Keep it Simple, Stupid


What kind of country do we want to live in by the year 2020? That is the question that confronts us ahead of the looming 2020 Summit, possibly the most significant event in the history of our great nation since the last Deniliquin Utemuster.

The answer to the question is not simple, but rather a complex web of issues that require discussion and mulling over, lengthy meetings and submissions to committees, and a never-ending succession of earnest speeches going on and on and on, until we all go and hurl ourselves off lighthouses. So I suppose one possible answer is: we want to live in a country with easy access to lighthouses.

Now, I should stress I am not, technically, a member of the 2020 Summit — the Government’s persnickety fixation on "accomplishment" and "relevance" saw to that — but I am, purely out of a sense of civic duty, going to here provide my ideas on how the country should move forward. No, Summiteers, you don’t need to thank me; I ask only for money.

It seems to me that the greatest problem in Australia today is our tendency to over-complicate things. A case in point: many people have called on the PM’s wife to consult stylists in order to correct her frankly disgusting appearance. What a laborious and time-consuming solution, which completely ignores the advances made in tranquillising technology in recent years.

And so it is with broader issues. Take rural affairs, which at 2020 will be presided over by former deputy prime minister and fully qualified hat wearer Tim Fischer. The greatest challenge facing the bush is the drought, and myriad expensive and convoluted solutions have been offered, from desalination to cloud seeding to large pipes to voodoo. Yet it would seem the problem is actually absurdly simple: we don’t have enough rivers. The solution is equally simple: build some more.

See how easy things can be when you don’t over-complicate?

For another example, let’s take the arts, which will be headed up at the Summit by Cate Blanchett, the famous movie star and motherhood enthusiast. Now, no doubt the Australian film industry needs a fillip, given that every few months it actually ceases to exist. And we can spend a lot of time and energy tossing around complex new funding formulae, and proposing tax breaks for producers, and devising ways to clone Bryan Brown and so forth, but once again, the problem is very simple – our films are crap.

So I say to Cate — and I know for a fact she’s reading this — the solution is straightforward: let’s make some films that aren’t crap. Oh sure, the general principle needs to be applied to specific instances: for example, a Federal Film Sniper should be appointed to take out anyone proposing to make a gritty yet lyrical story about heroin addicts; but in all cases, the answer will be effectively the same: don’t be crap, do be not-crap. Imagine how much time could be saved if Blanchett stood up in Canberra on the weekend, gave her 100 delegates that cool Oscar-winning stare and said those six little words.

Imagine how much time could be saved, too, if the simplicity principle were applied to the Indigenous section of the Summit. There are many problems facing our Indigenous people, ranging from the rivers of grog to the lakes of child abuse and the fjords of lowered life expectancy. And thousands of solutions have been offered, which encompass not only vivid water-based metaphors, but also sending in the army and being nice.

All of these involve enormous sacrifices of time, money, logistical expertise and manners, but the problems can be solved much more efficiently by the simple expedient of putting all the Aborigines on a large plot of land in north Queensland, and then cutting it adrift from the mainland. Problems solved. No more worrying about health or education or rivers of grog or domestic violence or Andrew Bolt’s latest column, and the Aborigines get to go on an exciting ocean adventure. It’s win-win, and it can be achieved if we can only find the collective will and the courage to take the easy way out. So come on Dr Jacki Huggins, get up on that podium and start simplifying.

The biggest benefit of taking the simplest approach to the 2020 Summit is that it will free up such vast swathes of time and resources for other issues. Why should we stick to just 10 areas of discussion, when with a bit of efficiency and determination we can handle 30 or 40 over the weekend?

I’m talking about pressing issues that speak to the heartland of middle Australia, issues like, who will be Australia’s next top model, and whether Bindi Irwin can be stopped before it’s too late? Issues like the sterilisation of Footy Show viewers, and how best to punish the cyclists who get in my way when I’m driving.

Kevin Rudd’s agenda has left no room for these subjects, which are just as important as any little housing affordability crisis or desultory education revolution you care to name. But if we concentrate on addressing the issues in the simplest possible terms, we can tackle all of our problems, no matter how superficially minor, petty or imaginary they may appear at first glance.

Simplicity: it should be the 2020 Summit’s watchword. Problems in the bush? Move to the city. Lack of arts funding? Use cheaper paints. Long hospital waiting lists? Institute a two-in-a-bed policy. Climate change? Stay inside more. Poor student test results? Hit children harder. High interest rates? Buy smaller houses. An inefficient electoral system? Make Brendan Nelson Opposition Leader, thus rendering elections unnecessary. Threats of terrorism? Convert to Islam. Problem gambling? Hand out maths textbooks at pokie venues. Appalling state of Aboriginal health? Shrug.

And of course, got a country to run? Sit everyone down in Canberra and have a nice old chat.

It’s simple. It’s easy. It’s the Australian way.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.