Saturday, April 19, 2008

Republic by 2010

RADICAL tax reform, scrapping the states, a ban on smoking and a vote on a republic by 2010 were the ideas from Kevin Rudd's talk-fest in Canberra.
Even though the Prime Minister was at times upstaged by Hollywood star Cate Blanchett and her newborn son, Ignatius, Mr Rudd basked in the gaze of the distinguished gathering of 1002 delegates.
And he dismissed critics, insisting the summit would "throw open the window of democracy to let in a bit of fresh air''.
"The old way of governing has long been creaking and groaning,'' Mr Rudd said, describing the past way of doing things as a triumph of partisanship over progress.
Although much of the early speeches focused on the historic nature of the 2020 Summit, the actual ideas did not flow from the 10 individual sessions until early afternoon.
Among varied people attending were former governor-general Sir William Deane, human-rights lawyer Julian Burnside, ex-banker David Morgan, international relations expert Alan Dupont and terrorism expert David Wright-Neville.
Blanchett: 'I'd rather be in bed'
Blanchett, who looked remarkably glamorous despite having given birth six days ago, spoke in the "creative'' session, where she admitted it was a testimony to the importance of the occasion that she was there.
"As you can imagine, I would much rather be in bed,'' she said.
The discussions on health raised some provocative ideas to decrease obesity and further discourage smoking, while the rural grouping discussed the benefits of getting rid of the states.
Tax reform
Some of the more radical tax ideas came out of the sessions on the economy.
Australia is likely to get its first major review of the tax system in two decades as result of Kevin Rudd's 2020 Summit, with all options on the table, including a flat tax and tax indexation.
The tax discussions also included re-introduction of the deeply unpopular death duties and abolition of the concessional tax treatment of capital gains.
Dr Morgan, who as a Treasury official headed up the last Tax White Paper in 1985, said: "The review would have to include the broadest possible income base with the lowest possible tax rate.''
US relationship
Former defence chief Peter Cosgrove said he wanted to see Australia build better international relations that did not mean a greater reliance on the US.
Mr Rudd said he would respond to the summit ideas by the end of this year.
"We can either drift into the future or plan for the future,'' he said in the opening address.
"The Government's job is to set a strategic vision for the nation.
"I have a simple view: without a vision, the people do perish.
"Some say consensus on anything is impossible because it traduces the democratic divide, whereas I say that on certain fundamentals the challenge is to build a consensus around those things that really count in the long term.''
Plans to fast-track an Australian head of state, put forward by Minister for Home Affairs Bob Debus, were backed by delegates last night.
It will enrage monarchists and provide a big challenge for Mr Rudd, who has to decide whether to embrace - or ditch - reforms put forward at the talkfest.
Some participants originally wanted a longer time frame to introduce a republic.
They also suggested a two-stage process, allowing the public to first decide to sever all links with the British monarchy before deciding on a republican model.
But Mr Debus, sensing that the summit was lacking a big breakthrough proposal, challenged delegates to back his 2010 time frame.
Mr Dupont said climate change, pandemic disease, food, water and energy scarcity, and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction were the key issues.


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