In mid-August, I attended the Gala Dinner of the Australian American Leadership Dialogue. This is a two day annual dialogue of eminent people between the two countries. I was very fortunate to be invited to the dinner (thanks Peter). I heard from dialogue participants that the second day of the talks focused on energy and climate change which would have been very different from a similar discussion just two short years ago.
The main keynote was Larry Smarr and he spoke of the need to maintain our standard of living in the face of growing competition from developing countries. He stated that Australia’s main problem was our lack of telecommunications infrastructure and that we need 1GB/sec per person – that’s symmetric bandwidth! I find that fascinating seeing as I had just been speed limited until the end of the month so I was on dial-up speeds at home. This debate is crucial and of critical importance to Australia. It seems to have gone off the radar in the Federal non-election campaign at the moment but will re-emerge once the leaders start to focus on the future again.
Smarr’s view reminded me of the article penned by Samuel Palmisano, CEO of IBM, in the Financial Review of 18 Sept who wrote that globalisation and innovation are two sides of the same coin. Globalisation is the new playing field whether the game is economics, technology, politics or culture and innovation is how you win in that arena. You can’t afford to deprioritise innovation – you need fast speed internet access with a robust and sustainable ICT infrastructure. By combining technology and expertise, invention and insight, small companies can be global and established corporations can be more agile. My take from these two sources is that expanded Internet infrastructure is crucial to future growth and productivity in Australia and that we will be ouptaced by others if we delay its implementation.
Speaking after Smarr was Kevin Rudd. It’s the first time I have seen him speak in person and I found him remarkably eloquent and pleasant to hear. He spoke of the four main challenges facing Australia into the 21st Century. These were integrating China into the global rules-based order, the rise of militant Islamism, the future of trade liberalisation with the link to the Millenium Development goals and finally, global climate change.
Last was Paul Wolfowitz who spoke of the common values between Australia and the US of individualism, free institutions, welcoming of immigrants and free and open debate. I found his presentation less than insightful on the whole compared with the two previous speakers.
What I found particularly interesting were comments from others on the two-day event of its bipartisan nature, the high level of people involved and the trust that had built up between memebrs of the two countries to actually have these discussions without fear that they would be quoted externally. Such closed-conference meetings are essential to engage in rigourous debate about policy positions so long as they are combined with other forums that permit some openness in discussion of the various views, rather than simply a parading of established positions in the media. And if an invite is going for next year’s dialogue, I’m very interested in attending!