LEADING LAWYERS from Holding Redlich and Gilbert + Tobin returned from the 2020 Summit with palpable sense of enthusiasm for the ideas presented, and speaking some Kevin Rudd-inspired lingo.
The four senior partners were among the 1,000 attendees at the 2020 Summit held in Canberra over the weekend of the 19-20 April.
The group of corporate lawyers were selected for their high community standing, as well as their legal expertise, and contributed to a range of different work groups covering issues ranging from Indigenous affairs to productivity and the arts.
The lead up to the forum has certainly reinvigorated public debate about governance, and lent a new dimension to the concept of participatory democracy. Points of particular interest to the profession include recommendations of the Australian Governance stream, including a push to introduce an Australian republic in a two-stage process, a complete overhaul of the federalism model, and open access to government information, including significant reform of freedom of information laws.
Managing partner of Gilbert + Tobin, Danny Gilbert, observed two “overwhelming pressures” facing the future of Australian governance. He said the summit had emphasised the need for reform in Commonwealth and state relationships, and highlighted the importance of the “perhaps insurmountable obstacle” of constitutional change. It was also a welcome return to the political fold for intellectuals, according to Gilbert + Tobin partner Peter Waters.
“I think what was remarkable about the whole event — even if it failed to produce concrete ideas — it succeeded,” Waters said, “because for the first time in a very long time in our national life, the idea of ideas — and of intellectual effort — was actually held up. We’ve had a culture for the last 10 years or more of a very anti-intellectual view of life, and a very ‘us and them’ view of how we think.”
Holding Redlich national managing partner Chris Lovell was in the Productivity Agenda stream which focused, in particular, on education and innovation.
“Participation in the summit was a very positive and stimulating experience”, Lovell said. “The Prime Minister spoke of ‘opening the windows of government’ to fresh ideas which is, in itself, a significant breath of fresh air in the way our country is governed.”
Ian Robertson, who heads Holding Redlich’s national media and entertainment and corporate practices, was impressed by the proactive approach of participants in the Arts stream. “All of the participants left their own vested interests at the door and considered positive ideas,” he said.
Waters took home some key messages about legal education from the summit, “There was a sense that the education system was not actually equipping children with the skills that they need for 2020,” he observed.
“I heard this from the young lawyers that I spoke to here in this law firm before I went down and they basically said our driving ambition all through the last part of high school, all through university, was to be a lawyer, get as high a marks as possible, and therefore do nothing else at university,” Waters said. “That’s more than just a question of balance. What really came out of our sessions was: that doesn’t equip people to be innovative, creative, street-smart people. It makes them overly narrow and rigid.”
The general sentiment of the attendees was summed up by Gilbert + Tobin partner Waters. “This was a stage on which thinking; good, bad and ugly, was rewarded and elevated. I think that was, itself, inspiring.”