Floyd, J., Stewart C., and Bowman, L., 2006, Future Summit Report: Re-inventing Australia in the Age of Asia, report for Future Summit 2006, Brisbane, 11 & 12 May.


Executive Summary

Future Summit 2006 involved over 450 speakers and participants in an intensive two day exploration of a wide range of issues with personal, community, national and global implications, generating recommendations for action. With the context set by the overarching theme Re- Inventing Australia in the Age of Asia the core question behind most of the Summit’s deliberations concerned Australia’s identity in the 21st Century: who do we want to become in terms of the diverse domains of practice represented by the Summit’s themes? While it is inevitable that there will be as many different highlights and conclusions from the Summit as there were participants, a number of key directions emerged, and some critical questions were raised for ongoing investigation. Some of the stronger messages arising from this year’s Summit are outlined here.

Leadership

We are being challenged to develop a new form of leadership. The increasing complexity of operating environments is demanding of Australian leaders, across all sectors, a renewed approach to investigating possible and preferred futures and employing more transparent, systemic, and inter-disciplinary approaches to achieving them.

National Identity

For some, renewing Australia’s identity in light of the changing regional and global context is an essential step towards future prosperity and wellbeing. For others, it is simply irrelevant. Both of these perspectives tend to agree, however, that Australia needs a new vision to guide its future development. While some suggested ingredients for this vision, such as increased and improved immigration practices, or a UK-style bill of rights, or the need to become a republic, the most cogent vision was for Australia to become the ‘First Global Nation.’

Sustainability

Global warming and climate change, energy security and water sustainability are real and immediate issues that need urgent attention from all Australians. Business leaders are increasingly recognising that the sustainability of many organisations is negatively affected by environmental change, so that where this change is linked to an organisation’s activities, it simply makes good business sense to alter those activities. Successfully changing those activities while maintaining organisational viability, however, will involve coordinated structural changes, and so regulatory intervention is needed that matches individual insight and resolve. These changes should include the introduction of measures to bring carbon dioxide emission costs within the formal economy as soon as possible, and reflection of water’s real value in consumer pricing.

Regional Economics

The dynamic changes within Asia and its increasing influence on globalisation present both great opportunities and challenges for Australia, politically, culturally and economically. The overriding message from this theme was the need for Australia to significantly increase its ‘cultural literacy’ with regard to Asia. Additionally, the notion of Asia needs to be expanded west to encompass Southern Asian nations in a Indo-Asia-Pacific region. Given our relatively small markets, Australia needs to build strong, respectful relationships within the region to ensure that the resources boom funds investment in areas required for our economy to continue prospering in step with the changing nature of Asia’s markets. Currently, Australia’s prospects continue to be focused on infrastructure, financial services and education with notable opportunities in energy, especially extraction and power generation knowledge in addition to resource supply, and development of sustainability practices.

Security

Globalisation has brought new security challenges and along with these, new responses from governments. It is clear that Australia’s new security laws need to be brought into alignment with the democratic principles of our society in order to avoid undesirable future social and political developments. Current efforts focused on preventing, rather than prosecuting security breaches, need to be centred on developing cultural understanding through dialogue with moderates, while fundamentalism needs to be addressed through concerted efforts to empower people through encouraging social equality both within Australia and in relation to our regional neighbours. Finally, while the idea of security needs to be expanded to include issues like environmental sources of large-scale threats to human, social and economic health, such inclusion needs to be approached in an integrated, holistic fashion: including the psychological, cultural and communication dimensions in the management of all security challenges and risks.

Technology

Technology is a means to human ends, and as such, attention should be given not only to what we can do, but to what we do, and why we do it. There are major expansions in technological developments on the horizon, beyond communications technology, including biotechnology and nanotechnology. There is a need to engage the public and potential consumers early in the development of these technologies to ensure they meet social needs and acceptance. There is also a need to review the current intellectual property laws as they affect research and innovation and to develop innovation hubs focused on areas in which Australia has particular strengths. Looking beyond economic analysis, current and emerging technologies are also bringing widespread socio-political changes, the future implications of which need to be better understood.

Work

With the continuing emergence of a more interconnected working world, and organisational structures that reflect this, it is becoming increasingly important that organisations take an integrated view of work: one in which work is seen not just as a means to an end, but as an end in its own right. More broadly, there is a need for Australia to ‘go its own way’: focusing our human resources in directions that suit our particular strengths and our unique position in the world geographically, culturally and socially.

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The arguments concerning these strategic directions for Australia, and many others, are discussed in more detail in the body of the report. While the Summit was mostly an exploration, an opening up to many new challenges and opportunities in the wide open future, often speakers and participants converged on common needs, questions and directions that they see as essential for leaders across all sectors to consider in ensuring that, as a nation, we can navigate towards a better future for all Australians, the region and the world.

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