What the Prime Minister will do on his holiday
Our Prime Minister has returned from Copenhagen, triumphant in having performed his role as Friend of the Chair at COP15 to almost universal acclaim.
Former Australian of the Year Professor Tim Flannery said: “I think that our Prime Minister has played an outstanding role,”. “..he’s been working very hard for the last few months … and he’s just been fantastic all the way, he just shines at it … he’s been really important through these meetings.”
The Prime Minister himself said ” eleventh hour negotiations over the text by world leaders including himself, Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and Nicholas Sarkozy, had saved the summit from “catastrophic collapse”.”
Admittedly, the Conference achieved nothing much of substance but we know that the Prime Minister will have done his duty with distinction. Without him it would probably have achieved nothing at all.
Soon it will be Christmas and a grateful nation will be pressing him to take time off to rest and recharge. He will most likely spend the time at Kirribilli House in Sydney. The Prime Minister and his family will watch the New Year’s Eve fireworks from the lawn. But, exhausted from labours though he will be, he needs only three hours sleep a night and we can be sure his brain will be busy.
Last year, the product of the Prime Minister’s holiday was an 8,000 word essay in The Monthly. It declared the last 30 years of economic reform in Australia a failure, a fact acknowledged and hailed by many, perhaps most, of the academic economists in the country. They are now at their keyboards writing books describing and specifying the new rules and structures we will need to carry out the Prime Minister’s general prescription.
So what’s next? What wise ideas will he pass on to us in the New Year?
Remember when the Keating government produced a series of policy pronouncements called things like “Working Nation” and “Creative Nation”? My guess is that the Prime Minister might be motivated to add to these with “Good Nation”: a plan to make our country Good, in fact to become the Goodest nation in the world. He will have been inspired by the feeling he got in Copenhagen when a grateful meeting greeted his arrival with a standing ovation: “You are the only one who can rescue this” they cried.
In this context, Good means Moral Goodness with all the Good characteristics and behaviours: generosity, kindness, gratefulness, willingness to pay higher taxes and an unwillingness to complain about government and politicians.
Canada used to wear the laurel as the Good Nation (Toronto used to be known as “Toronto the good” ) providing peacekeepers for any problem anywhere in the world, offering asylum to all those young men not wishing to go to Vietnam and, most of all, for not being the USA. But it has lost any claim to Goodness. Its plans to exploit tar sands are so Bad that it was necessary recently for George Monbiot to break his lifetime pledge to fly no more so he could go to Canada to tell them how Bad they are becoming.
So there is a vacancy and I suspect our Prime Minister is hatching a plan to raise Australia up to occupy it.
He might begin with something resembling the 2020 Summit: to get the best minds to go to Canberra to look wise and play with flip charts. The problem with the 2020 Summit was that its output was a list of things for the Government to do and, as it as clear to all that there was little chance of the Government doing any of them, there was just a slight credibility problem.
The Good Nation conference should produce a list of things for us to do, or more likely, for us to be required to do. Perhaps it will be an occasion to use the Nudge theory becoming fashionable in behavioural economics. As I understand it, the theory allows us complete freedom to make our own choices but makes it extremely uncomfortable to do other than what the government wants us to do. I can see many uses of that in Australia. A voluntary 20% tax surcharge that anyone can avoid by taking out an ad in the newspaper declaring that he or she does not care about the sick, the poor and the underpaid politicians.
There might be something like the Peace Corps, sending Good young Australians overseas to teach foreigners how to be Good. Not unhealthy places like Africa but China and Japan and Singapore. They might now even be welcome in Canada.
An expensive publicity campaign will be necessary, using a snappy strapline like “Be Good, it feels better”. Little TV vignettes showing ordinary Australian families being Good. Bus sides, street banners, website popups, skywriting – the complete media package.
When we think about it, it is rather exciting. Much better than winning gold medals at the Olympics so most of the money now going to sport (something the Prime Minister has never really enjoyed) can go to the newly established Institute of Goodness.
One final thought: it will be useful for us all to have something setting out the Rules of Goodness. Just in case we forget. Not, of course, a fridge magnet – that’s been done. So perhaps a little book that we can carry all the time. With a red cover.