others. If you are a summit invitee and would like to share your 200 words with a wider audience, send them to [email protected] with “200 words” in the subject field.)

Barry Jones, a lawyer, teacher, academic, writer and Labor politician, a Victorian MP 1972-77, Federal MP 1977-98, Minister for Science 1983-90, Australian representative to UNESCO 1991-95. He will participate in the summit topic Population, sustainability, climate change and water

Your idea:

“The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, and not the other way round”.

I began raising the subject of Climate Change in December 1984, but urged reductions in resource use much earlier. In ‘Move people…not vehicles’, (September 1976), I pointed to Australia’s high car dependence (just behind the United States and Canada) which contributed to urban sprawl, increasing car dependence and the decline of public transport. Car dependence is a major factor in Australia following North America’s pattern of energy use rather than Europe’s. The Knowledge National Taskforce of 2001 (which included Kevin Rudd, Stephen Smith, Craig Emerson and John Brumby) recommended initiating debate for a National Population Policy and these should be revived. I agree with Bob Carr that ‘environmentally, Australia is not North America. It is North Africa. This limits our population potential substantially’. I endorse the strategies laid out in Our Water Mark (2007).

Issue you have changed your mind over in last 10 years. What is it? What changed your mind?

I was wrong to assume that the Information Revolution would be an instrument of personal liberation and an explosion of creativity, raising the quality of public debate, encouraging evidence-based decision-making, enhancing rationality, and weakening fundamentalism and fanaticism. Instead, it has entrenched tribalism, dogmatism and retreat into the realm of the personal. The Information Age has increased the power of information providers, has been characterised by domination of public policy by managerialism, replacement of ‘the public good’ by ‘private benefit’, the relentless ‘dumbing down’ of mass media, linked with the cult of celebrity, and substance abuse.

Mary Crock, professor of public law in the Faculty of Law at the University of Sydney and participant in the summit topic Population, sustainability, climate change, water and the future of our cities:

Your idea:

Australia needs new migration legislation based on universal respect for human rights and compliance with obligations already assumed under international law. Current laws are unfair, impossibly complex and replete with contradictions because they have been amended in piecemeal and reactive fashion over many years. Both law and policy need to be de-politicised if the varied interests and rights of all parties in the migration process are to be respected. Immigration should involve both give and take between the migrant and the state: a compact rather than a simple contract. Intake quotas should reflect human as well as economic needs.

Issue you have changed your mind over in last 10 years. What is it? What changed your mind?

The greatest revolution in my thinking over the last 10 years relates to the impact of immigration laws and policies on children. I was moved first by my exposure to children in immigration detention, touched in 2000 by two siblings aged 5 and 7 who were randomly separated from their father and left with no appropriate care in Curtin Detention Centre, WA. My intellectual and emotional understanding of broader issues facing child migrants in Australia and overseas was altered irrevocably following an invitation to conduct empirical and other research on the Seeking Asylum Alone Project with a Harvard University colleague.

Ann McGrath, participant in the summit topic Options for the future of Indigenous Australia:

Your idea:

My goal is to establish collaborative models for harnessing Indigenous Histories for Indigenous Futures. For true inclusion in the nation, Aboriginal history must be integrated into Australian history and policy implementation. Aboriginal Australians are passionate about their land’s history and many are eager to share the knowledge and ensure it crosses their generations and cultural borders: Deeper historical advice of past policy and its economic, family and health legacies for Indigenous Australians, is crucial to shaping new policy and implementation; Collaborative strategies for presenting Indigenous history can enhance regional tourism and youth training. History festivals and school programs will create Indigenous business and employment opportunities; Improved research and accessible narratives into Australia’s ancient Indigenous history, including Aboriginal people’s Pleistocene adaptations to climate change, would enhance Australia’s environmental and cultural understanding; Modern positive pioneering roles eg Aboriginal excellence in the pastoral industry, can be showcased in films, regional museums and touring exhibitions.

Issue you have changed your mind over in last 10 years. What is it? What changed your mind?

