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    The 2020 Summit: Political Spin or a New Australia?

Coal Industry Chiefs overheat Kevin's Climate

Coal Industry stacking at the 2020 Summit

"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."

"These are the organisations - the movement - who put climate on the agenda, and who did all the groundwork to make last year's election the world's first climate election."

"Why on earth would the coal industry be represented but not the climate movement, in the 'climate' stream of 2020?"

That's the voice of Anna Rose, a participant in the 2020 Summit, and her observations, and clear frustrations, are concerning enough for those who have sufficient knowledge of the amount of pollution caused by the burning of coal. The climate sceptics may be less vocal than they were during the Howard years, but the stacking of the Summit by those working for the returns of shareholders above a passion for a sustainable world, is disturbing.

Project SafeCom pointed at the coal industry before the Summit, and to the false consciousness underpinning carbon sequestration. It seems that amongst all the Wooh's and Aaah's about Mr Rudd's Summit, other voices should increase in strength.

We talked with Anna Rose, who sent her article to us. It's amongst the round-up writings from Fairfax and the Australian below. All items, as well as additional reading resources are included in the links below.

Quick page links

Click the links to zoom down the page to any of the items...

Media releases

Initial Summit Report

  • Australia 2020 Summit: Initial Summit Report - This gathering of 1000 Australians in the Great Hall, then, is not an end in itself, but part of something broader - a public conversation in which all voices are welcome. In the Prime Minister's words, "Government, irrespective of its political persuasion, does not have a monopoly on policy wisdom." (PDF File 1.03 Mb)

26 April 2008 - Kevin Rudd's Canberra 2020 Summit: a photo report - "These folks seemed pretty determined to me to see things change ... 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."


21 March 2008: The Garnaut Climate Change Review Interim Report - Hasn't Australia changed radically in just a few months: under the former government Ross Garnaut, who has just released his Interim Climate Change Review Report, would have been stonewalled, ignored, vilified and sidelined, and Canberra would have followed a lead from industry on its opinion about him. Now he receives appause from the environmental lobby while big energy producers cringe...

20 January 2008: Climate Change: voices from communities affected by climate change (Friends of the Earth International) - "Cities and towns where Australians live, generally concentrated near the coast, will be affected by sea-level rise and storms and, in the North, bymore intense cyclones. Heatrelated deaths in Australia's major urban centres are expected to become five times more frequent by 2050."

16 May 2007: Human tide: the real migration crisis: a Christian Aid report - "Christian Aid predicts that, on current trends, a further 1 billion people will be forced from their homes between now and 2050. We believe forced migration is the most urgent threat facing poor people in developing countries. The time for action is now."

26 January 2007: And the Winning Big Issue for 2007 is... - It sounds almost like the announcement by of Juan Antonio Samaranch, who announced that Syd-e-ney had won its bid to host the 2000 Olympic Games - it's just that the "winner" of the Big Issues in 2007 is a rather more disturbing announcement.

14 August 2006: Got that sinking feeling? - Some of Australia's closest neighbours are getting 'that sinking feeling' - and with good reason: their nations are sinking, or rather, rising sea levels increase the likelihood of them becoming "climate refugees". But this page is about our own country: Australia...

15 September 2005: Friends of the Earth Australia: A Citizens Guide to Climate Refugees - While the Earth has always endured natural climate change variability, we are now facing the possibility of irreversible climate change in the near future. The increase of greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere from industrial processes has enhanced the natural greenhouse effect.

Fossil fuel industry dominates

Sydney Morning Herald
Ben Cubby
April 21, 2008

AUSTRALIA will lead the global fight against climate change in the next decade, delegates believe, but doubts remained about whether the opportunity to design a future of controlled, falling greenhouse emissions had been grasped.

Plans to make all citizens aware of their own carbon footprint and enforce high environmental standards on new buildings by 2020 contrasted with a failure to agree that no new coal-fired power stations should be built.

A sense of urgency characterised the two days of talks. "The one message was act now and act wisely," said the Minister for Climate Change, Penny Wong, who co-chaired discussions and must now consider whether to put the plans into action.

Delegates made it clear that they expected the Federal Government to lead from the front, slashing its own emissions and allowing regular, independent audits.

The centrepiece was a call for a holistic approach to sustainability, under which all projects would be assessed for their carbon emissions and adjusted accordingly. A system of national environmental accounts, similar to the national economic accounts, was envisaged to supply information to households, businesses and governments.

There was strong support for a sustainable cities program led by the Federal Government, with emphasis on public transport. Under the plan, no city resident would live much further than 800 metres from public transport, with rail and bus routes radiating from inner cities to all suburbs.

A variety of ideas for saving water in urban areas and a scheme to manage and preserve river systems across northern Australia under Aboriginal stewardship gained broad support.

But the flurry of big ideas began to look decidedly modest when filtered through a sieve of committee process and translated into bureaucratese.

The sub-group discussing climate change faced the task of setting a "man on the moon" challenge that fitted the Australian psyche, on a par with the Snowy Mountains hydroelectric scheme, which still provides most of the nation's renewable energy. But one single great idea did not shine through.

The sub-group was heavy with representatives of the fossil fuel industry. It had no one who could unequivocably be said to be from the environment movement.

Even the relatively straightforward issue of cutting energy use, now accepted by many governments and businesses, met obstacles.

Australia might need to emit much more carbon in the future, said Peter Coates, the chairman in Australia of the mining giant Xstrata, as climate change fuelled world food shortages and the nation increased production to fill the gap.

"We may find that energy intensity will increase," Mr Coates said. He called for a "level playing field" for carbon capture and storage technology - an experimental field that already draws large public subsidies.

Anna Rose, from the youth summit climate group, said:

"It's outrageous, and I'm really uncomfortable because you can't have a proper discussion about climate change without anyone from the environment movement. I'm being forced to try and represent the climate movement, which I'm not qualified to do. It's really, really disappointing because we were told to come in with an open mind."

Some imaginations were fired by a suggestion from the Melbourne University meteorologist David Karoly that giant underwater turbines could be installed between Sydney Heads and the entrance to Port Phillip Bay, Melbourne, to take advantage of concentrated tidal flow.

"It would generate a surprisingly large amount of power," Professor Karoly said.

"But there are a thousand good ideas that we didn't have the chance to really consider, like putting solar hot water and photovoltaic panels on the roof of every new house."

Those plans did not make it past the whiteboard but two ideas from the accompanying youth summit did find widespread acceptance in the adult version.

Education about climate issues, nicknamed "eco-ed", at early secondary school level did find favour, as did community sustainability challenges, in which districts would compete to save energy in return for grants.

