Kevin Rudd’s Opening Address to the 2020 Summit

This is the text of Kevin Rudd’s Address Opening the 2020 Summit in Canberra.

Australians one, Australians all.

I too begin by acknowledging the first peoples of our nation.

Just as I welcome all of you to this, the nation’s capital, to this, the nation’s Parliament.

To this, the great meeting place of our common democracy, Australia.

The place from which we your elected representatives seek to navigate our nation’s future.

Today we are trying to do something new.

Today we are throwing open the windows of our democracy, to let a little bit of fresh air in.

Rather than pretending that we the politicians of Australia have all the answers, and the truth is, we don’t, we are turning now to you, the people of Australia.

And you have travelled a long, long way to be with us. From the tip of Cape York, all the way to the tip of Cape Leeuwin, from Tasmania to the top end.

1000, Glyn told me this morning 1002, will identify those two very soon. You in the back.

1000 Australians, Indigenous and non Indigenous, early settlers families and those most recently arrived.

City and country, industry and labour, academics and non academics, women and men, our youth, and lets face it, our not so youthful.

But what unites us all is a great optimism for this nation Australia’s future.

What we are looking for from this Summit are new ideas for our nation’s future.

What we are looking for from this Summit are new directions for our nation’s future.

And if we succeed, what we are looking for is also new insights into how we can govern Australia, a new way of governing our nation.

Because the old way of governing has long been creaking and groaning.

Often a triumph of the short term over the long term.

Often a triumph of the trivial over the substantial.

Often a triumph of the partisan over the positive.

And the truth is all sides of politics, Brendan’s and mine, we are both guilty of this. It is time we started to try and turn a page.

There is another reason for holding this Summit and that is because the challenges the nation now faces are unprecedented in complexity and intensity.

The sheer dynamics of climate change. The Governor General’s example of the changes represented by the column of ice from Antarctica. The drying of what is already the world’s driest continent.

The rise of China. The rise of India. The great economic and geopolitical transformation of the 121st Century which those two rises represent.

Quite apart from the rolling structural vulnerabilities of an increasingly inter-dependant global economic order.

A further reason we are here is the breathtaking pace of change.

As we look ahead, the year 2020 is not that far away. It is just 12 years from now.

Yet we know that the world of 2020 will be vastly different world from the world of today.

And how do we know that?

We simply need to look back 12 years and see where we have come from.

There were three million fewer Australians in 1996 than there are today.

Only one in three Australian households had a mobile phone.

We were barely using email or the internet – just 300,000 Australian home computer users were connected to the internet at home.

We had never heard of Facebook, we had never heard of Myspace, or even Google.

Most Australian households did not even have a computer at all, and in a 1996 survey, a majority of Australians said their main reason for not having a computer was either that they had ‘no use for one’ or ‘no one in household [was] interested in [a] computer’ (Australian Bureau of Statistics survey, 1996)

That was 12 years ago. ABS data, It must be true.

Times change and with a frightening pace of change.

Today, more than five million of Australia’s eight million households are connected to the internet.

Everyday we use the internet to work, to get our news, to get our sport updates, to plan our holidays, and to stay in touch with family and friends.

The world in 1996, and today

Change comes quickly to the world as well in addition to the changes we see unfolding in our daily lives.

Globally, 12 years ago nations were still coming to terms with the end of the Cold War.

To a large extent, terrorism was something that happened in Israel Palestine, Northern Ireland or Northern Spain. A handful of trouble spots.

How that has changed.

The value of China’s exports represented just one eighth of what it is today, 12 years ago.

Debate on climate change was only just beginning to stir.

The report of the second International Panel on Climate Change had only just been released, concluding for the first time that the world was getting warmer, and human activity was partly to blame.

The point is, we’ve seen extraordinary transformations in Australia and extraordinary transformations across the world these last 12 years.

And we need therefore, now more than ever, to anticipate change ahead, or else we will be swamped by it.

That is why the Government is committed to building a modern Australia capable of meeting the challenges of the 21st Century.

That is why the Government has posed this Summit some specific questions. And we want your ideas on how to meet these challenges.

