Setting The Agenda – Karen Mundine, Eva Cox, Anna-Maria Arabia, Duncan Blake

Setting the Agenda: Reform and Renewal

Reform and renewal are on the agenda after the dramatic shift heralded by the recent election.

To get a broader sense of the steps we can take to start moving the country towards a more prosperous, sustainable, and equitable future, AQ challenged some of Australia’s key thought leaders to identify their top-priority reforms

Reconciliation is a shared project. It’s about strengthening relationships between the wider Australian community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Progress on reconciliation is the glue that binds us and sets the foundation for a more just and equitable nation - a nation that comes to terms with the wrongs of the past, addresses racism, and embraces equality and unity.

Our research shows community aspirations are high when it comes to constitutional reform and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples having a say in matters that affect them.

1. Voice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander peoples have been fighting for a political voice, and structural changes like treaty, for more than 100 years.

The Federal Government must support the aims in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, including by introducing legislation setting out support, a timeframe, and process, for a referendum to achieve a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament.

In the eloquent words of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, “When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.”

2. Anti-racism action

Racism and prejudice are holding back greater progress towards reconciliation.

Racism damages lives and livelihoods, and it hurts the whole community. A long term National Anti-Racism Framework would guide actions on anti-racism and would involve governments, the Australian Human Rights Commission, NGOs, business, educators, health professionals, police, other justice authorities, civil society, and the community.

It is the examples set by organisations, schools, communities and individuals that can move us towards a braver reconciliation. But it also requires governments to pave a new way.

© Joseph Mayers

Karen Mundine is from the Bundjalung Nation of northern NSW. As the CEO at Reconciliation Australia, Ms Mundine brings to the role more than 20 years’ experience leading community engagement, public advocacy, communications and social marketing campaigns.

Duncan Blake is a lecturer at the University of New South Wales in Canberra, convening courses in space law and strategy, and also in international law and politics. Previously, he was a permanent forces (RAAF) legal officer for 22 years, where he initiated and chaired inter-governmental and international working groups on space law.

In Douglas Adams’ 1982 novel, Life, the Universe and Everything, the character, Ford Prefect, describes how some things become invisible in a fictional ‘SEP field’: “An SEP is something we can't see, or don't see, or our brain doesn’t let us see, because we think that it’s somebody else’s problem. That’s what SEP means. Somebody Else’s Problem. The brain just edits it out, it's like a blind spot.”

As Australia continues to invest heavily in the burgeoning global space industry, the challenges that arise from that – the increasingly congested, competitive and contested nature of space – are wicked problems that risk disappearing into a SEP field.

In fact, they are ‘super wicked problems’ as described by Levin, Cashore, Auld and Bernstein:

1.  time is running out;

2.  those seeking to end the problem are also causing it;

3.  there is no central authority;

4.  irrationally, existing policy acknowledges the problems, yet fails to address them.

If only it were Somebody Else’s Problem. They are not though – they are also Australia’s problems.

In a headlong scramble for the many, great and undeniable benefits of a burgeoning space industry, we are contributing to the challenges and undermining the prospects of next and future generations of Australians and humanity in the space domain.

In just the last five years, the government has made billions of dollars of investments in launches, space-based Earth observation, precise positioning and navigation technology, the Artemis Program to send humans back to the Moon and beyond, in the possibility of remote mining of space resources, space-enabled internet-of-things, military use of space, Space Domain Awareness (SDA), downstream supply chain and upstream user services.

Combine the inspirational nature of space with the prospect of commercial gain, and it’s not hard to build and maintain support in the Australian public for such investments.

Great as those investments are, we need more than technology to address the congested, competitive and contested nature of space. We need frameworks that enable decision-makers to use existing technology to address the challenges and to promote new technology that is better adapted to manage those challenges. Such frameworks come from smart policies, standards, guidance and regulation that can be effectively implemented in conjunction with Australian technology, innovation and enterprise, in order to secure our future among the stars.

This must be a priority for the new government in its first term and beyond.

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Economic bodies like the Productivity Commission have repeatedly demonstrated that stimulating R&D is the most promising source of future productivity growth.  Growing the knowledge economy can lead to significant job growth, inform future industries, and protect Australia’s sovereign interests whilst positioning our nation for meaningful global cooperation and effective science diplomacy.

Productivity dividends can be delivered but they require a long-term investment plan underpinned by a national review of science and research.

The base for Australia’s existing research system is thirty years old, with piecemeal measures having led to a system that is spread over 202 programs and 13 federal portfolios, creating inefficiency and a system that is neither fit for purpose nor able to support the needs of a modern thriving R&D sector.

Reform can commence once the entire research system is reviewed and redesigned enabling structural changes that address fragmentation and that adopt mechanisms to incentivise both knowledge creation and its application.

Imperative is nurturing a love for science from early education such that it fuels the development of a highly-skilled workforce able to harness the opportunities emerging from our research and its application. Not everyone needs to be a scientist, but everyone should finish school understanding the implications of science in their lives and future. A coherent policy would link all stages of the education and skill development pipeline.

Such reforms would see science valued and strategically positioned to drive our economy, and inform decision-making in and between government, in parliaments, in our courts, our classrooms, in boardrooms and in the public square.

© Bradley Cummings

Anna-Maria Arabia is the Chief Executive of the Australian Academy of Science

Eva Cox AO is a feminist with 50 years activities for creating Truly Civil Societies. In 1995 she warned us in her ABC Boyer Lectures how to achieve these, so is still advocating.

The primary votes for the major parties continue to shrink, signaling that the voting public will vote for candidate heralding real change. We have new levels of female independents and Greens and a greater diversity of winners, with the ALP only just scraping together enough votes and support to govern.

The two key calls for reform that underpinned the votes and united most voters were: environmental actions and integrity measures. The pattern of winners clearly suggested that the style of democracy advocated by the major parties suffers from major distrust. To build a democracy that works for everyone we need to increase the trustworthiness of parties and also open up, and action, broader social concerns.

So let‘s be audacious up front with what needs to change.

We have more independent women who will support issues like closing the gender wage gap - Albo has this on his agenda but it is limited to the current model adjustments. More women in parliament should support needed changes to what should constitute paid labour. Currently ‘work’ is assessed on male-defined skill valuing, and should be expanded to include previously unpaid and underpaid social skills and care.

Therefore reform #1 should be to set up a major inquiry/review of the value of ‘feminised’ skills and contributions to social wellbeing and competence. This should raise the rates of pay of these jobs substantially and fix health and care component’s staff shortages.

Add to this action on the Uluru statement to fix another major inequity and trust should return!