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Sunday, June 01, 2008

2020 Summit Final Report

The Final Report of the 2020 Summit was released (without fanfare-not even a media release on the PM's website although some media report comments) on Saturday and is available in a number of formats. The report-all 399 pages- was prepared by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet from the notes of scribes who recorded discussions of the 10 groups.The introduction says the report" will assist the policy development process by describing the discussions and outlining the many ideas generated at the summit.... This report also seeks to present the ideas in accordance with the priorities given to them by the stream participants in the discussion and debates at the summit." The Prime Minister has undertaken to respond by the end of the year.(Postscript: the PM's media release did appear and is here)

What to make of the Governance chapter? Well the five priority themes- constitution, rights and responsibilities(an Australian Republic); create a modern federation; collaborative governance: revolutionise the ways government and communities interact; parliamentary reform and open and accountable government-and the top ideas to move ahead on fundamental change in these areas mostly make sense. There are good ideas about improved access to government information, better use of technology to enhance democratic practices such as citizen involvement in decision making, and making parliament more effective. Many ideas-for example a culture change on disclosure- could start tomorrow if the government chose to act.

Overall the Governance chapter lacks coherence, is repetitive, and provides little guidance on the weight that should be given to many ideas, some of which are trite and border on laughable as 2020 objectives. Most of us have spent plenty of time in sessions like this where a lot of stuff ends up on paper around the walls of a room, meant to capture what has been discussed. Someone then has to make sense of it all producing an account that often surprises participants because of its apparent logic and wisdom, while still satisfying them that all the important things have been captured for posterity .Whoever put together the reports on The future of the Australian economy, and Australia's future security and prosperity in a rapidly changing region and world, to cite two other group reports, are dab hands at this. However the Governance report seems to consist largely of what went up on the wall. At times I wondered whether anyone had given the chapter a close read before it was released.

Some examples:
  • On Parliamentary Reform one of the "ideas"is that"the government(should) instruct the Australian Public Service that it has a duty to cooperate with the Parliament."If there are any doubts we need to get this sorted well before 2020.It not only makes it into the top ideas section-its there twice (9.11.3 and 9.12.3).
  • On Open and Accountable Government, one idea (9.17.1) is that we should reform the current freedom of information system through "legislating through the Electoral Act." I'm mystified.
  • On the same topic a recommendation on a charter of free speech (9.18) lists five matters to be addressed. Three of the five use different language to recommend the same thing- shield laws for journalists.
There follow pages and pages(40 in fact) of other "ideas" and a record of discussion in small group and plenary sessions that will test even the most interested reader. Just a few gems that should have had a little rework after they went up on the wall:
  • Reform the public sector including "expedite issues of remuneration, flexibility and mobility"and "develop a citizen-or-community-focused public service and system that supports that"(9.64.3). Que?
  • Parliamentary sittings moving around the country (9.70)
  • By 2020 a national planning framework to......"develop an agreed future of Australia"(9.94.2) and"establish an agreed policy position, including principles, to facilitate outcome-based decision making"(9.94.8)
  • "The Constitution was written by a bunch of morons in Melbourne and was never discussed with aboriginal people.It is therefore invalid"....."The Constitution needs to reflect the outcome of what the public wants.Public administration and the constitution are closely aligned"....There needs to be a reintegration of parliament".(page 319)
  • "...The idea of subsidiary? The idea we should have a bias against decentralisation?"..."Politicians should be accountable if they mislead the government" (page 320).For the words in italics read subsidiarity and parliament, I think.
I gave it away after page 325, with 26 pages to go, after I caught sight of this "idea":"Elimination of jargon in governance and bureaucracy: there is too much jargon in bureaucracy and government documents which is obfuscatory. There is a need for clear writing, thinking and speaking".

Hear, hear.Who is going to tell the Prime Minister?

Good luck to the policy makers as they sift through all this.
Future of Governance.PDF 370KB
Future of Economy PDF 386KB
Australia's Future Security PDF 425KB

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