Youth Slam Coal Industry Hijacking of 2020 Climate Agenda

Anna Rose
Founder, Australian Youth Climate Coalition
21 April 2008

It was touted as a forum where people would put aside their vested interests and think about the future of our country, not the future of their company. In Kevin Rudd's opening speech he encouraged all Summiteers to be bold. He said, "there is no such thing as a bad idea". But the coal industry and their allies had decided otherwise: transitioning away from coal was, in their minds, a very bad idea.

The first surprise came when delegates were divided into streams within our broader portfolio and 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. These are the organisations who have campaigned on climate change years before Al Gore's film and years before it became a popular political issue. These are the organisations - the movement - who put climate on the agenda, and who did all the groundwork to make last year's election the world's first climate election. Yet once they put the issue on the table, surely they deserve a seat there? Why on earth would the coal industry be represented but not the climate movement, in the 'climate' stream of 2020?

I was there as a representative of the youth movement - with the simple message that we are running out of time to act on climate change, we must make fundamental changes to our economy now, and that we need to do whatever is most effective to safeguard our climate and our future.

So I came to the Summit willing to listen to new ideas and creatively brainstorm around a few I'd been thinking about - a personal carbon allocation scheme, for example. This scheme would cover households - there would need to be a different scheme for industry, such as a carbon tax or well-designed trading scheme - and could cover petrol, gas, electricity and aviation. The government would set a cap based on a risk analysis of how much greenhouse gases emit without risking our future - and then divide it per capita to provide every person (perhaps everyone over 16) with an equal carbon allowance. Each time an individual buys energy from the above sectors, they would need to use some of their carbon allowances. If they ran out of allowances, they would need to buy more. Those who used less energy than they were allotted would be able to sell their extra allowances. The government would be able to control and gradually reduce greenhouse emissions by regulating the amount of personal allowances available each year. As the government reduced the overall number of allowances, the price for each allowance would rise, and people could decide to use less energy - assuming the scheme was well-designed and accompanied by a suite of other measures so as not to disadvantage low-income households. This means ensuring people have the options available to them so they actually can reduce energy - such as ensuring every home in urban and regional areas is within 800m of a frequently-serviced public transport stop or cycle route, so they can choose to live car-free.

I also proposed a nation-wide green job creation scheme, focused on three areas: an energy efficiency corps to retrofit and weatherize low-income households; a clean energy corps of workers building wind turbines, solar panels and other renewable energy technologies; and finally a climate science training program to dramatically increase the number of Australian climate scientists so we have a better understanding of modeling and impacts for our part of the world. We need the people to do the work to save the climate; and we need to start training and deploying them now. We could design a massive job-creation program that would inspire Australians to get involved, create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, and dramatically increase renewable energy and energy efficient industries.

These were just two of my ideas: I was excited to hear what others had come up with.

However, it became clear at the start of the summit that members of the coal industry and their 'business as usual' allies had pre-determined their position and approach - and it was one that aggressively pushed so-called 'clean coal' and argued for more subsidies to the coal industry for them to build clean coal plants. At one point a delegate argued against reducing Australia's carbon footprint (ostensibly because we have a 'special place in the world' and could provide energy for the rest of the world - I was unsure why we couldn't still do this while reducing our emissions if we move to renewables). Peter Coates, from the giant coal mining company Xstrata, even argued to abolish the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target. This is the position of the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network, who are focusing all their efforts this year on undermining the emissions trading scheme by proposing free permits to coal-fired power generators - which totally undermines the point of a trading system.

The day before the Summit, twenty 20-year-olds representing all major Australian youth organisations presented a Statement calling for urgent and immediate action on climate change to Minister for Youth, Kate Ellis, in Canberra. The Statement urges the government to give young Australians a real chance of a safe future by urgently adopting much deeper greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. The organisations call on the government to make Australia a world leader in energy efficiency and renewable energy, which would create thousands of jobs for young Australians.

After the youth statement, youth delegates re-grouped and voiced our frustration and disappointed at the way the coal industry had hijacked the climate agenda. They did not act in good faith, but rather pushed their business agenda, meaning a small minority silenced the majority of people in the room who pushed for a statement calling for no new coal-fired power stations in Australia (unless or until carbon capture and storage was proven to work, proven safe, efficient and commercially viable - which it is not at this stage, and the majority of the climate movement believe it will never be). We believe that the sense of urgency - our future is at stake - was lost.

Youth certainly don't blame Penny Wong or Kevin Rudd for the weak outcomes on climate change from 2020. I was excited to be involved and thought the idea of an ideas-generating summit was an excellent one. The coal industry, however, were able to use it to push their agenda through an organised attempt - in the lead-up to the federal budget - to position so-called 'clean coal' as the solution to climate change. We do not need new coal in Australia. We can deploy energy efficiency and renewable energy, and fundamentally change our society and economy - for example through distributed energy systems rather than the centralised grid.

One of the coal industry members stated that he wanted a level playing field for so-called 'clean coal' and that the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target is unfair. This is laughable considering that the fossil fuel industry in Australia already receives $9 billion in federal subsidies each year - 28 times more than what is spent on renewable energy.

Our generation expected - and needed - better outcomes from the 2020 Summit for our climate, and our future. As Friday's youth statement reads:

"We have one climate, one future, and one chance to save it".

Garrett deflects coal hijack claim

The Australian
Christian Kerr
April 22, 2008

ENVIRONMENT Minister Peter Garrett has defended the 2020 Summit amid accusations the climate debate was hijacked by the coal industry.

Australian Conservation Foundation climate change manager Tony Mohr said:

"There probably wasn't a strong enough voice for the 90 per cent of Australians really worried about climate change ... There weren't any really big ideas on climate change that could galvanise and inspire people."

His comments were echoed by delegate Anna Rose, co-director of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. "I found myself in the climate stream with representatives of ... 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.

Another delegate told The Australian the climate debate had occurred in a vacuum: "I don't think we got very far. We don't know what the Garnaut report is going to say."

Mr Garrett said: "I think it was always going to be a really interesting and challenging engagement, particularly when you had people in a room with very different views about one issue."

He said the summit had produced ideas with real substance and merit, and singled out proposals to give Australians tools tomeasure their own carbon footprint.,25197,23578344-11949,00.html

Wong's dose of shock therapy

The Climate Change Minister faces fierce lobbying from fossil fuel companies as she draws up detailed plans to reduce carbon emissions, write Marian Wilkinson and Ben Cubby.

The Age
May 10, 2008

It is a rare sight. The notoriously cool, calm, collected Penny Wong is waving her arms around and raising her voice with frustration. "I couldn't believe it! I had to call back three times!" The federal Climate Change Minister is describing attempts to sign up her Adelaide home for GreenPower, the scheme that power companies offer customers who want to pay a little extra to drive the demand for renewable energy.

Wong's persistence paid off, as it usually does. But for the woman charged with transforming Australia from a leading greenhouse gas polluter into a leading clean energy producer, it was a reality check, just one of many she's experiencing lately.

