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2018 ANU Crawford Leadership Forum

Welcoming Remarks to ANU Crawford Leadership Forum, Opening Gala Dinner, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 24 June 2018

Welcome everyone, on behalf of Australia’s national university, to this fifth ANU Crawford Leadership Forum and to tonight’s Opening Gala Dinner.

Let me begin by acknowledging and celebrating the First Australians on whose traditional lands we meet, and paying our respects to the elders of the Ngunnawal people past and present.

May I specifically welcome, first, our stellar cast of overseas guests who we know will do so much to inform and enliven our discussions: Jessica Mathews from the United States; Chung-in Moon from Korea and Yao Yunzhu from China – all of whom will join me on this platform for our opening conversation later this evening; Bassma Kodmani from Syria via France; and Mari Pangestu, Shafiah Muhibat and Sidney Jones coming from Indonesia. We are also looking forward to welcoming Vint Cerf from the United States who will be joining us on Tuesday, and will deliver the JG Crawford Oration. Unfortunately two of our advertised overseas stars, Charlene Barshefsky from the US and Pratap Bhanu Mehta from India have had to drop out at the last minute, both for family illness reasons, and we hope very much that they can join us at a future event.

Welcome to our more than 70 distinguished home-grown panelists and chairs who will be leading our discussions. And welcome to all our other personally invited participants – leaders, all of you, from across the business, public sector, and research and advocacy communities. Nearly every one of you is, we know, much more used to being on the platform than in the audience on these occasions, and that’s in fact how we want you to engage at this Forum, actively and vocally, being part of the action, not just spectators, and I’ll say a few more words before I conclude – as will no doubt our Forum Director Bob McMullan tomorrow morning –about how we hope to make that happen.

Three more important welcomes. To our colleagues from the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Financial Review who once again are our extremely engaged collaborative partners in this enterprise. We have a good cohort of CEOs, Managing Directors and Non-Executive Directors among our participants this year, and I particularly want to thank again BCA and its Chief Executive Jennifer Westacott again for their very hands-on role in making that happen.

Welcome to our extraordinarily generous and committed cast of sponsors: General Electric, National Australia Bank, Cisco, Woolworths Group, Virgin Australia and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Without all of you we simply not be able to mount this Forum – or at least not without charging Davos-type registration fees, which are very reluctant to do – and we are hugely grateful to you all.

And a final welcome to – and from – those who have been working behind the scenes over many, many months to make this Forum come together: above all Forum Director Bob McMullan, and the Forum Manager Lauren Bartsch. Guiding the whole enterprise has been the Convening Group, on which Bob and Lauren and I have been joined by our Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt, who is passionate about ANU’s public policy role (and will say something more about that when he opens our proceedings tomorrow morning); Jennifer Westacott; Greg Hywood and Michael Stutchbury from the Australian Financial Review; Heather Smith from the Public Service; Graeme Samuel as a member of the ANU University Council; Michael Wesley as Dean of our College of Asia and the Pacific, Helen Sullivan as Director of the Crawford School of Public Policy, Allan Gyngell from the Australian Institute of International Affairs, Sung Lee from PricewaterhouseCoopers and Sean Innis, heading the new ANU Public Policy and Societal Impact Hub. Warmest thanks from me to you all.

I won’t keep you long from dinner and table conversation, but let me make just a few scene-setting remarks, particularly for those of you who have not joined us before, about the concept and organisation of the ANU Crawford Leadership Forum, and this year’s Forum in particular.

The premise on which we continue to operate, as we have from the beginning, is that there are very big policy issues out there – global realities demanding domestic policy choices - which deserve better quality attention than they have been getting from our leading policymakers, here in Australia as elsewhere. Within that framing context, the specific theme of this year’s forum is ‘Seizing opportunities in a time of rapid change’.

The rapidity of change in the global geopolitical environment continue to be extraordinary, and many of those changes (some of which I will be exploring in the opening conversation this evening with Jessica Mathews, Chung-in Moon and Yao Yunzhu) have been disconcerting on multiple fronts. The biggest change of all has been the visible unravelling, that has been occurring with remarkable speed under the Trump administration (though not without help from some others), of the whole post-Second World War global economic and security order – that open, rule-based system, supported by effective multilateral institutions, and arguably also a robust network of balancing security alliances, under which we and a great many other countries (including, I think Beijing would be prepared to acknowledge, China itself) have long survived and prospered.

