The 2020 Summit: a photo report
for now, The Eyes Have It
A photo report of Kevin Rudd's 2020 Summit by Felicity Hill
Perth's "Roving Women's Ambassador" Felicity Hill attended the 2020 Summit in Canberra. She gave permission for her photos to be posted to our website. We keenly received them!
Currently Felicity Hill is on the International Board of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and formerly she was the coordinator of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear weapons (ICAN) and a security adviser to the United Nations Development Fund for Women, and the Director of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom's UN New York Office. Felicity writes at flickruby.org
Also on this page, below the photos, Macquarie University economics professor David Throsby in the Sydney Morning Herald, who notes how fast the Culture Wars have subisded into the background since the 2007 change of government. David Throsby's piece is the second expression of hope for Australia on this page.
Okay, so what? A talk fest? A political spectacle? Maybe. But I don't underestimate the really good people that got together this weekend. These people felt pretty hopeful. It is dangerous and difficult to feel hope, almost devastating to feel it because you realise how long it has been since you had some.
These folks seemed pretty determined to me to see things change. Kev and Co have been in 18 weeks, and there have been some signals and signs, like signing Kyoto, like some bold statements. They have made some big election promises, and they have set themselves up to have some expectant and watchful citizens through this 2020 process.
It also felt like some kind of healing took place, a beginning anyway, because NGOs, academics and experts have been treated with total contempt for the last 12 years and might now be given a hearing and a voice by a government who might actually do some things to surprise us.
On 1 July when five fiesty, inspired and intelligent Greens hit the Senate, I'm sure they will be able to breathe some more life into the good ideas presented this weekend.
22 April 2008: The 2020 Summit: Coal Industry Chiefs overheat Kevin's Climate - "I found myself in the climate stream with representatives of coal mining companies including Xstrata and Shell, yet not a single person from an environment Non-Government Organisation. No-one from Friends of the Earth, the Australian Conservation Foundation, Greenpeace, Climate Action Network Australia or any of the State Conservation Councils."
14 February 2008: Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's Motion of Apology - Yesterday, Australia's Federal Parliament reconvened after the resounding win for ALP Leader Kevin Rudd, and the very first motion put by Australia's new Prime Minister under 'government business' was the speech to The Motion Of The Apology. Here's the movie and transcript of Kevin Rudd's speech.
4 October 2007: Kevin Rudd: Howard's Brutopia; the battle of ideas in Australian politics - "the culture war is essentially a cover for the real battle of ideas in Australian politics today: the battle between free-market fundamentalism and the social-democratic belief that individual reward can be balanced with social responsibility. Howard's culture war is in large part an electoral strategy drawn straight from the Republican Party's campaign manual."
10 December 2006 - Mission accomplished: Labor's back with a Rudder that works - We can be confident that the ALP's troubles have melted into thin air with the appointment of "the dream team", and especially the fact that Kevin Rudd is its leader. From Rudd's theology follows a vision of social responsibility in action - an vision that will eventually also spell an inevitable end to mandatory detention.
A truce in the culture wars
Sydney Morning Herald
Kevin Rudd has an opportunity to heal some wounds and invigorate Australia's cultural outlook, writes David Throsby.
In interviews during the final week of November's federal election campaign, John Howard was in a mood to summarise and simplify the issues facing the Australian people in their imminent decision.
It was a choice, he said, between political correctness and traditional values. He went so far as to claim his conservative stance on cultural issues was one of the most important distinguishing characteristics of his period in office. That a prime minister not noted for his artistic or cultural interests should make such a claim may seem something of a paradox. Yet it reflects the significance of the so-called culture wars that have generated a vigorous public debate over the past few years.
How should we interpret the current state of the battlefield? Howard duly lost the election, and many of the ideas flowing from last weekend's 2020 Summit were a direct repudiation of his conservative position - a big tick for the republic; a possible treaty with indigenous Australians; a celebration of the changing face of Australian cultural identity. Does all this mean that the culture wars are over, a decisive victory for the progressive cause?