I changed my mind about 1788 – at least, that we should start our history-writing in 1788. Two of my books, Contested Ground and Creating a Nation started the story in 1788 – the British convict arrival. To tell the full story of the Australian continent that we share, we cannot leave it to the scientists who often publish in highly specialist journals. Aboriginal elders are passionate about their history and knowledge being understood. Historians, archaeologists and other specialists should be working in close collaborative partnerships with Indigenous custodians and community historians to produce accessible histories for Keeping Places, school teaching kits and tourists. Whether the stories are from evidence “discovered” by scientists or via Indigenous song cycles, Indigenous custodians have so much insight and interpretative power when it comes to the ancient history of Australia going back 50,000 years. While economic disadvantage has been entrenched over the past 210 years, Aboriginal people are extremely rich in ancient history. They have an enormous amount more history than anyone else here and that should be honoured and harnessed in collaborative partnerships working to their advantage. Myths of extinction and total loss of cultural knowledge can be disproved around most of Australia. Aboriginal Australians not only have “culture” and “heritage” they also have a modern history of adaptation, but that doesn’t start in 1788 either. Let’s celebrate Indigenous Australian achievements over milennia so that our nation and all the world can appreciate the ancient history and uniqueness of living Indigenous cultures.

Sarah Davies, Melbourne Community Foundation and participant in the summit topic Strengthening communities and supporting working families:

Your idea:

Like to explore how we can re-structure and re-present government policy and community funding structures and processes, in order to be more responsive and effective in creating positive social change in the community. At the moment, the existing structures are overly influencing the nature and shape of the solutions. I’d also like to see how we can facilitate/enable philanthropic, corporate and government partnerships to create and sustain a plethora of social investment initiatives at grass-roots, community levels, which are organic and responsive to changing needs, to be used as mechanisms to take individuals out of disadvantage and into sustainable, healthy and self-perpetuating communities.

Issue you have changed your mind over in last 10 years. What is it? What changed your mind?

Not so much a change of mind on an issue, but more of a redefinition. Since becoming a Bail Justice, my definition of “right” and “wrong” has been challenged and consequently led to frustrations with our penal system and range of available responses. With one exception, every single Bail and Interim protection order hearing has had drugs or alcohol as a major causal factor (the one exception was mental health). The system’s responses do not seem to address the causal issues to any effect, they just put too many people onto a continuous loop where the behavioural pattern just keeps being repeated.

Louise Tarrant, national secretary of the LHMU and participant in the summit topic Future directions for the Australian Economy:

Your idea:

Economies don’t develop in a vacuum or in some immutable fashion. They are constructs responsive to values, political contexts, prevailing fads and the relative power of particular interests. Over time we see the emphasis shift – from state to market, collective to individual, industry to enterprise and back again; market pre-occupations move between debt, inflation and unemployment; and regulation, de-regulation and re-regulation vie for supremacy. It’s easy to get lost in the policy options. The one thing that would make a difference would be to use the 2020 process to articulate a contemporary, values-based vision for the sort of future we want for Australians in terms of lifestyle, rights and opportunity. It is this constant that could then help shape economic debates and provide the basis for genuine benchmarking of economic performance and outcome delivery.

Issue you have changed your mind over in last 10 years. What is it? What changed your mind?

For most of my life I have considered the “Aussie psyche” to be variously laid back, tolerant, irreverent, politically opinionated, civic-minded and generous. So why then in the last decade have we seen support for political movements like One Nation, hostile reactions to refugees and the significant rise in fear of “other” faiths and cultures? I think three factors have influenced this attitudinal shift: the rise of economic insecurity with the loss of employment security; the loss of political agency with declining union organisation; and the rise of wedge-based political leadership. The first two of these factors eroded workers’ sense of self-worth and hope and the third led with a diet of fear and division. For me the last decade has shown that a tolerant democracy in this country is not a given but something that needs to be consciously nurtured and supported – both economically and politically.

Benedict Bartl, solicitor with the Hobart Community Legal Service and participant in the summit topic The future of Australian governance:

Your idea:

The rights of the poor, marginalized and dispossessed desperately need protection in a Charter that protects their economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights. The rights of these people cannot be considered adequately protected when Australia is home to more than 100,000 homeless persons; discrimination against same-sex couples continues to be prescribed in State, Territory and Commonwealth legislatures and; the Stolen Generation and their descendents are still awaiting compensation in every jurisdiction except Tasmania. A Charter of Rights would provide the Commonwealth Parliament with a minimum benchmark in the setting of basic human rights and would better protect the entitlements of all Australians. As well, a Charter of Rights must recognise the fundamental right of protection of the environment from pollution and ecological degradation.

Issue you have changed your mind over in last 10 years. What is it? What changed your mind?

Advocates of a Charter of Rights have often been polarised between those supporting a constitutionally entrenched Bill of Rights and those endorsing a legislative model. Whilst I was firmly of the belief that a constitutionally entrenched Bill of Rights provided greater protection of individual rights, a number of arguments have changed my mind. Firstly, a Charter of Rights is a flexible model of rights protection that is better able to be developed to meet evolving challenges. Secondly, a Charter of Rights could be drafted in such a way that greater protections of individuals was ensured, such as the requirement when amending the Charter that a two-thirds majority vote of of both houses of Parliament is required. Finally, the introduction of a constitutionally entrenched Charter of Rights in Canada was preceded by twenty years of a statutory Bill of Rights, during which time it was able to demonstrate that many of the fears associated with the Bill were unfounded, ensured that many became conversant with the Bill as well as receiving widespread acceptance.

