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Australia needs more new talented visionaries speaking out for our future

By Greg Barns - posted Friday, 26 March 2004

Too often these days the intellectual salons of Australia are filled with the sounds of the same old voices. There are so many talented younger voices and visions in this nation of 20 million and we need to hear them.

That the "same old, same old" syndrome is alive and well was exemplified by an email I received from a friend earlier this week. She told me she was attending a seminar that evening on women in the workplace – and the speakers were Anne Summers and Sally Anne Atkinson!

Summers has been around that issue for 30 years and it’s been more than a decade since she was at the forefront of government policy in the area – she was an adviser to Prime Minister Paul Keating in the early 1990s. Atkinson was the pin-up star of the professional womens’ movement when she was lord Mayor of Brisbane in the 1980s.


Surely there are some younger women around Australia who would have something fresh to say about this issue in the 21st century.

The Melbourne based Quarterly Essay is another prime example of the stranglehold that the intellectual establishment has on the ideas debate today. Into its 13th edition, QE has not published one first-time writer – and the ubiquitous Melbourne commentator Robert Manne is publishing his second essay in that series.

Or take the ABC’s Lateline program or Insiders – both are prone to trotting out the same political "commentators" week-in, week-out. For example, former Howard adviser Graeme Morris and 1980s Labor pollster Rod Cameron – neither or whom is involved actively in politics today – are the best Lateline can usually do when it comes to a discussion on the federal political scene!

But fortunately there is an opportunity emerging to break this pattern. Melbourne businessman and former senior Victorian public servant, Michael Roux, is championing what he hopes will be an annual forum. It’s called the "Future Summit 2004: Creating a better world".

Roux – Australian Chair of the World Economic Forum – is hosting this intriguing meeting in Sydney on 6-8 May this year. He is, he said, inspired by a similar one-off event he attended as a young student at La Trobe University in the 1970s.

The idea of this Summit is to bring together Australia’s future – young academics, NGO executives, business people and public servants – those who represent new visions, dreams and ideas for a nation that is currently bereft of such initiative.


And as Roux points out, this Summit is an answer to the problem of the intellectual establishment dominance in Australia today. As he puts it, “You don’t have to have a name to have an opinion”.

The Summit – to be an annual event – will discuss six key themes ranging from the ageing of Australia through to Australia’s external security. It will provide participants with the opportunity to hear experts in areas and to articulate their own views and visions.

In Roux’s view it is critical that Australia’s future leaders be familiar with all the arguments and the range of perspectives on key questions. Such dialogue is not easy to come by these days.

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About the Author

Greg Barns is National President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance.

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