On Tuesday 13th October, I had the absolute pleasure to attend the Global Integrity Summit hosted by Griffith University at their South Brisbane Conservatorium.
This event came to my attention through the large themes to be covered including ending poverty by 2030, freedom of press and speech, big data and surveillance, and climate change.
There were a large number of fantastic speakers and panelists in attendance as well. These included Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs, the medaling priest, Fr Frank Brennan, cartoonist Michael Leunig, former politician and journalist Maxine McKew, Electronic Frontier Foundation board member and renowned security technologist Bruce Schneier, New York Times journalist Andrew Revkin, UN human rights advisor Carly Nyst and Crikey founder and Melbourne councillor Stephen Mayne (to name but a few).
The day was extraordinarily enlightening and passionate. Every person on stage brought something else to the table- a new point of view, an interesting story, a great passion or a new life experience to share. I would go so far as to say it is the best conference I have attended and one which I absolutely feel we need to see more of.
Prof Ian O’Connor, Vice Chancellor and President of Griffith University, says the GIS held its inaugural event last year, in the lead up to the G20 Summit held at the Brisbane Exhibition and Convention Centre. It largely focused on the ethics and integrity of the issues on the agenda for the G20. This year, he says, the aim of the Summit was to expand its focus into issues with pressing global concern. And I feel that they have well and truly achieved that.
The event was kicked off by Prof Paul Mazerolle, Pro Vice Chancellor of Arts, Education and Law at GU and Prof Charles Sampford, Director of the Institute for Ethics, Governance and Law at GU. There were many people in attendance, including over 300 high school students from South East Queensland. Well done to them and their schools for showing the need for change to begin with us younger generations who will inevitably inherit every decision being made around these issues in the next few years.
Prof Sampford wished to thank all those unscrupulous and questionable individuals, businesses and governments, without which the event simply wouldn’t be held.
“Ethics and integrity cannot be optional extras.” – Prof Charles Sampford
Session 1- Human Rights, Human Security and Sustainable Development Goals
Gillian Triggs was the first keynote speaker welcomed to the stage. She was there to talk to us about ending poverty as we head towards 2030. This idea is spawned from the recent release of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The main view across this speech was that business plays a huge role in the reduction of poverty.
Prof Triggs gave us from frightening statistics from right here at home. Over 180,000 children in NSW are deemed to be in poverty with similar numbers in the other states. This figure, she argues, can start to be resolved by ensuring there are jobs for them.
“If people do not have access to employment they are at serious risk of falling below the poverty line.” – Prof Gillian Triggs
This is equally necessary for older generations, who continue to suffer from age discrimination. On that note, Prof Triggs said that over two thirds of all human rights breach complaints to the AHRC are within the business and employment sectors. Fortunately just over 70% of these complaints are remediated.
We were then treated to a panel discussion with Prof Triggs, Fr Frank Brennan AO, Professor of Law at ACU, Attiya Waris, senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi, and Erna Witoelar, founder of the Indonesian Environmental Forum.
After Fr Frank, the “ethical blur” as noted by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, argued his case that he was a token old white guy, the panel largely focussed on the 17 SDGs and the likelihood of their success by 2030.
The consensus was that these 17 goals would be heaven on earth and that poverty eradication was hard to judge as the poverty line isn’t measured individually, but rather with a one size fits all brush.
Attiya, an expert in taxation systems, told us that some tax brackets in Africa start at those earning just $2 per day, below the UN poverty line.
Fr Frank was of the view the SDGs may have to be prioritised in order to meet some of them, a view not held by the consensus of the panel who believed government needed to take a large holistic view.
“Compliance with human rights is good for business.” – Prof Gillian Triggs
The conversation then switched to questioning how business could be expected to increase spending towards poverty reduction when governments continue to slash foreign aid.
“The disparity in power leads to loss in human dignity.” – Fr Frank Brennan
There were a number of suggestions made for improvements, including removing things from the pockets of the top billion to give to the bottom billion.
On the note of human rights in Australia, Prof Triggs alluded to recent political shake ups when saying the country collectively made a sigh of relief. She also told us that Australia is the only common law country without a bill of human rights or similar and that this can hamper us in our efforts to understand and demand them, as the language isn’t known to us.
Finally, the panel agreed that young people have perhaps the most important role to play as they will be the leaders in 2030. Erna impressed upon us the power of the young person and their gadget.
Session 2- Free Speech, Freedom of Press and Integrity in Journalism
The day moved on to the next keynote speaker, Michael Leunig, who spoke about the role of cartoonists in a world where we are more and more politically correct. But not before making an illustration of a cartoonist at work.
“Recently the world has become more politically correct and valued less humour and metaphor.” – Michael Leunig
Leunig told us a cartoonist can reaffirm prejudice and discrimination- it is up to their own morals. Cartoons are such a symbolic medium that they can trigger positive change or harsh backlash. It can be far more difficult to make a funny wise cartoon than a funny cruel cartoon and as such “the cartoonist must play the role of the devil’s advocate and the angel’s advocate.”
Following that, Michael joined the panel with Maxine McKew, Stephen Mayne and Shane Rodgers, Queensland Editor of The Australian. They were set to discuss press power, freedom and journalistic integrity.