The term culture wars came to prominence in the United States in the 1980s to describe the confrontation between the Christian right and the moderate centre-left over issues such as abortion, gay rights and the censorship of art, especially of visual art that was regarded as pornographic or sacrilegious. In Australia, cultural battles have been fought along similar ideological fault-lines, but the issues have become more sharply defined around what are seen as fundamental Australian values: attitudes to multiculturalism, to the teaching of history, to the treatment of refugees, to Aboriginal reconciliation, to the republic, indeed, to the very notion of Australian identity.
How did the main political protagonists take sides in the conflict? In a speech on the 50th anniversary of Quadrant in October 2006, Howard made his own position plain. He railed against the "conformists of the left", the "black-armband" view of history, and the "long march" of the "soft left" in Australia's universities. He identified himself as a traditional conservative who stood up for intellectual freedom and liberal democracy. He portrayed the left's position on cultural issues as one of political correctness, by which he presumably meant adherence to a progressive point of view because it is fashionable rather than because of any intellectual conviction.
Yet if he was accusing his opponents of being insincere or facile in their arguments, Howard missed the point, especially if he thought a label of political correctness could be applied to Kevin Rudd, who would soon be his chief political adversary. The future Labor leader joined the battle in the culture wars in late 2006 in two carefully argued articles in The Monthly [Ed: here and here] that clearly reflected deeply held beliefs. Rudd reinterpreted the ideological difference between himself and the prime minister as follows: "The culture war," he wrote, "is essentially a cover for the real battle of ideas ... between free-market fundamentalism and the social democratic belief that individual reward can be balanced with social responsibility."
Rudd went on to point out that, far from being a true conservative, Howard's neo-liberal economics was so extreme that it had alienated him from longstanding conservative values as espoused by the former "wets" and small "l" liberals in his own party.
Whether or not the culture wars should be seen as a contest between neo-cons and social democrats, or between philosophies of individualism and collectivism, or simply between right and left, three issues have stood out as important battlegrounds on which they have been fought in this country, labelled by some observers as the three Rs: the republic, reconciliation and refugees. All three have been issues on which Howard staked a strong position against his progressive opponents, and there has been some significant movement on all three since the change of government.
In regard to the republic, Howard won an early victory, achieved not by force of argument but by smart political manipulation. He was able to exploit disagreements within the republican movement to defeat the 1999 referendum and in so doing he ensured that the republic was off the agenda for the remainder of his term. Views on the desirability of an Australian republic don't split evenly along party political lines, and survey evidence shows that many people who are conservative on other issues are favourably inclined to an Australian as head of state. Although public sentiment may be moving inexorably towards support for a republic, contrary views are still strongly held, and debate will continue. But at least it's a matter that is now back in the public arena, and the expectation is for action sooner rather than later.
The second of the three Rs is reconciliation. No single issue has illustrated the divide between conservatives and their opponents in the culture wars more vividly than attitudes to indigenous/non-indigenous relations and to policy measures to deal with the persistent problems of Aboriginal disadvantage. And on no single issue has there been more dramatic movement during the short period of the new Government. Whatever lingering support might have remained for Howard's staunch refusal to embrace an apology to the stolen generations evaporated with the events surrounding the opening of Federal Parliament in February. The breadth and depth of the response, both here and overseas, to the symbolic meaning of the apology would seem to promise hope for an end to this aspect of the culture wars. Much depends on whether proposals for a unified approach to decision-making in this area can deliver tangible results.
The cultural dimensions of the third R, the refugee issue, reach deep into the heart of Australian identity and values. During and after the 2001 election campaign, supporters of Howard's position, including the then attorney-general and successive immigration ministers, were outspoken in dismissing any dissent from the government's hardline stance. Yet not only was there clear evidence that Australia's treatment of detainees violated fundamental human rights, it was also contrary to an essential element of Australians' view of themselves, the concept of the "fair go". If there were indeed some inconsistency between this basic Aussie value and the country's refugee policy, it did not appear to trouble Howard.
