One more summit idea, this one from Alan Wu, who is in the governance stream.

The Australia Commitments
Like the Millennium Development Goals, but for Australia

I believe that governments should be optimistic and ambitious – they should encourage and welcome high expectations.

The longest period of economic growth in our nation’s history calls for a new set of Australian commitments to promote social progress and realise better standards of living for all. These commitments should be long-term, outcome-focused, and measurable – but above all, they should have an unprecedented audacity.

A short set of memorable national development goals, and – importantly – accompanying indicators by which Australians can continually monitor progress, could form a new blueprint to galvanise attention and energy to solve Australia’s most pressing and fundamental problems. With the full resources of the Australian nation, the goals might conceivably aim (say, by 2020) to eradicate poverty and homelessness, drastically reduce our carbon emissions and increase our renewable energy availability, eliminate the indigenous health and literacy gap, make quality education completely free, and build a universally-accessible health- and dental-care system.

Apart from the obvious advantages in meeting these goals, the mere act of setting them has merit – they would offer a radical vision for Australia’s prosperity beyond the individual electoral cycle, and, in giving Australians a more hopeful vision of government, have the potential to reinvigorate public confidence in and engagement with our national political system.

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9 Responses to MDGA

  1. Sorry, but I don’t like these ‘goals’. They’re mostly not achievable. The UN millennium goals are perhaps achievable even if we’re more likely to ignore them. But eradicating poverty and homelessness? By 2020? Well Bob Hawke did great things for child poverty, but what’s he famous for? The momentary cynicism of changing his written speech from ‘no child need live in poverty’ to ‘no child will live in poverty’ – or words to that effect.

    Just like I don’t believe in inflation with money, I don’t believe in it with words.

  2. Nemanja Antic says:

    To me this reads like marketing hype, but I am sure some people will find inspiration in what others think is puffery.

    While I hold Alan in high regard and admire his ability to say very little very eloquently, if we remove all the catchphrases the idea is: ‘lets set goals’. Implementing it will simply mean more summits, committees and boards. While this may give the illusion that we care about solving social problems, I doubt that this is what the sick, homeless and underprivileged are hoping for. But maybe that illusion is the desired effect? At least it will make upper-middle class voters sleep easy at night.

  3. Andrew Leigh says:

    Nicholas, my understanding was that Hawke’s slip actually then forced the government to take child poverty more seriously. Or did it have no impact on the 1987-90 policy development in this area?

  4. Patrick says:

    Presumably Alan’s first step is to redefine poverty as an absolute and not relative state!

    I’m not sure there is anything to be gained from making education free.


    With the full resources of the Australian nation

    Maybe I’m just irrationally biased but I find it hard to trust anyone who talks that way.

  5. Alan Wu says:

    In reading it again I agree the passage isn’t particularly well written, especially in the way it places a focus on the rather arbitrary goals (rather than the process of setting ambitious, long-term targets which, which was my intention). I’ve been revising it over the weekend and posted the new version to

  6. Patrick says:

    Even so, you’ve retained this phrase which I suspect to be incapable of being true:

    The mere act of setting such demanding targets would give Australians a more hopeful vision of government, ambitious and optimistic, and in doing so, help reinvigorate public confidence in our nation’s political system.

    This can only be meaningfully true in some weird state of affairs that I don’t observe to exist anywhere, or in the minds of rather woolly-minded voters.

    In practice, the inevitable failure to reach most of these targets and the enormous expense likely to be wasted in much of the effort towards them will surely give Australians a more jaundiced vision of government, sceptical and pessimistic, and in doing so, help reinvigorate public mistrust of collective action and state-sponsored solutions.

    Ah-ha, you’re a libertarian double agent! 😉

  7. Rachael Truscott says:

    Time for a woman’s touch in this testosterone-dominated discussion…

    I think it is unwise to be either too optimistic as to what a government can achieve, nor too pessimistic as to its potential for achievement. I am not opting for a neutral, conflict-avoidance approach here, but rather suggesting that a more balanced, realistic view of government be taken.

    If our government is to govern us effectively and with our support, they must inspire confidence and display leadership. Ambitious goals are one strategy for achieving this. Who wants a government who is merely concerned with short term activity and the fine details? And yet as Peter Drucker states in his famous paper on Managing Oneself, “it is rarely possible – or even particularly fruitful – to look too far ahead”. What one defines as “too far ahead” is up for debate, but the point is that goal setting is not an end in itself – it must achieve results. (This is where some introspection is necessary – the governing of our Government. But that is a whole new debate in itself.) In order to achieve results, Drucker lists criteria such as ‘stretching’, meaningful, visible and measurable goals. How can we reject Alan’s Australia Commitment when as yet, we are unclear on what exactly these goals are and how they are to be acheived? That is yet to be developed. He merely proposes an idea for inspiration and – hopefully – action.

  8. Patrick says:

    thanks Rachel, I really feel the feminine vibe of those comments /sarcasm.

    Seriously, you remind me of one of my favorite lines in tax law: Justice Hill mentioning that

    he had yet to see any particular gender differences in tax interpretation since the welcome addition of women to the Federal Court.


  9. Nemanja Antic says:

    Good to see that you are in on the discussion Rach! I certainly agree with your concluding statement:

    He merely proposes an idea for inspiration and – hopefully – action.

    My comment didn’t reject his idea – I tried to find meaning in it. To make things explicit, my points are:
    1) The specific goals mentioned are unattainable and it is even debatable if they are all wanted – but this has been discussed by others.
    2) From what I understand Alan’s main point was to have an inspirational government which sets goals, then the reason we would implement Alan’s idea is to make people feel good about themselves – which is not a bad thing! There is much support in the literature to suggest that government should try to maximise the happiness of its people. Maybe easing guilt about being born into a privileged family is a good policy suggestion.
    If this is what Alan was aiming for then it truly is a novel contribution which should be debated and even implemented as a policy experiment {it would be interesting to see if such a policy would work in the longer term – obviously we would have to implement it discretely}. Although from my conversation with him I don’t think that was his point.
    3) Rachel states Alan wants to say that this inspiration will hopefully result in action, i.e. policies that don’t just stop at making people feel good. The question then is, “how?” and “which policies”.

    I’m not against inspirational, energetic government (this would be most refreshing), but I think that Patrick is right in saying that eventually people want substance and results (although as I mentioned, this would be an interesting hypothesis to test) – after all what is inspiration without leadership? You are right Rach, we are yet to see Alan’s practical, grass-roots ideas for resolving the social problems he lists.

    Patrick, I’m not sure that Rachel was sarcastic… although I now see how her last comment may be interpreted as sarcasm.

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