Kevin Rudd

Australian PM's talkfest has a lot riding on it

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 April, 2008, 12:00am

The most sought-after invitations in Australia this weekend are not to the VIP enclosure for the world's richest horse race for two-year-olds, the A$3.5 million (HK$25.5 million) Golden Slipper, but to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's 2020 summit on ideas to shape the nation's future.

A thousand of the country's brightest minds are gathered in Canberra to debate long-term options on tax and economic policy, climate change, health reform and education, among other things.

Yet there is nothing new about forums for thinkers. These days even traffic experts from around the world put their heads together to make driving and parking a better experience. The best-known summit is the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which aims to engage leaders in partnerships to shape global, regional and industry agendas to make the world a better place. The Boao Forum for Asia, at which mainland leaders meet other world leaders and promote economic co-operation, is China's answer to Davos.

What sets Mr Rudd's summit apart is that he is a newly elected leader who should have plenty of his own ideas. But it will do no harm politically to be seen to be listening to those of the business, academic, media and political elites and see which ones resonate with the voters.

Experts with something worthwhile to say, in Hong Kong as elsewhere, get plenty of opportunities to do so at conferences and in the media. That is not to say that the supply of new ideas has run out or that thinkers' summits cannot unearth them. Indeed, such brainstorming can often help shape or refine them, or find a way around hitherto insurmountable obstacles. The success of these summits can depend on whether uninspired ideas, special-interest pleading and populist agendas are allowed to obscure good ideas.

Mr Rudd says he is hoping that 12 good ideas emerge. For one weekend at least, he has succeeded in diverting some attention from the country's passion for sport and onto its future. Ironically, despite the summit title 2020, population ageing is not a topic. By then, in Australia as in Hong Kong, the economic and social implications will be with us. That is a policy issue worthy of the brightest minds.