The future is now

The danger we face is that “the future” is limited to a series of three-year scenarios designed to retain the reins of power rather than construct sustainable prosperity.


Colin Benjamin

A friend has directed a venomous response to what he describes as this column’s gross inaccuracies.


He disagreed with my call that the election result could have been closer if there had been another week of Costello fear-mongering. That Bennelong could have been saved from Maxine McKew the dancing media queen, and Fran Bailey would have been accorded a place in history for championing the cause of small business in McEwen, had the election been held one week later.


To set the record straight, a futurist is somebody who speculates about what may happen, rather than combining the skills of the Delphic oracle with the hubris of scientifically validated predictions.


I have never claimed to have a crystal ball that is accurate enough to meet the standards set by Philip Adams’ sceptics. Futurists can only draw upon consideration of prior experience, unsound judgements and a sense of the possible to get people to expand their horizons.


Give Roy Morgan’s Gary Morgan and Michele Levine their due. They were almost spot-on in predicting the two-party vote for the major parties and reported the change of government for the last six months in Morgan Polls.


But the real issue is not the election result or the accuracy of future predictions, but the extent that Malcolm Turnbull, the likely Liberal leader, and PM Kevin Rudd can work together in a consensual manner to generate a better and more positive national future.


The real danger we now face is that “the future” is now limited to a series of three-year scenarios designed to retain the reins of power rather than construct sustainable prosperity via community engagement in the process of generating preferred and desired scenarios for our shared futures.


Already Keating’s “true believers” and Howard’s “battlers” are asking whether KEVIN07 has any view beyond KEV10. In a series of focus groups we have just run for Morgan Research, originally designed to explore views of 2020 Australia (reports soon to be released), we found that only the “young optimism” and “socially aware” segments were looking beyond the end of this decade.


As I have indicated in earlier blogs, there is a very high correlation between seats that have swung to Labor at this election and my “unsurety” index that measures the relative level of anxiety, mood swings, panic attacks and stress that led to a visit to the local GP in the last year. (Bennelong, Corangamite and Wentworth notwithstanding.)


John Howard picked this up with his 1996 family comfort factors and the white picket fence. Costello changed horses to play on the coming financial crash in consumer confidence to get a swing back in the last weeks of the 2007 campaign.


Rudd was this week’s winner as “Mr Calm” with a safe pair of hands that can reassure people that the sky is not going to fall with the election of his new unionists and that he has “a plan” for almost every worry about the world.


Nearly a decade ago, during the 1998 federal election campaign, The Australian newspaper published an editorial titled “Future is the missing election issue” saying inter alia:


What’s missing is any feeling that the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader have a sense of the future. As the old century ends and a new century beckons; as our society struggles to cope with unending change; as globalisation both threatens and tempts us; as economic turmoil in our region upsets our views of our place in the world-our leaders have nothing to say … They need to offer their thoughts about the kind of society they would like to see; about how we might meet the challenges, problems and opportunities facing us; about how we re-order our relations with our region to make our place in Asia meaningful in hard times; about what this means for our relations with the power and financial centres of Europe and the United States … Leadership requires a sense of vision.
(The Australian; 12.09.98)



For those blog readers who have got this far down the column, let me place on record some thoughts about the rest of this year that will be worth watching as signs of the coming times:


  • Oil will go over $US100 a barrel even with the Saudis pumping it out and Iran obliging with a little more.
  • Gold will go over $US900 as people react to Virgin’s takeover of North Rock and paying back a cool £11 billion down payment on debt to the British Treasury.
  • Citibank will lay off more than 10% of all its 45,000 employees as it struggles to stabilise its financial sales.
  • Retailers who have the affluential households as their customer base will continue to sell flat screens, home and holiday entertainment systems and GPS navigators to guide them to their next deal while the rest of the market looks for bargain basements.
  • There will be a flight to quality investments in Australia with the big banks and the large commodity suppliers continuing to supply the BRIC (Brazil, India, Russia, China) economies.
  • Peter Shergold (head of the Department of Premier and Cabinet) and Ken Henry (the head of Treasury) will be asked to find ways to maintain the education revolution, ratify Kyoto and defer anything that can be delayed until the US economy is stabilised after George W’s attempt to pump up his final election year exit along with his amigos Tony and John.



Now that we once again have a confirmed economic conservative with fresh ideas as a PM prepared to use the dreaded “f-word”, maybe we can go back to the future and ask our new mandarins to look beyond climate change, computers for every youngster and the Chinese commodity boom to a reinvestment in strategic futures and long term vision generation with Shergold.


Can we revisit the decision to favour the Productivity Commission orientation to a positivist paradigm by restarting the Futures Commission and the Australian Public Service Futures Forums and the Australian Science, Technology and Engineering Council and similar strategic think tanks?


Can we try again to enter the 21st Century and go beyond the year 2000? Is it too much to ask that we teach futures research – innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship – breaking a pathway to tomorrow rather than revisiting the myopia of the past productivity rationalism, Australian history and a revised White Australia dictation test to every potential new citizen?


Surely new leadership must encourage a new followership that is able to establish the sort of 22nd Century we are trying to move towards. (Visit the future at







 To read more Colin Benjamin blogs, click here.



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