The Government's plans for greenhouse gas reductions, the latest scientific predictions on global warming and the forceful arguments of Australia's fossil fuel industry are on a collision course.

Some of the most powerful men in Australia, the leaders of the nation's booming coal, gas and oil companies, have decided to put the heat on Wong. Throughout the summer she basked in the warm glow of the Bali climate talks and the ratification of Kyoto. Now the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases at home are demanding her full attention. They want the new green minister to start getting her hands dirty.

Not since the days of the Whitlam government, perhaps, has the business elite been so anxious about a government's intentions.

One by one, the fossil fuel company executives have been knocking on Wong's door or using their lobbyists in a relentless campaign to shape the Rudd Government's two far-reaching plans to cut Australia's soaring greenhouse gas pollution. These plans are a new carbon emissions trading scheme, which puts a lid on the amount of pollution Australia can emit, and a national, enforceable target for 20 per cent of Australia's power to come from renewable energy by 2020.

For many Australians, an emissions trading scheme is an eye-glazing concept far removed from the passions aroused by global warming, melting ice caps and drought-stricken farmland. Yet the awkward-sounding scheme is central to the Government's plan to shrink the giant carbon footprint that makes us one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters per person on the planet.

The US-born oil executive Don Voelte, who heads the energy giant Woodside, reflected the views of much of the fossil fuel industry when he spoke in Perth last month. An emissions trading scheme could flatten the company's lucrative liquefied natural gas export trade, he claimed.

"I flew to Adelaide the other day and talked to Penny Wong for quite a while," an agitated Voelte told reporters. "I think she's probably got every CEO in the country trotting in to see her."

Australia could become the only country dominated by the fossil fuel industry that is going to have an emissions trading scheme, he explained. He kept hammering this point.

"It's an extraction economy - extraction, extraction, extraction," he said. "Frankly, digging stuff up and sending it overseas. And trying to do an extraction economy with laying a carbon tax on top of it, frankly, hasn't been done."

Voelte, whose company pumps gas for export from the North-West Shelf, did concede that Wong and the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, were alert to his anxiety.

"The good news is that they are worried about it," he said. But his fears were not assuaged by Wong. "She says we are all going to have to take a little pain and punishment."

His message for Wong was not subtle.

"The North-West Shelf in its own right is a little under 3 per cent of the gross national product," he said. "That's huge. If you take that out of play - I'm not going to say that's going to happen, but if you ask me what I stay up at night worried about, it's not that the intention isn't good, it's the unintended consequences."

The same week, Richard McIndoe, the local head of the Hong Kong-owned gas and power company TRUenergy, delivered a broadside in a letter to Wong, Rudd and the Victorian Premier, John Brumby.

TRUenergy relies on brown coal to produce 80 per cent of its electricity. If it and other generators were denied special consideration under the new emissions trading scheme, the lights could go out, McIndoe warned.

His threat was echoed publicly by generators around Australia, by their chief lobbyist in Canberra and by the NSW Treasurer, Michael Costa, who is desperate to privatise his state's generators.

Wong manages a laugh when asked just how much heat she is feeling. "I think you can discern that from the newspapers, including your own," she says, before retreating behind her characteristic caution. "I am not going to speak for Mr Costa but I think he has made his views fairly clear publicly."

Despite her calm tones, Wong knows she is in the eye of the storm.

Many Australians are realising the scheme will touch almost every aspect of economic life in Australia. Under the scheme, the Government will "cap" or limit the amount of emissions Australia can produce. The target for this cap is a 60 per cent reduction in our emissions by 2050, based on 2000 figures.

But now the Government is committed to setting "mid-term" targets, including for 2020. At the UN talks in Bali, it was suggested that developed countries such as Australia should have a mid-term target in the range of 25 to 40 per cent using a base year of 1990, not 2000.

It is the prospect of these deep emissions cuts in just 12 years that has many in the business world deeply worried.

By 2010 most companies that emit greenhouse gases will need permits to do so. They will be issued by the Government or bought on a carbon market at anything from $10 to $20 a tonne or more, at a cost across the economy of billions of dollars.

"There will be a cost to producing emissions, reflecting their cost to our climate, meaning there will be an incentive to reduce them," Wong explains. "For too long, we have poured greenhouse gases into the atmosphere without regard for what happens next. We have done that because it was easy and cheap - at the time. But in reality, it hasn't been cheap at all; the cost has simply been deferred to our generation and future generations to deal with."

The chief executives of Woodside, TRUenergy and every other heavy greenhouse emitter know that if their companies are forced to pay for all the permits they need, they will either have to wear a big cost or try to pass it all on to their customers. That's why they are lobbying furiously. They don't want to wear the cost and they don't want their shareholders to devalue them because the tonnes of greenhouse gases they emit will soon be a huge liability.

Most are pitching for either "free" permits or some other form of compensation, such as tax breaks for the cost of buying permits. The question Wong has to answer is this: if the big greenhouse gas polluters all get free permits or compensation under the emissions trading scheme, who does get slugged if Australia's emissions are going to fall?

Will it be the householders who have to shoulder most of the burden in higher electricity, gas and petrol prices or by making deep cuts to their power use?

"We're very conscious the decisions around aspects of the design of the emissions trading scheme are interlinked," Wong says. "Obviously, one of the groups that has been lobbying very strongly has been the electricity generating sector and we're very conscious of the impact on them, but equally we recognise that we also have to be conscious of the effect on our trade-exposed industries and also, particularly, low-income households."

The lobbying was forced out into the open when the Government's adviser, Ross Garnaut, who is conducting the national climate change review, bluntly warned against giving any free permits, especially to coal-fired power generators. He said the permits should all be auctioned and the proceeds used in part to help low-income households pay for the higher electricity prices passed on by the companies. He pointed out that in Europe the generators made windfall profits from selling many of their free permits on the carbon market and put power prices up as well.

But he suggested there should be carefully assessed compensation for exporters.

The Rudd Government's reforms, the emissions trading scheme and the renewable energy target are raising serious concerns among the fossil fuel company executives that they face an uncertain future. Under a tough emissions trading scheme, companies such as Woodside in the not too distant future would probably develop new Australian gas fields only if they had invested a lot of money in technology to securely bury the carbon released in extracting the gas and turning it into liquid for export.

The challenges for Australia's coal industry are even greater. Under a new climate change treaty, our most important coal importer, Japan, could be forced to heavily cut its emissions.

These rapid changes have forced the fossil fuel executives to increase their calls for "clean coal" and "clean gas" technology to be made commercially viable. But it's hugely expensive, only in the experimental stage and the coal and gas industries want massive taxpayer support to develop it.

Clean coal is technically carbon capture, storage and sequestration, in which greenhouse gas is captured from power stations and then pumped over long distances into suitable underground aquifers.