Melissa Conley Tyler, national executive director of the Australian Institute of International Affairs and participant in the summit topic Australia’s future in the region and the world:

Your idea:

Australia needs to invest in its international affairs capacity. Whatever concept of national interest and specific policies are being pursued, Australia must have the intellectual, policy and cultural resources to achieve its aims. Being a middle power entrepreneur in foreign policy requires even greater abilities. Australia should invest in diplomacy, policy formation and education: maintaining and increasing the capacity of the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade, especially in public diplomacy; promoting free interchange of advice, including from outside government, supporting universities and non-government organizations to promote an informed, interested and engaged public; and promoting study of international issues and language learning.

Issue you have changed your mind over in last 10 years. What is it? What changed your mind?

Ten years ago while studying at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy I read Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations. I thought it was profoundly mistaken, not just for its generalisations or its characterisation of Australia as trying to shift civilisations: I simply could not accept that civilisational clash was inevitable. I still disagree with Huntington’s thesis, but now I see it as dangerous: it has the power to be self-fulfilling. It gives fuel to those primed to find an enemy in a construction like “Islam” or “the West”. The last 10 years show the danger of condensing the many differences between nations and peoples to “us” and “them”.

Simon Mansfield, publisher of www.TerraDaily.com and participant in the summit topic Future directions for rural industries and rural communities:

Your idea:

I propose that Australia simultaneously tackle the issues of rural rejuvenation – i.e. land, water and community – by undertaking the world’s largest re forestation program ever undertaken. Starting with the most marginal lands of eastern Australia, the Australian Federal Government in partnership with rural communities and industries, should set out to replant vast tracks of lands with appropriate reforestation species with the goal of achieving multiple beneficial outcomes for Australia. These outcomes would include full rural employment, land and water rejuvenation, long term forestry product supplies – and most importantly the rebuilding of the eastern hydrological structures that underpin long term rainfall patterns. The program would be self funding via redirected welfare expenditures, long term carbon credit offsets, the sale of forestry products and other environmental benefits for the rural economy. R&D and associated start up costs can be sourced from existing science and environment programs and their associated funding commitments. Appropriate economic and environmental modeling of this concept will reveal many existing processes that could assist the project, along with additional macro and micro benefits for Australia.

Issue you have changed your mind over in last 10 years. What is it? What changed your mind?

Over the past 10 years I have come to believe that justice and equity is best achieved within economic markets that are as free as possible. With the exception of basic health, safety, environment and fair trading (consumer) regulations – all economic activity should be free from regulations impacting supply and market competition. It is only through the application of the economics of Adam Smith rather than Karl Marx that we can achieve an efficient allocation of real costs and consequently rational economic decisions by both producers and consumers. I don’t want to bang on about this – but it is the one thing I have changed my views about and it has flow on impacts to the whole way we subside a vast range of both private and commercial activities in Australia. And these subsidies and benefits have a corrosive long term impact on the whole of society that is largely negative and leads to less rather than more and usually at a higher cost.

Robert Manne, professor of politics at La Trobe University, participant in the summit topic The Future of Australian Governance:

Your idea:

By thinking about the history of Australian politics over the past twenty years it is possible to see that the executive branch of government, and in particular the Prime Minister and his advisers, has gradually increased its power in relation to the parliament. This situation is particularly marked when the government has control of the Senate as was the case from 2005. It is sometimes said that Australia has become increasingly Presidential. This is somewhat misleading. In the US the President has always to deal with a Congress which he (or she) cannot control. While we have inherited from the United Kingdom the Westminster system where the executive branch has far greater control over the parliament, we have more powerful executive dominance over government than in Britain, in part because party discipline is far more complete. I think it is vital for the place of the parliament to be strengthened. We need to examine how the Committee system and government inquiries and Royal Commissions can be made more independent of the executive branch; how the parliamentary system can be adapted to prevent the misuse of taxpayer funds at election time and in regard to government advertising; how question time can be reformed so that real information from Ministers can be gained; how the principle of Ministerial responsibility can be affirmed; how Ministerial advisers can be made more accountable for their actions; how legislation in conflict with contemporary understandings of human rights can be challenged in the courts; how we can ensure that parliamentary approval has been given before Australia goes to war.

