Wednesday, April 23, 2008

World Leaders

Last weekend Prime Minister Kevin Rudd led the Australia 2020 Summit in Canberra. A thousand accomplished Australians representing different fields were invited to share their ideas for developing long-term strategies for the nation in ten key areas. The news media were particularly interested in Cate Blanchett's leading the "Towards a Creative Australia" stream with her one-week old baby in arm. "Ordinary" Australians were invited to send suggestions before the start of the conference and then the 100 delegates in each area spent two days developing a consensus about the best ideas. A full report will be presented next month for Kevin to ponder, but a preliminary one was already available at the site's web page on Monday morning.

Although I haven't had a chance to read every page, I am struck by the optimism that permeates the report. In particular, I am fascinated by how often the goal for Australia to be a world leader in a particular domain comes up. For example:
  • "We'll know that we're on the right track [by having] Australia attracting and enabling the best minds." (p. 6)
  • "[Australia should have] a world leading education and innovation system. (p. 6)
  • "Australia should be the best place in the world to live and do business." (p. 10)
  • "the GDP per capita [should increase] so that Australia is among the top 5 countries in the world on this measure..." (p. 10)
  • "Our aspiration is that by 2020 Australia is the world's leading green and sustainable economy." (p. 13)
  • "Be a world leader in research and translation (including technology." (p. 20)
  • "...reaffirm Australia as an international leader in bioengineering." (p. 21)
  • "Assert new leadership in global governance" (p. 36)
Dozens and dozens of interesting ideas are presented in this report, such as digitising the art collections of major national institutions by 2020, providing tax concessions to get private industry involved with indigenous communities, making social inclusion a national priority, putting taxes on, and banning advertising of, junk food to children, adopting a National Sustainability, Population and Climate Change Agenda, and developing an immigration plan that is a model for the rest of the world.

I have experienced a similar sense of enthusiasm for new ideas and the desire to be among the world's best at the University of Queensland, and it's something that I find inspiring for my own goals. I suppose that, as a result of growing up in the United States, Americans don't often think about being the "world's best" because (1) they're too busy competing with each other, (2) they arrogantly think they already are the "best", and/or (3) the country is so large that they don't really consider their place in the world until the economy starts to tank or the country becomes involved in another war. What constantly amazes me about Australia is that despite its small size (having roughly the population of Southern California), it has such huge aspirations. Maybe its size and location in the world are precisely what drives this desire to be a "world leader." How else can you explain one of the report's goals that in 2020 there will be a "greater international understanding [of Australia] as a mature, creative, innovative society?" (p. 29) I am looking forward to what happens next.

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