The ten core challenges for the future

  1. How we can build a strong foundation for future prosperity, in a global economy that will be transformed by the rise of China and India and other developing economies; and how we ensure our prosperity does not rest only on the ups and downs of commodity markets but also on what we can craft out of our human capital.
  2. How we can have the best educated, best skilled, best trained workforce in the world – a workforce whose innovation and ingenuity drives productivity growth forward.
  3. How we respond to the enormous challenge of climate change and become a leader in tomorrow’s lower carbon energy revolution.
  4. How we ensure a strong future for rural industries and rural communities at a time when the world, once again is debating the possibility of global food shortages.
  5. How we develop a long-term national health strategy – and don’t simply surrender to the trend of rising chronic disease rates. But instead say, ‘there is a different way of doing this’
  6. How we build stronger communities, stronger families and a society that works hard, not to leave any single Australian behind.
  7. How we close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage and ensure life opportunities for Indigenous Australians, comparable to those enjoyed by all Australians. That should be our goal.
  8. How we build a creative arts industry that reflect Australia’s unique story that carries our unique culture to the rest of the world.
  9. How we reform our system of governance for the needs of the 21st Century rather than perpetuating some of the structures from the 19th Century.
  10. How we ensure Australia’s future security and prosperity in a rapidly changing region and world.

That’s an easy set of questions. They are just some of the challenges we face, but they are the big ones.

And this Summit, we argue, is just the beginning of the process of responding to those challenges.

Already there are those who are predicting that the Summit will fail.

In fact some have predicted that it has already failed. Some have said it is too big. Some have said it is too small. Some have said that it is not representative enough.

I challenge anyone to find a group which could ever claim to be fully representative of any nation, it is very hard.

Some say that consensus on anything is impossible because it produces the democratic divide.

Whereas I say on certain fundamentals, the challenge is in fact, to build a consensus around those things that really count for the long term.

I say to everyone here, we should just be relaxed about any such criticism.

It is great. It is a reflection of a democracy in which we live. Roll with the punches. That is what it is all about.

I say it is worth having a go through this Summit, even if we fail.

After all, what is there to be lost from trying?

And as I have said before, what is our simple objective here: to shake the tree and to see if from the great talents, energies and enthusiasms and ideas of this nation, we can through this process of the next two days bring forth, say a dozen new ideas about how we can shape our nation’s future, together.

We do that, we will have done some really good work here.

A few words about how this weekend will unfold.

To help focus the discussions, I have made three requests of the working group co-chairs:

First, to nominate at least one ‘big idea’ in their area for the future.

Second, I am asking them to submit at least three, and I am sure there will be more, concrete policy ideas, at least one of which is to involve no cost or negligible cost.

No cost, or negligible cost. No cost or negligible cost. I have lost my place…

Third, I am asking them to identify at least three specific goals for which we should aim by 2020.

The Government is committed to respond to each of the recommendations which are put forward by the 10 working groups by years’ end.

That is our commitment to you.

Some of these ideas, we will be able to embrace.

Others, we will not.

And some we will take in part and change.

But you know something? It is far better we ask the question, and have the answers come forward so that the whole process of national creativity in the ideas debate for our future occurs, rather than throttling it before it starts.

There are no right and wrong answers when it comes to a discussion among people of good heart, good mind and good will.

Finally, I want to thank-you, to the thousands of Australians who have already taken part in Summit across the country.

We’ve had local 2020 Summits that have attracted tens of thousands of Australians in communities right across the nation.

School summits that have been held in more than 500 schools.

A national youth 2020 Summit which we have just seen part of on the video screen before you.

And in the past week we’ve also seen a Summit for the Jewish community, because of the clash with the Passover, and other local community Summit’s as well.

3,000 ideas submissions on the Australia 2020 website. And thank you to every one for their participation in this debate on the nation’s future.

More than 8,000 people applied to be here this weekend, and I want to thank those each and every one of them for expressing their interest in being here among us.

Congratulations to those who have been selected to be here, through the process of the 10 person committee chaired by Glyn Davis.

And can I say as Prime Minister of the country, in this, the Parliament of the country, you are all very, very welcome.

To conclude, the job of Government is to set a strategic vision for the nation.

I have a simple view which is that without a vision the people do perish.

A nation needs a vision.

Government must then invite the nation to respond to that vision and to give that vision flesh and bones and to advance ideas to translate a vision into reality.

As a nation I think we face two overall choices. We can either drift into the future or we can plan for the future.

I say it is time, well and truly time to seize the future with both hands, to build a new Australia.

To build a better Australia, a better Australia for all of our people, as well as turning this great nation of ours Australia, to an even greater force for good in the world.

And now ladies and gentlemen, summiteers, it is over to you.

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