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Australia's brightest brain-storm for progress

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Inscribing Aboriginal rights into Australia’s constitution, abolishing states and a fresh push for a republic led ideas at a summit of the nation’s top minds on Saturday, bringing Hollywood together with corporate chiefs.

Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd attends a creative session at "Australia 2020 Summit" in Canberra April 19, 2008. The two-day summit at parliament aims to throw up at least 10 big ideas to improve Australia's future by 2020, including governance, lifting creativity and how best to narrow a 17-year life expectancy gap between black and white Australians. REUTERS/Daniel Munoz

“Today we are throwing open the windows of our democracy to let a little bit of fresh air in,” Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told the gathering of 1,000 scientists, unionists and central bankers, as well as actors Cate Blanchett and Hugh Jackman.

Aborigines with didgeridoos and wearing loin cloths opened the two-day brainstorming session, which Rudd has asked to throw up at least 10 big ideas to improve Australia’s future by 2020.

Critics have panned the meeting as a unwieldy talk-fest.

At the end of the first day, ideas raised included abolishing the country’s six states to streamline government, having a treaty between Aborigines and other Australians, a fairer tax system and corporate-sponsored schools.

Delegates also reignited Australia’s push to become a republic and sever historic ties to Britain’s monarchy, after voters rejected the idea in 1999.

Power participants included the chief executive of mining giant BHP Billiton, Marius Kloppers, and Australia’s richest man and Fortescue Metals mining head Andrew Forrest.

Other issues included combating drought, how to spend billions of dollars from the country’s China-driven resource export boom and keep economic growth at near 3.9 percent a year.

“We need to anticipate change ahead or else we’ll be swamped by it,” Rudd said, pointing to the rise of China and India fast re-shaping the world’s future, before appearing to doze off in one televised session on climate change.

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Climate ideas included an independent greenhouse regulator, personal carbon footprint limits, and a levy on coal exports -- the world’s largest -- to pay for development of cleaner coal technologies.

Treasurer Wayne Swan told economic thinkers, including Reserve Bank chief Glenn Stevens, they had “a hunting license for new ideas” on dealing with an ageing population, inflation touching 3.6 percent and not squandering the resource boom.

“Our terms of trade are likely to increase more in the coming year than they have in any year since the boom began,” Swan said, just weeks from an austere May 13 Budget delivering a expected surplus of around A$20 billion to combat rising inflation.


Aboriginal Ngambri tribe elder Matilda House-Williams, wearing a cape of possum fur, opened the summit with a challenge to improve the lives of indigenous people, who often live in remote settlements with poor access to health and education.

“I want to see our people healthy, living in this lucky country. That’s a target,” House-Williams said, urging Rudd and others to be open to ideas “mad or bad, or both”.

Rudd, whose centre-left Labor government ended almost 12 years of conservative rule in November, said ideas must be affordable and he would respond by the end of the year.

“I say it’s worth having a go through this summit, even if we fail. What is there to be lost from trying?” Rudd said.

Oscar-winning actress Blanchett, chairing a creativity brainstorming panel, brought her third son Ignatius, born only six days earlier.

“It is a measure of my belief in the weekend that I am here at all, as you could imagine I would rather be in bed,” she said.


Editing by Jeremy Laurence