After returning from life on the road, I spent some time thinking about ‘what’ as opposed to ‘where’ I would like to explore. I thought about some of the conversations that I had on the road, all the interviews along the way and the questions that I would ask if I had the chance to meet the same wonderful people again.
In 2020, most conversations stemmed from the starting point of people’s sense of home. From time to time, these chats went bigger picture. I really enjoyed asking guests on re:location what they thought were the most significant issues facing the country.
Down this track, I found Australians have a great tendency to be in the here and now. Regardless of whether we’re in a city or on the Gulf of Carpentaria, we’re essentially pragmatic people looking at what’s in front of us. And of course, last year it was near impossible for most of the world to look beyond COVID-19.
But even in the absence of COVID, I’d hedge a bet that the big issues would be whatever were being played out over the phone, on the radio or television that week. There’s not much space for imagining how things could be different. It’s rarely a question that’s encouraged.
And even while we’re responding to whatever the newest controversy is, change still happens. It comes about through continued tinkering – or when a situation becomes desperate.
Transport policy is a great Australian example. Governments tinker with the timetable, redirect trains or order new carriages to make a difference until the system clogs up. It’s not until then that we’ll build a new road, or even better, a train line.
At a deeper level, we’re incredibly good at responding to a crisis. There are so many more examples to lean back on then our world-leading science-driven response to the pandemic. New approaches to bushfire management, family violence, disability policy are just a few situations serving as Australia’s ability to quickly change gears.
But why do we always have to wait for a crisis to emerge? Minor or major. There is no obvious reason why things need to be this way. It’s never a good enough answer just to say: ‘that’s the way we do things here’.
I think Australia (like any country) has a tremendous capacity to plan for positive change and also respond to crises. We just need to ask the right questions.
That’s why I’ve started recording for a new podcast, ‘Imagining Australia’. It’s a 6-8 part series that looks at big picture issues facing the country and encourages guests to look ten years ahead. I’ll keep you posted on when the first episode is up!
The question that’s been on my mind for the first episode is ‘what does a healthy Australia look like in 2031?’ Over the last week, I’ve really enjoyed chatting with Stephen Duckett from the Grattan Institute about how this looks from a health systems perspective (here’s a little taste: https://www.thewire.org.au/story/universal-care-for-aged/) and comedian Jack Druce about the relationship between mental health and comedy and how that might change.
Other questions that are also in the mix are ‘what does the face of Australia look like in 2031?’, ‘what does a flourishing economy look like in ten years’ time?’
I would really love it if we spent some more looking over the horizon a bit, and imagine all sorts of possibilities. That’s why I’m imagining in 2021. I’m really keen to stitch it all together and get out of the rabbit hole! Maybe you are you too? Happy New Year – there’s a lot to explore.
(Image: Imagining Australia – coming soon)