There was a huge proportion of the discussion aimed towards comparisons of old and new media and the change in power. The panel agreed that social media has gained huge traction in allowing the every person to voice their opinions and views. The blogging community, or freelance journalists, are also gaining power over traditional news journalism. They also spoke about the fall of the proprietor news outlets and the rise of the corporate news outlet.
“Too often, bipartisan decisions don’t get enough scrutiny.” – Stephen Mayne
The panel wondered whether journalism as we know it now will be around for too much longer and instead we will have freelance journalists speaking out against fewer issues. McKew pointed out that there is still a huge need for highly investigative journalism, referencing the recent ABC/Fairfax investigation into the 7-Eleven wage scam.
The point was also raised that news is becoming less about hard hitting issues and more about *crap *like reality TV series’ or making political stories more about the underlying relationships and not actual policies.
“Most people are thinking why has the media become so dumb?” – Michael Leunig
“There has been a loss of quality in the top 20% of influencing journalists in Australia.” – Stephen Mayne
There was a large dialogue brought up about recent laws that have come in preventing journalists from being able to safely hear from whistleblowers or informants. McKew asks where the big uprising was against these laws. Mayne argues there has been a noticeable drop in whistleblowers or informants as they are afraid of prison or other consequences.
Session 3- Big Data, Privacy and Surveillance
Next up was big data, privacy and surveillance. I was extremely excited to hear from Bruce Schneier and look forward to reading his book, Data and Goliath. He joined us vis video link from the US and gave a very insightful talk about mass surveillance and data tracking.
If you have every read my blog or Twitter feed, you would know I am hugely against mass government surveillance. And especially when the department administering it has no idea what they’re talking about. It is downright dangerous.
Schneier says that data is a by product of the information age and the tools used to track this data are both invisible and a major part of our society.
“Surveillance is the business model of the internet. We are not the customer, we are the product.” – Bruce Schneier
“We live in the golden age of data surveillance,” he says. We are offered free services in return for our personal information. Government surveillance is driven by fear in every country.
Schneier argued about the ridiculousness of mass corporate surveillance. “If the government passed a law requiring us to carry tracking devices 24/7 we wouldn’t accept. Yet we all carry phones. If we had to let the police know every time we made a new friend, we wouldn’t tell them. Yet we all use Facebook. If we had to provide a copy of our correspondence to the police, we wouldn’t. Yet we tell Google.”
He then moved onto mass government surveillance and the dangers it poses. “If Google gets our interests or personality wrong, who cares. If government gets it wrong we could be arrested or denied services.” It is difficult for the government to distinguish between communications from an average person over a criminal with mass data, whereas targeted surveillance avoids this.
“Data is the pollution problem of the information age.” – Bruce Schneier
Schneier finished by saying we can’t have political change on all these issues without having social change.
We then met the panel for this session, including Gillian Triggs, Carly Nyst andBret Walker SC, a Barrister and past president of the Law Council of Australia.
An issue firmly in the panel’s radar was the warrantless access to the trove of metadata being collected. There are no checks and balances in place whatsoever, which is alarming.
They also said that the intangibility of the laws and data meant that it was hard for the average person to grasp the issue.
On a personal note, most average people I have spoken to in my personal and professional life had no idea of the extent of the new laws and what it meant.
Prof Triggs argues the new laws are disproportionate, unnecessary and have excessive executive discretion. Scarily, Nyst wonders if we have reached the point of no return with regards to these laws and surveillance.
Walker points out there should be more cost-benefit analysis carried out, and not with regards to money. He believes we will end up with more data than is useful.
The panel wondered if we will end up seeing prosecutions of small time crime or copyright violation rather than those of terrorists, which the laws were supposedly passed to stop.
They were also concerned about the level of security there will be and whether we are providing a trove for hackers to take advantage of.
Nyst brought up the fact that Europe is rolling back all their metadata surveillance, having had it found illegal and against the basic human right to privacy.
“Culturally, we have a good sense of what a fair and confident society looks like.” – Prof Gillian Triggs
Walker brought up a point from the previous talk when he asked why journalists get a carve out of the laws, when that should also apply to average citizens. In this regard, he said the same laws won’t apply to bloggers or ‘non professional’ journalists.
“The NSA is no model for any agency that I want in this country.” – Bret Walker
Session 4- Climate Change and Climate Justice
Finally, the day finished with a session around climate change and climate justice.
Andrew Revkin opened his keynote with a song about the need for coal in this world and the argument that we can no longer burn our way to prosperity.
The panel joining him included Pavan Sukhdev, environmental economist and founder of GIST Advisory, and Andrew MacLeod, Managing Director of Good Super.
The discussion was wide ranging, including the need for business to be ethical when it comes to investment and the need to end energy poverty.
“There is no single we, there are distinct voices. It’s up to us, let’s work it out.” – Andrew Revkin
The panel surmised that if we thought we had a refugee crisis now, just wait until millions lose their jobs and millions more lose their countries.
The way to have this addressed though is to stop talking about the facts of climate change and start talking about these consequences.
And one last thing, apparently climate change will stop your toilet from flushing. So we better sort it out.
And that about sums up my experience at the Global Integrity Summit. Amazing people, huge discussions and a lot of food for thought. I can’t wait for the next one and I hope some of the ideas raised by the panel can actually be sorted out by the governments and corporations in this world.
Take a look at Twitter for some great audience views and opinions.