For some reason when I first read about the Rudd Labor Government’s latest intriguing proposal for a summit of 1000 eminent Australians, my thoughts immediately turned to a reality television show that I don’t recall ever watching. The 1 vs. 100 reality game show seems to be doing alright in the United States market, but from memory, it tanked when it debuted in Australia some time last year. Somehow one doubts that the government plans to run its national summit of the learned in quite the same way, but it’s an amusing thought.
In short, I think the summit is a grand idea. It’s another small step towards re-engaging the general public with the state of the nation, and to be frank after the disconnect of the Howard years, every new possibility seems worth exploring. I do have some concerns over Rudd’s assertion that selection of those invited to the summit will be “based on individual merit”. Who will select the invitees? To what extent are they going to be politically motivated? Are we going to get a fair mix of people with all sorts of political views, from Keynesian “socialists” through to libertarians, radical environmentalists and everyday folk? It would seem important that whatever recommendations come from the summit do actually attempt to distill what “the nation thinks”, rather than just a distillation of elite political opinion of any particular stripe.
I would also be interested to know how the government plans to “plug” the results of the summit into its policy program. Rudd has already promised that already announced Labor policy is sacrosanct, and that the results of the summit would not immediately become government policy. In order for the summit not to be a public relations exercise, the government needs to make sure that there is a clear process in place for reviewing its outcomes, and determining which of those should drive policy moving forwards. One of the political dangers of this exercise is that some participants may emerge down the track to condemn the government, if some of the summit’s recommendations (as is inevitable) are ignored or not pursued. This is particularly likely should the government do the right thing in a democratic sense, and invite Australians of all political stripes to participate.
In any case, the whole exercise will be fascinating to observe. This is bold, interesting policy for Australia.