Australia needs a new narrative and a positive reframing of its thinking for the future of the nation, as it moves beyond the pandemic and prepares for a federal election, writes Victor Perton, former MP and founder of The Centre for Optimism.
The Centre for Optimism has developed a six-point plan for government and industry to adopt to boost their capabilities with a positive, uplifting mindset and optimistic leadership focused on collaboration, participation and transparency.
A new, more positive narrative
Coming out of lockdown, people’s lives have changed, and people expect their governments to learn the lessons too. They want positivity, not an aggressive fear-driven narrative. The reduced occupancy of the CBDs of Sydney and Melbourne are insoluble without trusted reasons to hope for better.
The current national narrative is framed in old behaviours – state and federal squabbling over policy and service responsibility, hand-outs addressing market failures, institutional inertia, and short-run responses to crises.
The World Economic Forum recently warned its members, including Australia, that the contemporary “lack of optimism could create a vicious cycle of disillusionment and social unrest”.
Australia can lead the world with a vision for a future that is built from an optimistic mindset, which reframes challenges as opportunities rather than constraints. It needs to bring people together on the journey which is aligned to new possibilities that are limited only by individual and collective imaginations.
In short, a future where optimism is the fuel for a better normal.
The 6-point plan proposed to government and political leaders is:
As a primary goal, federal cabinet should create a National Collaboration Commission to exist alongside the ACCC and National Competition Council. With the core purpose of pro-actively generating and encouraging collaborative projects across all segments of society, capitalising on and leveraging disparate capabilities, and co-creating shareable and re-useable knowledge to address complex challenges.
2. Vision focus
Government agencies establish teams in each department whose core purpose is to develop a vision – a long-run view of the future – and invite public comment and participation, influencing policy formulation and implementation.
3. Active community engagement
Active community engagement on the development of policies and programs through the establishment of citizen juries, in which citizens can assess policies or plans that are either prospective or already in place.
This approach could be used as part of the annual budget process, which invites feedback on prospective government policy changes, which are tangible and practical and based on ‘on the ground’ impact.
4. Reframe measurement (evaluation)
Replace the preoccupation with gross domestic product (GDP) and introduce a new ‘optimism indicator’ which would add valuable insight in a departure from traditional metrics, reducing the focus on marketised goods and services and increasing attention on:
- community engagement
- non-market work
- care for disadvantaged segments
- satisfaction with life
- confidence and optimistic outlook
5. Reframe economic development
Move from a focus on size of government to broader based policies. This is to include policies on care and health sectors, innovation, education and green capabilities, and supporting them through ‘needs clusters’.
This would involve the establishment of more public-private partnerships and socially responsible funds, including social impact funding.
6. Broader institutional change
The inclusion of opposition party members in the national cabinet, to promote bipartisanship and a collective long-term view on national issues which have been clearly delineated, such as those covering climate change and immigration.
The cabinet would have pre-determined flexibility to add issues or remove them from the agenda.
Australia needs an optimistic lens on how progress is measured
A focus on boosting capabilities and industries with well-defined plans is required, including 10-year plus strategies and a commitment to developing institutions in accordance with a positive, uplifting mindset. The emphasis needs to be on collaboration, participation and transparency in tackling any challenges.
Optimism is the underpinning of healthy longevity, 2020s leadership, strategy innovation and resilience. It deserves more than rhetorical flourish as the measures of personal optimism fall, and the number of Australians medicated for anxiety and depression – which has more than doubled this century – continues to rise.
Australians want to remain connected. They are driven by wanting to engage, and inspired by a positive policy agenda – to be able to speak up and be heard – and want more optimism and hope for the nation.
This requires a collective positive change from all political and business leaders.
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