Issue you have changed your mind over in last 10 years. What is it? What changed your mind?

One of the issues I followed closely in the past decade was the treatment of asylum seekers, especially following the coming of boats from the Middle East in 1999. This issue led me to change my mind on the question of whether or not we needed a Bill of Rights. I had once imagined that human rights were adequately protected by common law, statute law and also by Australian historical traditions and the basic commonsense and goodwill of the Australian people.The practice of mandatory detention changed my mind. From the early 1990s, but especially after 1999, thousands of asylum seekers were placed in prison-like centres. If they were found not to be refugees but were unwilling to be repatriated, they were effectively given life-long detention sentences although they had committed no crime. .In other cases if they were willing to be leave Australia but were stateless they also faced lifelong detention, a proposition the government embraced. In research I conducted into the Cornelia Rau affair I talked with many refugees who had suffered complete mental breakdown after years of detention in Australia. The basis of my confidence in the capacity of the traditional mechanisms to protect human rights collapsed at that point. I became a supporter of an Australian Bill of Rights.

Jon Altman, participant in the summit topic Options for the future of Indigenous Australia:

Your idea:

The Indigenous sector needs revitalisation after a decade facing a stark and unfair choice between mainstreaming or marginalisation. This revitalisation requires new philosophical and policy frameworks and broad Australian acceptance that Indigenous people are full citizens while also invariably different, diverse and distinctive. While the provision of needs-based support by an enabling state is fundamental to addressing disadvantage, this in itself will not be enough. There is a need for new institutions that will provide Indigenous communities voices as active participants in shaping their own diverse futures in the national interest. Recognition, rights, respect and resourcing will drive revitalisation.

Issue you have changed your mind over in last 10 years. What is it? What changed your mind?

In 1998 I still thought that Australia’s liberal democratic system had the capability to address Indigenous disadvantage with fairness and compassion. I am no longer so optimistic. My mind was changed by the ongoing neglect of Indigenous Australians by four successive Howard governments who presided over unprecedented budget surpluses largely allocated to win votes rather than on a needs basis to the most marginalised. I now believe that new constitutional provisions and new legal institutions are needed to hold the Commonwealth and states/territories accountable to Indigenous Australians as citizens.

Marcus Westbury, festival director, writer and creator of the ABC’s Not Quite Art series, and participant in the summit topic Creative Australia.

Your idea:

To use a really ugly phrase: Cultural microeconomic reform. A root and branch look at Australian society to create incentives and remove impediments to creative initiative.

Most innovative creative endeavours whether they are bands, exhibitions, theatre companies, gallery spaces, short films, websites, festivals, conferences, performance spaces, animations and installations begin life with pooled funds, sweat equity and comparatively little cash. They aren’t good investments because they mostly fail and they mostly expect to ultimately fail in economic terms. As a result, the ratio of things that creators can provide in kind (primarily labour, skill, sweat and enthusiasm) to the fixed costs that they cannot avoid is probably the single largest factor that propels or thwarts cultural initiative.

The ratio of compliance costs to capital is more stark in the creative industries than anywhere else is society. The entanglement of public liability insurance, risk assessments, liquor licensing, legal costs, copyright compliance, licensing fees, noise regulations, place of public entertainment licensing and the myriad of other issues involved in creating anything is massive and growing.

Most of Australia’s professional arts companies spend more on these costs than they do on artists or artworks. As a result we are effectively resourcing bureaucracy and not production.

More at Marcus’s site.

The issue on which you have changed your mind:

I used to believe that the world was becoming more homogenised and as a result Australia would become more culturally homogenised. I now believe that is not true, it is actually something of a paradox. The world is becoming more homogenised but the creative communities in Australia are becoming massively more diverse as local diversity gives way to global diversity in local communities. As a result the cultures that we create and consume are becoming so much more diverse than at any point in our history. This decentralised culture requires a whole new policy approach with an emphasis on diversity innovation, and initiative.

Joshua Gans, Economist professor and blogger at economics.com.au, participant in the summit topic The productivity agenda – education, skills, training, science and innovation:

Your idea:

There has been a trend towards encouraging, and even mandating, commercialisation of scientific knowledge as a pre-requisite for receiving government funding. This, however, can conflict with how future knowledge is created; something that requires maintaining the ability and incentives for current knowledge to be disclosed and used in an unfettered manner. To provide an appropriate balance, my idea is that grants should require open dissemination but with an option to ‘opt out’ of such requirements by refunding monies should conflicting commercialisation properties present themselves. Giving scientists and commercial funders a menu of public support options and requirements will improve the mix and efficiency of scientific knowledge dissemination.