But the industry's "clean energy" strategy is about to collide with Wong's second big idea, a renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020. Some major coal and gas companies say that getting one-fifth of Australia's energy supply from solar, wind, hydro or geothermal power in 12 years' time is unrealistic and will undermine "clean coal".

Peter Coates, the chairman in Australia of the mining giant Xstrata, was blunt in telling the Herald the renewable energy target should be dropped. "I am very, very concerned," he says. "They are going to have to find a way around this issue."

Coates argues the renewable energy target will divert investment and government funding into solar and wind and away from "clean coal" technology.

"The renewable industry are trying to suppress the clean coal option," he says. Backed by the Opposition, he wants to change the renewable energy target to a "clean energy" target that will include clean coal technology.

Coates used the stage at last month's 2020 Summit in Canberra to forcefully argue his case. He was joined by representatives of BHP Billiton, Shell Australia and BP Australia and by Tony Maher from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, a strong supporter of the "clean coal" strategy. The Prime Minister was there too, creeping unannounced into the back of the room early in the debate, which was chaired by Wong.

Several delegates have since told the Herald that they felt debate at the summit was steered by the fossil fuel lobby.

Greg Bourne, director of WWF-Australia, was also at the summit but was not selected to participate in the stream discussing climate change.

"The fact is that there are some in the industry who recognise the need for a massive change, and there are some who are Neanderthal," he says. "And, to be quite honest, anyone who is agitating against the mandatory renewable energy market is from the latter group."

Yet Bourne and his organisation have hitched their wagon, along with the Climate Institute, to the coal industry's strategy: that "clean coal" should be a key part of the Government's climate change policy. They are joined by the mining union.

The two environmental groups attracted intense heat from other green organisations for their policy switch earlier this year. The Greens senator Christine Milne believes "clean coal" technology will not be commercially feasible in time. She argues against using taxpayers' money to fund the technology.

"It comes down to the 'polluter pays' principle," she says. "And if you believe the polluter should pay, the coal industry is the classic case because for the last 100 years it had made massive profits at the expense of the atmosphere and the climate and now is the time for them to pay for their own research."

These are indeed boom times for Australian coal exporters: Rio Tinto and Xstrata recorded profits this year of more than $8 billion and $6 billion respectively.

Aware of accusations that the industry should put its money where its mouth is, the Australian Coal Association plans to raise $1 billion for the technology, but so far the bulk of the spending on clean coal has come from the federal and state governments, which have themselves committed almost $1 billion.

Coates recognises that the money spent by the companies so far is a drop in the ocean.

"There has been nothing other than test work done," he admits. "It will take a huge investment. We are not going to see clean coal by 2020. We will get demonstration plants, but between those and commercialisation, to get to the point of proving the technology to commercialisation, we have to go through what I called the valley of death."

Wong says, "It's not a zero sum game. It's not do one and not the other. You have to do both [clean coal and renewables]."

She insists the Prime Minister will not drop the renewable energy target despite intense industry lobbying to do so.

"Some in the industry have put that to me, not all," she says. "And what I have made clear is that the Government will progress its election commitment, which is for a renewable energy target."

But Wong is working to a deadline to release her advice on the emissions trading scheme in July. She must also have an outline of the renewable energy target by then.

By December at United Nations climate talks in Poland she must reveal Australia's mid-term target. And if Australia is going to push for other nations such as China and India to cut their emissions, it must be serious, nominating a cut of at least 20 per cent in its emissions by 2020.

Wong insists the 2020 target will be credible and the emissions trading scheme, combined with the renewable energy target, will bring down Australia's emissions.

"I think we can rise to this challenge," she says. "It's not going to be easy but I think we can."

Republic cheered in fight for rights

Sydney Morning Herald
Ruth Pollard
April 21, 2008


AUSTRALIA'S creaky constitutional framework would get a makeover - with a republic, a bill of rights and a preamble in the Constitution recognising indigenous people's custodianship over the land and sea - under proposals adopted at the summit.

The idea of a republic is not new, but the proposal received some of the longest, and heartiest, applause of the final session.

Tackling the often divisive issue in a two-step process, delegates voted overwhelmingly for an initial plebiscite on ending ties with Britain, followed by community consultation and a referendum.

Despite the urgings of the Minister for Home Affairs, Bob Debus, for a republic by 2010, the summit agreed to the longer timeframe of 2020.

In his closing address the Prime Minister acknowledged the popularity of the idea.

"The Australian republic seemed to get the thumbs up, unless I misread the mood of the room," Kevin Rudd said.

It is just shy of 10 years since the 1999 republic referendum was defeated, leaving the republican movement and the public generally badly bruised by the process and dissuaded from further action by John Howard, a staunch monarchist.

But things may have changed.

"All of the opinion polls indicate, and have for many years, that there is majority support in Australia for breaking the nexus with the crown,"

... said Chris Sidoti, a delegate who is an international human rights lawyer and former Human Rights Commissioner.

"It provides a way of addressing some of the divisions in models that occurred in the late 1990s ... the tragedy was that the whole republican movement was set back by those divisions."

The Special Minister of State, John Faulkner, put the republic on the agenda at the summit's start, acknowledging governments were reluctant to press for structural change because they so often lost: 36 of 44 referendums for constitutional change have been defeated. He urged delegates to work towards a revitalised democracy.

"Look forward to a nation unafraid to consider substantial change ... a nation with a constitution that accords full and proper respect to the first Australians, a nation where individual rights are protected, and an Australian republic, a fully independent nation with a head of state of our own."

Australians will be consulted on how best to protect their human rights, with delegates urging the Government to develop a bill or charter of rights.

Delegates called for freedom-of-information laws to be overhauled and for laws that protect press freedom to be strengthened to ensure that neither journalists nor whistleblowers are punished for doing their job.

Governance experts pushed for an overhaul of the system of federalism, proposing a constitutional convention to define roles, responsibilities and structures as well as a national co-operation commission to oversee intergovernmental agreements.

A recommendation from last weekend's 2020 youth summit in Canberra was also adopted: automatic voter enrolment, which some predict will immediately enfranchise up to 1 million people.

Maxine McKew, the parliamentary secretary for early childhood education and child care who co-chaired the "Future of Governance" sessions with the News Limited chairman John Hartigan, said that by 2020 the face of Australia's parliament would have changed completely.

Politicians would be judged on how well they communicated with their constituents and how fully they embraced open governance and the spirit of reformed freedom of information laws.

"[They] will be legislating against the backdrop of a constitution that is regularly reviewed by a constitutional convention ... and sworn in by an Australian head of state," Ms McKew said.

Internet to open doors of democracy

COULD the internet become the ultimate tool of open democracy? That's one of the key ideas to emerge from the summit, with governance delegates predicting that today it's YouTube, tomorrow the Australian Government.

They have come up with the idea of - an online portal that opens the world of government to citizens, providing a space for debate between constituents and their elected representatives and free, searchable government information.

