Australia 'ideas summit' maps new national path

Australians submitted 8,000 ideas. Experts picked 40.

By , Associated Press

A free-spirited summit aimed at soliciting innovative ideas to strengthen Australia's future concluded Sunday with proposals ranging from a preventative health agency funded by a junk-food tax to making Australia the world's "greenest" economy by 2020.

Some 1,000 experts, activists, politicians, and celebrities put forward more than 40 proposals after two days of brainstorming.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has promised to respond by the end of the year, but there is no guarantee that any of the ideas will be implemented. Mr. Rudd praised the event as "a very Australian gathering."

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"I think the reason it's worked ... is because it's been characterized by a whole lot of good humor, a whole lot of mutual respect, and a whole lot of very classical, undeniable Australian, directness," Rudd said.

Ideas included the establishment of an Aboriginal treaty that would detail their status and rights, establishing a national "carbon bank" to monitor the nation's greenhouse gas emissions, development of a bionic eye, a so-called "cure" for blindness, and boosting Australian-made content on television.

Other proposals included breaking ties to the British crown and establishing an Australian republic; creating a national preventative health agency funded by taxes on alcohol, cigarettes and junk food; providing incentives to lure Australians to work in rural communities; and delivering fresh fruit to schools once a week.

The first-of-its-kind summit has been touted by the ruling Labour government as a way to harvest the best ideas for the future from Australians across the nation and include regular citizens in the governing process.

But critics have derided the gathering for trying to cover too much ground in too little time, and some delegates complained Sunday that their ideas were not being heard.

Deputy opposition leader Julie Bishop said many would be watching to see if the summit yielded anything practical or was just a big show.

"Obviously people have come along with genuine ideas that they want to put forward and I think the test will be what the Rudd government does with these ideas," Ms. Bishop told Channel Nine television news.

The committees worked off nearly 8,000 ideas submitted by Australians after a government call for public input. Many ideas shared themes of environmental sustainability and strengthening civil society.

The committee on Australia's security and prosperity in the world highlighted the need to increase understanding of the country's Asian neighbors.

"We have to make Australia's understanding of Asian literacy and Asian culture almost second nature to us," said Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, who co-chaired the committee. "This is a most important thing we can do, not just from an international relations point of view but also from our young schoolchildren's point of view."

Delegates also tackled the problem of the country's decade-long drought – the worst in Australian history which has cut production of many crops ranging from wheat to wine grapes. The lack of rain has increased concerns that irrigation is permanently depleting major rivers.

"Australia will also have become a global leader in tropical water system conservation and sustainability," the delegates said.

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