11 April 2008

Outside the tent

John Roskam hasn't been invited to the 20/20 thing so it's the end of democracy as we know it, apparently .
Obviously the Prime Minister's media advisers calculated that the sight of Kevin Rudd discussing the nation's problems with Hollywood celebrities would combat his image as a boring bureaucrat. So far those advisers have been proved right.

well, they haven't been proven wrong either. Who knows what burden of proof exists for this? If you don't bring glam to this event you need knowledge and analytical skill - unfortunately, our old friend Roskam is not offering that, either. If you see the list of attendees, it's hard to sustain Roskam's early sneer that the summit exists of vacuous human tinsel. Roskam's Eye Pee Yay has spent years developing a fraction of the kind of expertise that Rudd can knock together - and dismantle - in the space of a few weeks.
There's nothing wrong with Labor (or the Liberals) having summits, conferences, and talkfests. Sometimes it is useful to get experts together to debate policy, and occasionally a good suggestion might emerge.

But the timing of the summit is curious. It was only four months ago that Kevin Rudd won an election after he promised he had all the solutions. Obviously Canberra's 155,000 public servants can't provide the answers the Prime Minister needs - if they could he wouldn't need a summit.

Did Rudd claim that he had all the answers? All he had to do - and if I remember correctly, all he did - was establish that he wasn't intellectually stalled and politically deaf like John Howard. A change has proven to be better than a holiday. I'm pretty sure that people like John Roskam were criticising Rudd for not putting up any fresh ideas so that people like John Roskam could twist and/or dump on them. Having been frustrated at Rudd's unwillingness to fall for a simple trap, Roskam puts Rudd into the position he wishes he'd been in.

As to public servants - if they have all the answers, why do we need an elected government or a legislature? Was there some halcyon day where public servants had all the answers to everything? There's certainly nothing in accepted understandings of the Westminster system of government that sets such an impossibly high standard.
The problem with Labor's summit is that 95% of the participants will be in enthusiastic agreement that the Rudd Government is good, that the Howard government was bad, and that the solution to any problem is higher taxes and more government spending.

Again, look at the list of attendees, John. Here are more than fifty people who would not share the political views you ascribe to them, and nor would they necessarily believe that higher taxes and more government spending is desirable, let alone necessary.

The next few paragraphs are so silly that sarcasm is an appropriate response. The lowest form of wit they say, but what sort of -wit descends to this sort of thing in an op-ed piece anyway?
The Australia 2020 Summit is an exercise in pure and simple politics.

No! Really?
The summit will co-opt the country's elite into endorsing the Rudd Government's policies, and in the process the Howard government will be airbrushed from history.

That's right, and because there's nothing so stupid as an elite, they'll follow along blindly and get trapped into something like that.
If summit participants are to be encouraged to confront the challenges of the future they should at least be told about the conditions of the present.

Yeah, because they wouldn't know otherwise. They have no idea about Australia as it is or as it could be, so what they need is a briefing paper written by the very public servants Roskam disparages.

Clearly, the summit is not intended as some warts-and-all review across the entire gamut of government in Australia. This is the standard Roskam holds it to, and of course it's going to fall short of standards that were never set for it.
It's impossible to consider indigenous policy without examining the results so far of the Coalition's Northern Territory intervention. The background papers, however, make no mention of the intervention.

Indigenous policies will have to wait for another time, then. Perhaps at the separate, non-20/20, one-year review already stated elsewhere by Rudd and Macklin and others. If you're going to look into the NT intervention, you have to consider why it wasn't launched ten years earlier than it was.
Similarly, social welfare reform is discussed without reference to the single biggest welfare reform in a generation, namely the introduction of "mutual obligation" and work for the dole.

By 2020 one would expect this to be old hat. This is not intended to be an exercise in nostalgia or kicking over the traces.
Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with the Iraq war, you'd expect it would be in the section on foreign policy or there would at least be a reference to it. Yet, bizarrely, Iraq doesn't rate a mention.

It's not a major element of Australian foreign policy, yet the resources devoted to it give it an importance it doesn't warrant. It's likely that people have their own ideas on Iraq, and they may even raise them unbidden by a briefing paper.
The Australian media analysed and dissected John Howard's every move in an attempt to discern the political advantage he or the Liberals would gain.

This didn't make for good reporting or sound analysis, but it did reflect the opaque and centralised nature of decision-making under Howard.
In contrast, Kevin Rudd's summit has been breathlessly embraced as an exercise in bipartisanship nation-building that is above the day-to-day reality of what politicians do.

Embraced by whom, John? It's been derided as one long PR extravaganza in the pieces I've read. More straw men?
Under the Liberals, the ABC, the ACTU, and Australia's public universities guaranteed that opinions different from those of the government would be aired and disseminated.

Oh come on, this is a lie. You know this is untrue. The Howard government made ad hominem attacks on those who said what it chose not to hear, and behind the scenes thwarted their current jobs and career aspirations.
Now, with Labor in power federally and in every state and territory where will those opposing views come from? They're unlikely to come from a summit of 1000 hand-picked participants.

Again, I doubt that any of the one thousand attendees would be bound never ever to disagree with the government about anything at any stage.

Opposing ideas are unlikely to come from the Liberal Party or the Eye Pee Yay, either, for the reasons described in the post below. They don't respect ideas or the sort of people who come up with them.
One can speculate on a participant's chances of success if they suggested at the summit that Canberra should have less power rather than more, or that there are bigger issues confronting the planet than climate change.

One can look at the list of names cited above for a good number of people who suggest - or even assert - these positions. Besides, after Stern and Garnaut and all that's transpired, you need to do more than merely suggest something bigger than climate change, or centralism.
There are strong incentives for those at the summit to co-operate with Kevin Rudd. He has an approval rating of 70%. Brendan Nelson's is 9%. Labor doesn't look like being dislodged from power across the country any time soon. Given this stark reality, the question is how many of those attending the summit will be able to afford to disagree with the Government?

And why should they wish to approach the national capital with swords drawn, John? Is this not a gathering of goodwill, of working with what's before you? Have you not, in your recent experience, seen support for entrenched and seemingly popular governments evaporate quickly? Have you not witnessed honeyed words not followed through, discrediting both words and speaker on the way through?

You don't get a seat at the table talking about the future by demonstrating your intellectual staleness and your insistence that the previous government represents the only template from which you are allowed to discuss government going forward. You can't complain about the lack of variety in public debate when your own contribution is so feeble and presented in a manner repellent to public support. Those opposing the government may need a forum other than the all-too-soon 2020 summit to get some clues. This will be easier once the Rudd government makes some decisions to criticise; easier still once you get a position from which you can criticise.

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