"In 12 years' time, everything and everybody, apart from small, isolated pockets ... will be online," said Brett Solomon, the executive director of GetUp and a delegate to the Future of Governance session.

"People in rural Australia have been chronically excluded from the political process - this will put them directly in the centre of the debate in the same way as people in urban Sydney are," Mr Solomon said.

There is a precedent for a "one-stop government shop online" - the British Government's

It had 3 million users in December, rising rapidly to 7 million in February, indicating a growing desire of citizens to directly interact with their governments, Mr Solomon said. "On one side is the bureaucratic interface, where you go to see where the nearest childcare centre is or to deal with tax issues - the bit which is profoundly democratising is the bit where you can link directly into parliament.

"No longer will Australians just be the consumers of policy, they will be the producers of policy."

Other ideas to increase citizen participation in democratic processes included an online citizens' cabinet, community parliaments and a public television channel with access to policy information and debate.

Outcomes and flashpoints

The Age
April 21, 2008


Josh Gordon

People buying new homes would be obliged to pay a tax equivalent to 0.5% of the purchase price to fund public housing and tackle homelessness, under a key proposal fashioned during the final day of the Federal Government's 2020 Summit.

After a sometimes tense session that came dangerously close to veering into a mire of diagrams, jargon and dissent, the summit's communities and families stream also endorsed creating a new measure of national progress, warning that too much emphasis was put on indicators such as gross domestic product.

Co-chair Tim Costello said social, environmental and economic measures should be taken into consideration in a new national development index, with successes and failures reported in the federal budget papers each year.

"When the economy grows, which we assume is a good thing, there are some questions to ask," Mr Costello said. "Is growth for its own sake good?"

Tackling disadvantage was a key theme.

National Australia Bank chief executive Ahmed Fahour said the bank would make $30 million available to set up a "micro-finance" scheme that would give disadvantaged people access to cheap business loans.

Other ideas included a new charter of human rights, community hubs, early intervention and prevention strategies, a national co-ordinating body for the community sector, a national disability insurance scheme and a statement from the Prime Minister on the creation of a non-violent society.

The 0.5% tax on house purchases, if implemented, would potentially be funded out of existing stamp duty revenues collected by the states.

"Basically, by 2020 we want to fix homelessness - we think we can do it," Mr Costello told the final session. "Half a per cent of all sales, probably coming out of stamp duty, into both social and public housing and addressing homelessness."

The idea would be likely to run into strong opposition, however, with other delegates, including former Westpac chief executive David Morgan, calling for stamp duty cuts.

As a broad theme, it was decided that by 2020 Australia should be known "throughout the world for its diverse, fair, compassionate and respectful society".

And to universal applause during the final gathering, it was declared that Australia should be "an inclusive society with an economy, not the other way around".

Participants were also generally strongly in favour of taxing alcohol by volume and using the extra revenue to treat alcoholism and other additions.

But Paul Evans, an apparently lone voice speaking on behalf of the liquor industry as Lion Nathan's director of government affairs, said raising alcohol taxes was a crude and blunt instrument to encourage responsible drinking, because it punished responsible consumers of alcohol as well as binge drinkers.

"We are already a highly taxed sector of the economy," Mr Evans said. "We need to focus the debate on changing the cultural drivers behind intoxication."

Co-chair Tanya Plibersek, the Minister for Housing, said there was a strong sense of determination to help the most marginalised Australians.

"A lot of people (who) work with disadvantaged Australians felt that voices of the disadvantaged and the voices of the workforce that works with them have not really been listened to. The main feeling in the room was one of inspiration and determination to actually get something for the most marginalised Australians," Ms Plibersek said.


Jewel Topsfield

EVERY government department would divert 1% of its budget into investment in the arts by 2020, under a proposal to radically boost funding.

The so-called "creativity dividend", which could be spent on anything from design to performance, was one of the ideas dreamed up by the creative stream at the 2020 Summit to help double the level of cultural activity by 2020.

The 102 delegates from the arts world also recommended that creative, visual and performing arts be mandated in the national curriculum, with schools required to report results as they did for literacy and numeracy.

The final list of more than 15 proposals came after delegates had expressed concerns that key themes distilled from the group's ideas the previous day were too woolly and populist.

After a rugged Saturday night sorting mountains of ideas ranging from the wacky (force politicians to attend arts events) to the worthy (provide hubs for indigenous artists), the creative session's output had been squashed into three dot points.

These were embedding creativity in education; whole of government centrality of creativity; and new investment models and sustainability.

"I don't mean to be disrespectful, but it's relatively motherhood and bland," said Foxtel chief executive Kim Williams. "We've been encouraged to offer something bold. The Government will always go to the point of least resistance. It seems to me we need a single bold target - such as by 2020, the level of creative activity will at least be doubled."

His comments were met with applause.

Actor and Play School presenter Rhys Muldoon said: "Hubs and stuff, I'm a bit vague on that shit," to clapping and guffaws. "My vision is for Australia to be a leader in research and development and the creation of new work."

And a disgruntled Michael Bryce, an architect and the designer behind the Olympic Games logo for Sydney 2000, said he was gradually getting the feeling he was in the wrong group.

"There is nothing about architecture and design and the built environment," he said. "I am looking for a few words to help us feel at home - there is a feeling that architecture and design belong in business."

Co-chair Cate Blanchett said it had emerged on Saturday night that delegates had not been able to speak to their discipline.

Delegates split into groups yesterday afternoon, working through their lunch hour to come up with last-minute proposals in their area of expertise.

"Look, adrenalin is good," Blanchett said, punching the air. "This is just the beginning - it doesn't mean the conversation is over at the end of the day ... so you don't need to panic."

Mr Williams told The Age he believed a significant amount had been achieved in the final couple of hours.

"I was very pleased to get the objective of doubling the level of cultural activity by 2020," he said. "Good policy is about being simple and bold and having practical, achievable elements which governments can implement."

Final ideas also included bringing art into schools with artists-in-residence programs funded by philanthropic funds and tax incentives, and creativity summer schools for teachers.

The delegates also recommended a national endowment fund for the arts to support individual artists and organisations, a national indigenous cultural authority, and for the collections of major national institutions to be made available online.

Arts Minister Peter Garrett said all proposals would be considered by the Government.


Chris Hammer

YOUTH delegates to the 2020 Summit say the main event was hijacked by the coal industry after a push to stop the building of any new "dirty" coal power plants was not endorsed by the summit.

Eleven young delegates, including most of the representatives from last weekend's 2020 youth summit, released a statement last night saying the outcomes from the sustainability stream were too weak.

"As young people, our generation needed - and expected - stronger outcomes on climate," the statement read.

"I think the Government and Penny Wong and Kevin Rudd are under a lot of pressure from the coal lobby," 25-year-old Anna Rose told The Age. "The coal lobby came to argue for more subsidies for so-called clean coal. We didn't expect them to be so organised."

