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Agenda for change: shaping a different future for Australia

Posted By on February 2, 2022 @ 06:00

In the lead-up to federal elections, ASPI looks at the big challenges facing Australia and publishes what our authors think is needed to address them. ASPI’s Agenda for change 2019: strategic choices for the next government did, to a great extent, imagine a number of those challenges.

In 2019, it was hard to imagine the dislocating impacts of the Black Summer bushfires, Covid-19 in 2020 and then the Delta and Omicron strains in 2021, trade coercion from an increasingly hostile China, or the increasingly uncertain security environment.

Before Covid-19, we comforted ourselves with the notion that ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’.

Fast-forward to today, and many things have changed. That also applies to the policies and programs we need to position us in a more uncertain and increasingly dangerous world. An economically prosperous and socially cohesive Australia is a secure and resilient Australia.

Today ASPI released Agenda for change 2022: shaping a different future for our nation. Like the agendas we published in 2016 and 2019, it is being released in anticipation of a federal election to act as a guide for the next government in its first months and over the full term. But there are differences this time around.

It’s tempting for politicians, business leaders and bureaucrats to want things to go back to the way they were, as has been the case for previous crises, be they natural disasters such as the 2019–10 bushfires, economic impacts such as the global financial crisis, or security challenges such as the post-9/11 environment. But rolling and concurrent crises are a growing feature of our future and a public policy plan jam-packed with initiatives is one of those things we took for granted in the past. Our prosperity depends upon us solving multiple challenges with a smaller number of solutions and continuing to value independent expert advice.

The 2022 agenda acknowledges that what might have served us well in the past won’t serve us well in this world of disruption.

While those initiatives may have been useful, they tended to perpetuate siloed thinking and actions, and downplayed interconnectivity. One example is the adverse impact that just-in-time supply-chain management is having on national resilience during the Covid pandemic. We had limited understanding of the reach and traceability of those supply chains, which in large part were revealed only when we experienced the consequences: manufacturing bottlenecks and single points of failure.

So, the key question that Agenda for change 2022 seeks to answer is this: if a government can focus on only a handful of impactful initiatives, what should it pursue first?

In response, we’ve developed an expansive agenda of ‘big ideas’ that recognise that Australia’s security and resilience are achieved through an inclusive national agenda that faces the intractable issues head on, embraces inherent complexity and adopts a whole-of-nation view.

In this agenda, Peter Jennings looks back to his ‘four big problems’ from Agenda for change 2019 to see where we’ve landed. We also explore eight big ideas that span trade and economics, nation-building, social cohesion, democracy and the space domain.

Our 2022 big ideas sit under the banners of ‘Getting our house in order’ and ‘Australia looking outward’. We focus on key areas, including how Australia should innovate, bringing together intersecting opportunities, to integrate economic prosperity, social cohesion and national security, and how we can build resilience while celebrating diversity. We also need to re-energise our contribution to our region, including by developing a regional climate change risk assessment and connecting strategic, technological and economic interests, as well as exploiting disruptive innovation in the space domain.

Of course, the big ideas we offer in Agenda for change 2022 aren’t the only important ones—there are many more we could have proposed. But these big ideas reflect a cross-sectoral framing that’s been absent in public policy over recent years. Agenda for change 2022 captures the big ideas needed to address the big challenges that we’re facing now.

‘The more things change, the more they stay the same’ might have been appropriate in the past to shape our thinking and guide our policies, but, in these complex times, it’s become a cop-out.

Agenda for change 2022 intends to promote public debate on and understanding of issues of strategic importance to Australia. The key message is that we need to embrace uncertainty, engage with complexity and break down the silos. Our economic prosperity, national resilience and security depend on it.

Okay, Boomers: enough with the diversions and divisions. And enough with Gen X lamenting that it doesn’t have influence. There’s a lot to get on with.

Article printed from The Strategist: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au

URL to article: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/agenda-for-change-shaping-a-different-future-for-australia/

[1] Agenda for change 2019: strategic choices for the next government: https://www.aspi.org.au/report/agenda-change-2019

[2] Agenda for change 2022: shaping a different future for our nation: https://www.aspi.org.au/report/agenda-change-2022-shaping-different-future-our-nation

[3] 2016: https://www.aspi.org.au/report/agenda-change-2016-strategic-choices-next-government