2020 Summit Reflections
Friday, 16th May 2008 at 3:09 pm
Hala Abdelnour, Project Officer with the Ethnic Youth Council in Victoria took part in the recent 2020 Summit and offers Pro Bono Australia readers her reflections on the event.
My initial reaction to a colleague’s encouragement that I should apply for the 2020 Summit was to dismiss the idea completely. As I sat there the day the nominations were due, however, something urged me to give it a go. I had such little confidence of being selected as one of 1000 Australians to attend the 2-day forum in Canberra that I forgot about my application as soon as I sent it off. When that same colleague contacted me three weeks later to congratulate me on my successful application to the summit, my reply was: "which summit?"
Sitting in the Great Hall of Parliament House on the first day, I couldn’t help but feel sentimental about the experience. 2008 marks the twenty-year anniversary of my family’s arrival in Australia. Coincidently, it also marks twenty years since the new Parliament House was built. I pictured nine-year old me getting off the aeroplane that cold, rainy day in July 1988. I looked at that girl, full of fear and questions about her future in this new country and I knew that she never in her life expected to join one of the largest leadership debates this country would stage.
I smiled upon this reflection. I smiled because I looked around the room and saw many faces of migrants and children of migrants, joined together with Indigenous elders of this land and its current leaders. We may be a long way from truly embracing the wealth of our diversity, but where else in the world would the leaders of a nation invite all citizens alike, to come together in the heart of decision-making infrastructure and debate on equal ground the future of the country’s prosperity?
Despite these sentimental thoughts, the Summit attracted vast criticism from a number of sources. Media reports claimed that there was a lack of reflective representation of the Australian population in the final 1000 delegates. They also reported that the delegates were mostly ALP supporters and republicans. Similarly, some argued that two days was too short a period for the delegates to come up with anything substantial; and that too many high profile people were in attendance, thus making this simply an avenue for delegates to rub shoulders with the ‘celebs’. The greatest criticism, however, were claims that the final list of ideas were ‘hijacked’ by some sort of hidden agenda.
Is it so appropriate to over-criticise a government that democratically invites its voters to enter in a public debate about key leadership issues? Perhaps it would be more relevant to highlight a flaw in democracy, in that it entices public debate and criticism even where it is not necessarily productive. Furthermore, the current government, like all of its predecessors, had set an agenda prior to being voted in, which supposedly formed the grounds upon which it was elected by the public. So, to expect this government not to include its own preset agenda in the final outcomes of the Summit does not make sense, particularly when the government is vowing to act on the key priorities that result from the Summit.
Likewise, should we expect the 1000 delegates to be reflective of the general population? Could we really achieve a group of 1000 Australians to be an exact representation (‘down to the tee’) of 20 million people? We must take into consideration that to be a delegate one had to be nominated or apply. This automatically rules out a vast number of people. As someone who works within a prison setting, I have a fair idea who some of those people might be.
As for the political affiliation of the delegates, that could only ever be an assumption. Although, keeping in mind the democracy that governs this nation, there is no reason at all why anyone of any political affiliation could not have applied other than out of their own personal boycotting of the event. In addition, having met a number of celebrities at the event, I must say it was definitely a bonus. Having been part of many of the discussions, however, I can assuredly say that the main topic of conversations (with or without the ‘celebs’) revolved around the future of this nation, the current issues and potential solutions.
How could the government stage such a Summit and not involve the experts in each of the ten streams? Naturally, people who are ‘experts’ in their fields, gain a high profile and in some cases, become ‘famous’. In addition, I commend the Summit for providing an opportunity for Australians from all backgrounds and status to have a chance to interact with each other on equal grounds and share their ideas and thoughts on various sectors.
"She’s being too positive!" you might say. "She’s being over-protective of the Summit, perhaps even defensive". You’re right I am being positive and purposefully so. Having spent my early developmental years in a far less democratic country, I am standing up for the good will of humans. I am challenging my fellow Australians to appreciate a good gesture when it’s given. I am arguing against criticism for the sake of criticising. By no means am I taking a stance against constructive criticism and open public debate. I am simply reminding the reader that sometimes we argue for the sake of arguing. Sometimes we speak for the love of our own voices. Sometimes we put forth ‘intellectual’ arguments to revel in our ‘brilliance’ and showcase our ability to articulate.
The Australian 2020 Summit was a great gesture by the current government. It was an amazing event, with immense value to those who attended it and to our society as a whole. It was a nationalistic event that brought Australians together with no apparent discrimination.
Although not every brilliant idea made it on the final list, and not every idea that did make it on the list was brilliant, the message from the Prime Minister and Summit staff was clear: we are all valuable as citizens of this country and we are all invited to contribute and share in this nation’s wealth and prosperity.
I left the Summit feeling proud to be Australian; proud of the journey I have travelled and the opportunities I have gained as a migrant to this country; and equally proud of the progress this nation is currently making in relation to its global positioning, with contributions from Australians of all ethnic backgrounds.