On Saturday the summit's environment group did not agree on clean coal; yesterday it failed to agree on dirty coal.

As the group met to refine its final ideas, there was a concerted push to ban any new coal-fired power stations until clean coal technology was demonstrated to be commercially viable.

Australian Conservation Foundation president Ian Lowe put it succinctly: "It is now unacceptable to build traditional coal-fired power stations." There was a rare outbreak of applause.

But a minority group, including some economists and energy industry members, opposed the proposal.

With new coal-fired power stations planned in Victoria and NSW, Climate Minister Penny Wong rejected the call for a vote. "The only issue with that is we've not voted on anything else. We've tried to come to consensus," she said.

Instead, the minister crafted a compromise under which coal was mentioned only in the summit's final report, under the heading "disagreements".

"A substantial number of the group felt strongly that no new coal-fired power stations be built in Australia until carbon capture and sequestration is commercially available, proven, safe and efficient. However, there was no consensus," it read.

It was one of only two disagreements noted in the final report. The other recorded the lack of consensus in the rural and regional development group on the appropriate use of genetically modified crops.

ANU economist Warwick McKibbon supported the outcome, saying it was unwise to rule out any one technology, including coal and nuclear.

"Otherwise you're picking winners and you're putting a distortion on the market," Professor McKibbon said.

All the ideas that gained support on the environment involved the Federal Government playing a greater role, including in areas traditionally reserved for the states.

"By 2020 we want to be the world's leading green and sustainable economy," Senator Wong's co-chair, Roger Beale, told the summit's final session.

Mr Beale said environmental considerations should be incorporated into all decision making at all levels by 2020.

Summiteers also wanted the Federal Government to play a leading role in urban and regional planning, minimising waste and reducing water and energy consumption. They called for tax incentives and other policies to encourage the use of public transport.

One tangible idea was to make all buildings constructed after 2020 carbon-neutral, an ambitious and difficult target according to experts. Also recommended was early action to support energy efficiency for low-income families.

Senator Wong summarised her group's mood as one of urgency. "The one message was act now and act wisely," she told the summit's final session.


Katharine Murphy

AUSTRALIA will get its first substantial review of the tax system in two decades and a new federation commission to drive changes if Kevin Rudd, as seems likely, accepts the recommendations of his economics stream at 2020.

The economics group also recommended policy changes to deal with Australia's infrastructure crisis, including a significant overhaul of regulations in contentious areas such as prices and access rules.

The group's chairman, former Westpac chief executive David Morgan, said its main aspiration for 2020 "was a truly national economy supported by seamless regulation".

Needed was a "significant new federal compact" to overcome the duplication and inefficiency created between the Commonwealth and states, Dr Morgan said.

Treasurer Wayne Swan, who has used the 2020 summit to put tax reform back on the political agenda, welcomed the outcome.

The tax review proposed would report within two years and would focus on harmonising taxes, and eliminating taxes on transactions.

The message from business leaders in the economics group was about pruning taxes, unlike other groups, which seek to impose new ones.

A new federation commission would review the roles and responsibilities of governments in economic activity.

The business chiefs involved in the weekend's events were largely positive about their experience despite an inauspicious start, in which they were asked to wander around with pieces of paper over their heads nominating their big ideas.

Australia's richest man, Fortescue Metals' boss Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest, was keen to win summit support for a proposal handing tax breaks to companies building infrastructure, but that did not make the final cut.

Mr Forrest, in group discussions yesterday morning, declared at one point: "What about the carrot? I absolutely think you must have tax incentives in there."

But the man hosting the infrastructure subgroup, Productivity Commission chairman Gary Banks, who for a moment looked in danger of losing his cool, shot back: "Then you could have a whole lot of rent seeking."

Gary Weaven, one of the architects of Australia's superannuation scheme, told Mr Forrest: "You just want everyone to get a tax break whether they need it or not," a comment that prompted the mining man to frown slightly and fold his arms.

He was spotted soon afterwards in an animated huddle with Mr Weaven and Queensland independent MP Bob Katter.

But everyone seemed friends by close of business.

Despite the concerted weekend effort by Mr Banks to keep at bay various proposals from Mr Forrest and trucking magnate Lindsay Fox, he was the recipient of a small gift of goodwill.

Mr Fox presented the Productivity Commission chairman with a small Linfox truck to thank him for his forbearance.

The summit was an opportunity for business leaders to catch up and compare notes, including two currently warring in the High Court about a railway line, Twiggy Forrest and the head of BHP, South African Marius Kloppers.

The two mining executives had not met before the weekend summit but sat close to each other in the infrastructure group.

Talking to The Age on the summit sideline, Mr Forrest put two fingers on the top of his head to denote devils' horns.

"I think Kloppers' people had convinced him I was the (devil), you know, with the horned tail. Now he knows I'm just a good, approachable guy."

In the lunch queue outside, Mr Kloppers declined to comment when asked for his reflections on the meeting.


Misha Schubert

POLITICAL donations from unions and business would be banned and parties would be restricted to spending only capped public funds on campaigns, under reforms proposed on the final day of the 2020 Summit.

Australia would also move to a republic in a two-step process, adopt a bill of rights, hold a constitutional convention to overhaul federalism, and recognise indigenous people as custodians of the land.

And a new National Co-operation Commission would drive collaboration between governments, while young people would automatically be enrolled to vote.

Amid passionate debate, delegates charged with overhauling the nation's governance structures yesterday distilled a long list of reform options into a handful of priorities.

One that failed to make the final shortlist but attracted cross-party interest was a call for campaign finance reform by session co-chairwoman and Labor MP Maxine McKew.

She advocated a move to cap public funding for elections to help restore public trust in the political system.

"I think we should move to the total abolition of the raising of private finance," she said. "I would include third parties ... with a severing of trade union money to the ALP and business money to the Liberals."

But Michael Tate, who served as justice minister in the Hawke and Keating governments, warned that the issue would not be simple to resolve, noting the High Court had cast doubts in the past on restricting election advertising.

"There's a constitutional question whether banning contributions to the political process could impinge the right of Australians to participate fully in the election of their representatives," he said.

But Liberal senator George Brandis, in a personal capacity rather than as shadow attorney-general, said that need not be an obstacle. "If you will the end, you will the means," he said.

"If the only objection is that there may be a constitutional hurdle, that can be overcome by a referendum. My personal view is that we would be better off moving to a fully publicly funded system - that's the only way in which all political participants are going to get a fair exposure."

Senator Brandis said the laws would have to be changed to ban third party groups from running proxy campaigns.

On the republic, there was strong support for change, with the proposal eliciting prolonged applause at the final plenary session. Mirroring existing Labor policy, the summit called for an initial plebiscite to determine a will to sever ties, then a referendum to decide a republican model. But senior government figures such as Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Foreign Minister Stephen Smith cast doubt that it would be done by 2010.