The issue on which you have changed your mind and why:

A decade ago I believed that it was important to teach a child to read and have them read (and write) as early as possible. I no longer believe that is the case. There is very little value that can be gained from reading prior to the age of 7. For most children, their thought processes are not sufficiently developed. Moreover, efforts in teaching children to read and write prior to this age do not stack up against the alternative of allowing them to learn other things (e.g., numeracy and creativity) during the ages of 4 to 6. Reading and writing can then be taught later (something that would take months rather than years). We need to rethink our early childhood curriculum as well as experience.

Miriam Lyons, Director of the Centre for Policy Development, participant in the summit topic Future of Australian Governance

Your idea:

The way that government owned and funded information is made available to the public should be reformed based on the following principles:

FOI requests should be a last resort: online publishing should be the default practice for most kinds of potentially useful information. Restrictions on access should be subject to a well-defined and limited set of exemptions, specified in a revised FOI act

  • In general, taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for the same information twice – circumstances in which cost-recovery charging will be imposed should be limited and well-defined

These reforms should take in the ABC and SBS, Commonwealth-funded university research, and data held by government agencies and statutory bodies. Specifically:

  • Investigation of strategies for making much more government data available to the public at low or no cost should be incorporated into the terms of reference of the ICT purchasing review recently announced by Lindsay Tanner

The  issue on which you have changed your mind and why:

I used to ascribe much of the short-termism of successive Australian governments to capture by vested interests or self-serving electioneering, and thought that if we could just get a more ethical mob elected, or strengthen our existing checks and balances, then that would be enough to get governments to tackle long-term problems like environmental deterioration or intergenerational poverty. Having realised that short-termism is also endemic in the business and non-government sectors, that it is a vulnerability of even the most public-spirited and accountable governments, and that behavioural economists have found a strong tendency for individuals to unreasonably “discount” the future consequences of current actions, I’m now convinced that it is pretty much a universal human trait. This has given me a strong interest in ways of institutionalising long-sightedness – in government but also in business and civil society.

Reconciliation Australia’s Jason Glanville, participant in the summit topic Options for the future of Indigenous Australia:

If you could do one thing in your stream area what would it be? What is it that you think would make the most difference?

My hope for the summit is that we can move beyond the discussion about what needs to be done and focus on how we do it. We know the long list of issues that needs to be addressed and while it is important to stay on top of those issues the summit can’t just be another roll-call of disadvantage. Experts, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, across a range of sectors also know what many of the solutions look like. What is missing is a focus on respectful engagement and the way we work together. Unless we focus on the relationship (in all its forms from families to the settling of a treaty) we will continue to fail. Until governments get serious and back up their rhetoric about doing business differently with real systemic reform we will continue to fail. Until Indigenous people are effectively engaged in the decision making processes that impact so heavily on their lives – from policy development and program design through to implementation, monitoring and accountability – we will continue to fail. We have never had a better opportunity to learn from what we know about what works and through respectful, strategic, long-term partnerships build a national plan for change.

One issue that I’ve changed my mind about and why I changed my mind?

Working in reconciliation is a privilege. Even though, as a blackfella, I sometimes struggle with the necessary compromise and conflict in terms of focus and direction it is still a privilege. I get to see good people pursuing best practice. I get to meet unlikely heroes driving incredible change across their communities. I get to see what’s possible and experience hope. I also get to balance that with time in some of our most dysfunctional communities to see where things aren’t working. What I’ve learnt is that people working inside the process, including many of the participants in the Indigenous stream at this summit, take that privilege for granted. We assume because we get to spend time working on building respectful relationships that everyone else is doing the same. It’s an incredibly dangerous assumption. It means that too often we drive at solutions without investing in relationships. We assume that because we are talking about the importance of relationships that they are happening – they are not. Recent attitudinal survey work commissioned by Reconciliation Australia tells us that the majority of Australians feel removed from the relationship. The kind of words used to describe the relationship include hostile, suspicious, disrespectful, aggressive and racist. There is hope though: research post-apology tells us that the majority of people are interested in building the relationship but just don’t know where to start.

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, participant in the summit topic The future of the Australian Economy (who was asked to submit 100 words in relation to Australia’s economic future):

We are on the cusp of a green revolution – just as the industrial revolution transformed the 19th century, a new green economy is set to transform the 21st. Sustainable cities are the key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and achieving post Kyoto targets. Our cities need to be green leaders – exemplars of cutting edge green technology relating to building design and performance, green power and transport systems. This means major investment in city infrastructure, such as public transport, to help position Australia as a green leader and make sustainability our point of competitive advantage in the emerging green global economy.

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