When I was a boy, I had the misfortune of contracting rheumatic fever. It was a dreadful experience, but it was survivable. For a few decades at least.
When I was 33, we learned the damage to my aortic valve meant that it had to be replaced or I would be pushing up daisies. So I benefited from the generosity of a perfect stranger — a fellow Australian who was an organ donor — who saved my life. Others haven’t been so lucky.
At 50, I was elected prime minister with a mandate to prepare Australia for the economic, social and environmental disruptions of the new century.
We were brimming with enthusiasm and had campaigned on a big canvas including: a mandatory renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020, abolishing Work Choices along with its Orwellian “Fair Pay Commission”, and bringing our troops home from the disastrous invasion of Iraq, from which the Gulf’s current turmoil springs.
But we weren’t so full of ourselves that we thought we knew everything. John Howard lost the 2007 election partly because his government had stopped listening and had run out of ideas. We were determined to do it differently. So we brought together a wide cross-section of the nation’s policy leaders and people from all walks of life to ask three questions: where is our nation today; where do we want to be in 2020; and how do we get there?
We invited people from across the political spectrum — left and right, business and unions, corporate and community groups — in a spirit of openness and collaboration not seen for years. We even invited Judith Sloan, one of Howard’s “Fair Pay Commissioners”. The delegates all paid their own way, keeping the cost to taxpayers minimal.
You can imagine this meeting of the minds wasn’t welcomed by everyone. The conservatives played politics as usual, labelling it a “talkfest” — as if opening your mind to new ideas was a bad thing. They couldn’t stop scoring partisan points for even a single weekend.
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