The summit also considered an idea from the United States, which would force a vote in both houses of parliament before the nation could go to war.

Ideas for creating more accountable government were also proposed, such as bolstering freedom-of-information laws and better shield laws to protect journalists from pressure to reveal their sources. Government would also be forced to provide more internal documents on the internet.

Budget estimates committees would also be set up in the House of Representatives to apply the same scrutiny as operate in the Senate to ministers directly, under a plan put forward by Senator Brandis.

And Ms McKew called for politicians to be given more free votes instead of being forced to toe the party line. "People don't want to think you just left your brain behind when you walk into caucus and you sign up for everything," she said.


Ben Doherty

AN AMBITIOUS plan to create nationally consistent laws across Australia's states - concerning everything from road rules to rail gauges to biotechnology - within 12 months, is one of the chief proposals to emerge from the 2020 Summit.

A hundred delegates from regional and rural communities told the 1002-strong summit in Canberra at the weekend that differing laws between states was costing farms and other businesses millions of dollars a year.

Under Australia's century-old federal system, trucks have to stop at state borders to change axle weights (or in some cases leave entire trailers behind), rail gauges between states don't match, and businesses are forced to meet multiple, often conflicting, laws over food production, water rights and workplace safety.

Co-chairman of the rural stream to the summit Tim Fischer said the state borders' "wrinkles needed to be ironed out".

"To that end, we almost abolished the states," he told the summit. "Standardisation is urgent. This includes uniform regulation, standards, and enforcement for transport, both road and rail, and for agriculture."

He said many inconsistencies cost rural businesses time and money - "even things like the non-harmonisation of the hours truck drivers can be at the wheel versus rest time."

Mr Fischer said a system of financial incentives and penalties should be established, similar to national competition policy, to encourage states to sit down and thrash out their differences.

At the last Council of Australian Governments meeting in March, regulatory impediments to business earmarked for reform, included: Occupational Health and Safety laws; business reporting; food regulation; mine safety; electronic conveyancing; petroleum regulation; maritime safety; wine labelling; directors' liabilities; and financial service delivery.

Victorian Premier John Brumby agreed that financial penalties would hasten reforms.

"We'd strongly support that," he told the rural stream at the summit. "The incentive fund is a great way to do it. States that perform, states that drive productivity reforms, states that get rid of the dead hand of regulation, they get some incentives. Those that don't get penalised. It's absolutely the right way to go."

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, too, agreed that the issue of disharmony in state regulation required attention. "The point about taking a truck across state borders ... is barking mad. So let's have a look at that," he said.

"We've got to look at that one (regulation) very quickly because it seems to me to be one full of immediate practical import to people living in rural and regional Australia."

National Farmers Federation President David Crombie said the harmonisation of regulations between states would cost the government nearly nothing, but save millions of wasted dollars for primary producers.

Australasian Railway Association chief executive Bryan Nye said it was an urgent priority for almost every rural industry.

"This should be achieved in 12 months and further progress built upon each year until 2020."

The rural stream of the 2020 Summit also identified climate change as a pressing issue for country Australia.

The answer, Mr Fischer said, lay in the north of Australia, where rainfall was still plentiful.

"It is chasing the water," he said. "It is focusing on the north in a purposeful, scientific way, and doing all our planning, before we start opening it up in a big way."


Brendan Nicholson

THERE has been a catastrophic decline in the number of Australians who speak foreign languages, summit delegates warned. This creates a serious future security risk because it reduces Australia's ability to communicate with its neighbours.

Professor Tim Lindsey, director of Melbourne University's Centre for Islamic Law and Society, said Asian language literacy had essentially collapsed in Australia.

In the 1960s almost 40% of year 12 students learned a foreign language. But by 2005 that had dropped to 13%.

Only about 1% were studying Indonesian, even though Indonesia was Australia's most populous neighbour.

Delegates called for a massive increase in funding and encouragement to reverse the situation.

Professor Alan Dupont, director of Sydney University's Centre for International Security Studies, said that developing those language and cultural skills was as important as buying 50 Joint Strike Fighters (worth $8 billion).

Professor Lindsey said that if Australians could not speak a country's language, they would not understand its society or culture.

"We've stripped that skill out of Australian society so that fewer people understand Asia now than did in the 1960s," he said.

"This is happening at a time when we are constantly hearing about the rise of China and the rise of India.

"As our region becomes more important, this gap is going to be catastrophically bad because it can create huge obstacles to governments obtaining expertise, managing the relationship and taking the country with them.

"You can't understand Asia by flying in for a few meetings."

He said some of the last Hindi courses in Australia had just been terminated, while the vast majority of Victorian students studying Chinese languages were from a Chinese background.

Professor Lindsey said relations between Indonesia and Australia were excellent at an official level but terrible at the "barbecues" level.

Professor Dupont said universities were slashing Asian language programs and that was terribly demoralising.

"This is a really serious problem," he said.

"Building this capacity can actually go more towards protecting our security interests than acquiring another 50 Joint Strike Fighters.

"It is that important because if you can communicate with your peers in the region, it makes it far less likely that they are going to be your military adversaries in the future."

Multiculturalism must be extended to foreign policy to engage with other cultures in the region, he said.

Across Australia, Asia research institutions were in decline and closing down.

Adverse travel advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade meant that many institutions were unable to send students and staff to Indonesia to gain experience.

The summit sought a much broader definition of security threats and called for the establishment of a high-level advisory council comprised of business, academic, and scientific leaders to advise on emerging food, water and energy security challenges such as pandemics, threats to energy security, transnational crime, people trafficking and climate change.

The summit's priority themes included calls for a campaign to develop regional literacy, much greater people-to-people contact, closer economic and political integration with the Pacific, a labour mobility program, establishment of a regional energy security forum, a four-yearly report on the state of the alliance with the US, establishment of four centres to study the US, Japan, China and India and establishment of an Australia-Japan regional peacekeeeping centre.


Sarah Smiles

FAILURE to secure agreement on a treaty at the summit has disappointed many indigenous participants, who pushed hard for it.

In his closing speech, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the Government would consider "constitutional recognition and other forms of legal recognition" for Aborigines.

But Peter Yu, chairman of the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance, said this did not go far enough. "The opportunity was lost today to get (a treaty) ... It's very disappointing," Mr Yu said. "The question was a formal settlement and an underpinning of the new relationship."

Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin told The Age the Government had not ruled it out. "Not everyone agreed with (a treaty) - some people did, some people didn't - so it was just put up as one of the options," she said.

Many of the top ideas chosen by the Government were consistent with Labor Party policies, including its focus on early childhood development. They include forging mandatory health and education "compacts" with Aboriginal parents about their children's future and increasing boarding school places for indigenous students.