Some of the nation's leading institutions, including the universities and the National Museum, were caught up in the crossfire of the culture wars. The ABC in particular was consistently portrayed by the former government as an incorrigible agent for the promotion of left-wing cultural causes. Both main political parties when in office have tended to regard the ABC with some irritation, but the Howard administration was more direct than most in its complaints. With a new government in Canberra there is an opportunity to move on from the name-calling and to reaffirm the essential independence of the role that the public broadcaster plays in Australia's cultural and intellectual life.
Looking back over the past 10 years, one can ask whether Howard's position on any aspect of the culture wars sprang from an intellectual conviction or simply from expediency, a response to what he thought was the mood of the electorate. Was he leading public opinion or simply surfing the wave?
That prime ministers can influence public attitudes is beyond question - some degree of cultural shift can be discerned during the incumbency of virtually every federal administration in Australia over the past half-century, and it is generally plausible to attribute at least some part of these movements to the political leaders of the time. So can the Howard years be seen as a cultural turn, a shift in public attitudes during the late 1990s and early 2000s towards a more conservative agenda led by the man himself?
It is difficult to draw a clear-cut conclusion because hard data on cultural change are not easy to come by. But certainly the conservative commentariat over the past few years were in no doubt that Howard's adherence to "traditional Australian values" combined with his radical economic agenda signalled his resounding victory in every aspect of the culture wars. In forums such as the opinion pages of The Australian, critics of Howard's position were ridiculed as being out of touch with the mood of the people. "Artists and intellectuals", in particular, were singled out as targets of derision.
Yet even as these opinion pieces and editorials were extolling Howard's success in understanding the popular mind, social analysts were pointing to a gradual change in the attitudes of many who had been the government's strongest supporters. Surveys began to detect a growing sense of disillusion with the economic, social and cultural values that the prime minister represented. In the dying moments of the election campaign, Howard was warning that a major cultural shift would be precipitated, were he to be defeated. Neither he nor his supporters in the media seemed to recognise that it was already under way. The causal logic was reversed - governments don't change people, the people change the government.
It remains to be seen whether or not the enthusiasm with which the electorate disposed of the old and embraced the new indicates a cultural trend that will be continued. But whatever happens, it would be quite wrong to read the present mood as indicating an end to the culture wars.
Many conservatives in politics, the media and public life still hold the same views that received such prominence during the Howard years. Debate and disagreement will continue, as it must in a free and open society. Nevertheless, the immediate opportunity is there for the Rudd Government to heal some of the more painful wounds of the culture wars and to inject a new vigour into our cultural outlook.
In this regard, the work of the Creative Australia stream at last weekend's summit provides some clues to the way forward. One of the group's key themes was the centrality of culture and the arts to Australian life - to an understanding of who we are and where we're going, to the enrichment of our education, and to the fostering of creativity.
A core role for the arts can be seen in the way in which our literature, movies, visual arts, music and theatre contribute to the continuing public debate about Australian values and Australian identity. It is being increasingly recognised around the world that a dynamic and flourishing arts sector, in which professional artists are respected and not treated with contempt, is essential to a creative society and an innovative economy. As Rudd said in the summit's concluding session, the arts can no longer be seen as marginal.
But to give effect to these lofty sentiments, a new determination will be needed to raise the profile of the arts and culture in the federal administration. A couple of years ago at a conference in Rio de Janeiro I met the Brazilian Minister for Culture, Gilberto Gil, who is also a popular musician. Now Australia has followed suit. In Peter Garrett we have for the first time an artist as Arts Minister. He should need no persuading that the arts deserve to be well placed in the new Government's policy agenda. But in the tight fiscal environment in the run-up to this year's federal budget, he will need to put a strong case in the cabinet room. Fortunately for him he will find several sympathetic ears around the table, not least that of the Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. In a Herald article last June, Gillard called for an end to the culture wars and for a cultural renaissance, "one that celebrates excellence and encourages all our people to understand the importance of our culture to our future".
It's time now to make it happen.
David Throsby is professor of economics at Macquarie University.