The cloud has lifted, providing “permission” for Australians to reassess their own lives, and where we are heading as a nation. While the 2020 Summit was a liberating manifestation of, and further stimulation to, this awakening, it is only the start of a groundswell that is quite stirring and significant. The privilege of participating in the Summit has revealed not only the passion of those directly involved, but the tens of thousands of conversations, meetings, emails and submissions behind the scenes, from people who care about Australia.
The new energy is underpinned by hope, and a realisation that ordinary people can make a difference. There will certainly be some gems of ideas arising from the 2020 Summit, but the most powerful outcome of all is the process of engagement and dialogue around the country. People are waking from their slumber and feeling relevant and involved. The discussion so far that is creating a momentum and sense of hope in many areas, workplaces and communities, is only the start of an exciting journey.
Perhaps this fresh spirit is best captured by the first verse of a poem by Dr James Fitzpatrick, a participant at the Summit:
There’s a breeze blowing strong through our country
and it carries the hope of the young
It carries the tales of a thousand old folk
and a thousand fresh songs not yet sung
In a recent address to the Foreign Correspondents Association in Sydney, Hugh McKay shared his view that Australia has been in a “dreamy” period for the past decade, where we all disengaged from news and politics, and sought to concentrate on things we could control, such as home renovations. He is now convinced that a turnaround is happening as people re-engage with “values”, reassess the emphasis on materialism and life balance, and that there is a new sense that individuals feel that they can make a difference.
Certainly this is being borne out by the reaction to the Summit. McKay observed that the change of Government was a symptom, rather than a cause of this turnaround. He observes that "Australians are currently very responsive to requests to be more responsible".
Australia’s reinvention - taking place from grassroots conversations to dialogue with global leaders - will also impact on our brand. Brand Australia is the way the rest of the world sees us and is a reflection of many factors - from the behaviour of our political and sporting leaders, companies and citizens, to the deliberate promotion internationally of our friendliness and natural assets. In promoting Australia, Tourism Australia has used values like inclusiveness, optimism, candour and originality to underpin their brand development and global positioning of the country.
Imagine the disconnect we experienced when issues like our treatment of refugees and Indigenous people become headlines around the world. The perception of authenticity - and ultimately our reputation - quickly diminishes.
Alignment of policies, behaviour and promotion must be consistent. Perhaps the best role model can be found in New Zealand, where there is plenty of room for independent thought and debate, but a strong adherence to positioning the country in a coherent and cohesive manner.
At the 2020 Summit, I got a real sense that we have started a process that will better define the essence of Australia in the future, and as a result foster aligned positioning of, and behaviour consistent with, the national identity that we aspire to.
A natural flow-on from this activity is the opportunity to create a Brand Australia Council (BAC), charged with positioning Australia in investment, export, tourism and international relations. Implemented well, alignment of private and public sector effort and national support for the brand within Australia, are likely benefits.
The idea of the Council was first floated in 2004, by the Australian Tourist Commission as part of its relaunch of Brand Australia, however, it was never implemented. The BAC, with relevant private and public sector membership, would articulate what Brand Australia stands for, define and clarify brand behaviours (sporting teams included), co-ordinate across industry, inform, educate and promote. It is a task far bigger than for the National Tourism Organisation, which would naturally have a role to play.
Brands have the power to change the way we view the world and the way we see one country compared to another. Country branding is a deeply serious issue which can’t be contrived or manufactured without authenticity. The processes at, around and beyond, the Summit have started the journey of reinvention.
As the conversations unfold about our place in the world, our values and the way we can collectively work together to solve huge challenges, the true Australian essence will emerge. It is only then that we can represent ourselves to the world in a proud and consistent way in everything that we do, without apology, uniquely Australian.