A proposal to establish educational "knowledge centres" about Aboriginal culture was backed, including a "future fund" for infrastructure and support for indigenous businesses.

"I can't emphasise enough how much people want to be economically independent," Ms Macklin said in her closing speech.

The Commonwealth will consider tax breaks for companies that invest in Aboriginal communities and encourage corporate partnerships with indigenous business.

But West Australian mining billionaire Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest said the time for talk had passed.

"I want to see concrete initiatives out in the bush, let's get on with it," said Mr Forrest, who expressed his opinion to Ms Macklin after the summit.

"Big grandiose statements made from Canberra don't feed one child, or stop one rape in Halls Creek."

The Government said new accountability structures that monitored service delivery in remote communities were necessary. But it did not go as far as backing the popular idea of establishing a statutory watchdog.

Noel Pearson, who was not at the second day of the summit, said participants failed to come up with new ideas.

Many agreed, but said old ideas were still relevant because they had not been implemented properly.

"It's very hard to come up with new ideas if you have such a legacy of marginalisation and neglect and lack of investment as we have had," said Pat Turner, a former senior Aboriginal public servant.

But she said the summit had been positive and had given Aboriginal people hope and pride in their culture.

Many participants said they appreciated the opportunity to voice their concerns in Parliament House, from which they felt shut out during the Howard era.

"I think Kevin Rudd has provided a real opportunity ... he's lifting the cloak of fear that has been over this country for a long time," Ms Turner said. "People are feeling excited about the opportunity to pave out a new Australia which will enable indigenous peoples to take their rightful place. Not only in redressing the severe margins in disadvantage, but in our cultural heritage appreciated for its longevity and its wisdom and its creativity."


Leo Shanahan

AUSTRALIA could immediately set up an opt-out organ donation scheme, a program to develop a bionic eye and a "fast fruit" program for schools, but the Prime Minister has stopped short of embracing large-scale health policy changes recommended at the 2020 summit.

The long-term national health strategy stream's ideas, forwarded to the summit's final report, included creating a national preventive health agency that would be funded by an increase in taxes on junk food, alcohol and cigarettes and establishing a health equalities commission that would focus on indigenous and other disadvantaged groups, and an South-East Asian health forum to discuss disease in the region.

But Prime Minister Kevin Rudd did not voice support for the organisation-based policy ideas, preferring to back one-off suggestions, such as research that would lead to the development of a bionic eye by 2020.

"If we are approaching some sort of research threshold where this enters the realm of possibility then I say, given the challenges of blindness in the community, this is a huge public good that we should be engaged in," he said.

In his closing remarks to the summit Mr Rudd also endorsed a nutrition program for schools that would see "fast fruit" provided for children and an organ donation policy under which Australians were automatically registered to donate their organs but could choose to deregister.

Mr Rudd declared his support for the proposal was a result of a conflict of interest because he was the recipient of a donor organ to treat a chronic heart problem.

At the conclusion of the summit, Health Minister Nicola Roxon indicated that Mr Rudd would seek to adopt the three policies in the immediate future.

"I think the Prime Minister has made clear he's interested in them and he's going to consider them," Ms Roxon said. "Of course we're going to consider all the ideas, but I think it was encouraging that a couple captured his imagination."

Another idea from the group included the creation of a Facebook-style Healthbook to allow people to track, collate and share their own personal computerised health data with doctors and relatives.

While visiting the health stream the Prime Minister was criticised by Dr Ngaire Brown, of the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin, who claimed that the summit had not placed enough emphasis on the chasm in health and life expectancy between indigenous and non-indigenous people.

"We must make it the number one priority or we've missed a big opportunity," Dr Brown said.

A clear theme of the stream was an overhaul ofthe current health system, dogged by state-federal tension.One of the group's five ambitions is to "have one health system" with single governance, management and funding.

The Prime Minister, who promised a federal takeover of hospitals if the states don't comply with new standards, said that "the summit has clearly said that this is a huge area that needs fixing".

Mukesh Haikerwal, who sits on the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission, the new bodyformed to overhaul the system, said it had been instructed to look at ideas coming out of the summit, but warned Mr Rudd against giving people a taste of participatory democracy but then failing to act.

"The good things about this process is you got people together, but that brings with it a certain expectation," Dr Haikerwal said.He said there would need to be a follow-up.

"Democracy in action is great, but you need to keep moving. You can't give people an opportunity and then pull the rug out from under them," Dr Haikerwal said.


Tim Colebatch

MORE than a million graduates with HECS (now HELP) debts could pay them off by volunteering for community service, especially in regional and remote areas, under one proposal.

In a pitch to reduce barriers to higher education and training, the productivity team at the summit also suggested extending subsidised loan schemes such as HECS-HELP and its private equivalent, FEE-HELP, to students in TAFE courses.

It also called for Australians to be given government-funded "learning for life accounts" at birth. The government would pay in money for education, training, parental leave and superannuation, which people could withdraw at any time to pay for child care, education and training.

"Material resources are finite but intellectual capital is unlimited," its report said.

"We therefore need a 2020 strategy to invest more in our capacity for knowledge and imagination, and to ensure that we generate sustainable higher returns from that investment in productivity growth.

"We also need to overcome entrenched disadvantage, and ensure that all Australians are equipped to participate in these changes."

At last count, 1.1 million Australians had HECS debts, totalling roughly $14 billion.

Faced with an agenda combining education, employment and innovation, the summiteers struggled to find a big idea. Instead, they delivered a list of small ideas, few of which would do much to lift productivity.

A Filipino migrant, Ernie Peralta, 76, who won his summit place in a competition run by Brisbane's Courier-Mail, won again when organisers adopted his plan to set up a team of "golden gurus" - retired and semi-retired people offering their skills and time to advise small business.

Melbourne economist Nicholas Gruen, director of Lateral Economics, won backing for his plan for government to do annual workplace surveys to ask how contented workers were. Firms competing for top talent would feel competitive pressure to publish their results - and ensure they scored well.

The summiteers also suggested that:

  • Top 100 companies should "adopt" schools to provide mentoring of students, work experience and expertise across the board (an idea proposed by Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard).

  • Child care, pre-schools, schools and child health services be in a single centre wherever possible (proposed by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd).

  • Schools adopt a single national curriculum, with any funds freed "going to children in schools". This went through despite the head of Victoria's Education Department, Peter Dawkins, pointing out that the states were already harmonising their curriculums, and little if any money would be saved by a national system.

The summary signed by Ms Gillard and her co-chair, Macquarie Bank director Warwick Smith, said the group also proposed "enabling the free movement of labour from the Asia-Pacific region into Australia, underpinned by Australian workplace standards".

If correct, that would imply ending immigration controls on workers entering Australia. In fact, what was proposed was that Pacific Islanders be given temporary entry to pick fruit and vegetables, and minimal barriers should be put in the way of research talent and skilled workers coming and going as needed.

Project SafeCom