It remains to be seen whether the crockery-breaking going on – in trade policy, in alliance relationships, in respect for international agreements and institutions – is a necessary prelude to a new era of global cooperation, with new economic and security arrangements ultimately better reflecting and balancing new global power realities, or whether rather we are in for a new age of not just competition but confrontation, with a real risk of deadly conflict along the way.

These uncertainties are creating huge challenges for policymakers here in Australia as elsewhere, as we wrestle with their implications not just for international but domestic policy -- the domestic choices Australia faces in areas like growth, jobs, wages and energy, all of which this Forum will also be examining, will be directly affected by these big global shifts.

In this context, it is tremendously important that there be serious and systematic attention to putting good policy back together again. That means, more than anything else, creating a common mindset among all the key players in the national policy debate about what are the new global realities; what domestic policy choices these demand; and what solutions should be embraced in the national interest, party orthodoxies notwithstanding. Such a common mindset may not be sufficient condition for quality policymaking but all past experience suggests it’s necessary.

And this is where ANU and this Forum come in. Every great university has another string to its bow in addition to outstanding teaching and outstanding research – and the Australian National University’s obvious value added here (along with all the other contributions we make – not least to the study of Western Civilisation!) is the contribution we make to the national public policy debate.

It was in this context that we conceived the idea, five years ago, of bringing together each year, through the focal point of our Crawford School of Public Policy, on an invitation-only basis, a cross-section of the country’s leading policy movers and shakers, not in every area of the country’s life, but in three particularly important ones – the business community, the public sector and national politicians, and the research and advocacy community – with no more than around 50 participants from each sector, to keep the scale of the whole event reasonably intimate and interactive.

The idea is that with this exalted cast, and with the help of our international visitors, we get a serious debate going across at least a cross-section of serious current policy issues – and come away not only better informed, but with a better idea of how policy consensus might be found, and how it might be delivered.

We are very concerned to ensure that throughout this enterprise there is genuine interchange between everyone attending, that other participants feel just as involved as the panelists. It is crucial in this context that all our Forum sessions – both concurrent and plenary, as well the smaller breakfast sessions and more intimate lunches on Tuesday – be genuinely interactive and not just follow the traditional conference format of panelists taking up large chunks of time in their initial presentations, with short formal Q & A sessions following.

The task of the chairs and panelists is to initiate discussion, not to dominate it. So we’ll have, I hope and pray, from the chairs, no long soliloquies by way of introduction or summary; from the panelists, no big set piece speeches, just short opening statements; and then, as soon as possible, from the other participants, contributions which – while moderated by the chair – riccochet dynamically around the room, with points being answered as they arise, rather than being confined strictly to back-and-forth exchanges with the opening speakers.

The physical environment of the Crawford School will I hope again help this happen, as it has in the past, with the breakfast and lunch sessions taking place in quite small rooms, and the concurrent sessions taking place in small horseshoe shaped theatres seating only up to 70 or so, and specifically designed for close encounters: things will be a bit physically cramped, but that’s a price we think you won’t mind paying to get that greater intimacy. And even the 200 seat Molonglo theatre, where we will have the plenary sessions, is reasonably well designed for genuine interchange. That’s, anyway, what we are going to be trying to do over the next two days.

The remaining we are trying to do is ensure that you don’t just stick in your familiar comfort groups. We’ve sought to kick things along in this respect, as we did last year, in our table seating tonight – by mixing all of you, except our international speakers, fairly randomly right around the room. If that takes some of you out of your normal comfort zone, or is at odds with your sense of proper hierarchy on these occasions, let me assure you that this was quite deliberate on our part.

Whether we succeed in our aspirations for this Forum is going to be very much up to all of you. But I do hope that by the time we wrap up there will be a buzz in the air – a sense that although there are huge problems out there, we have in this community the brains, creativity and energy to tackle them, and as a result of our discussion a clearer-eyed sense of the way forward on at least a few of them than we had when we came in.

Thank you all again for joining us, enjoy tonight’s dinner and the opening conversation Jessica, Chung-in and Yunzhu and I will have after the main course – and have a fantastically stimulating next two days.