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2021 - The Year of the Ox: An Opportunity for Reset

Image by Jose Antonio Gallego Vázquez

Peter Yuile Director Australia21

The word ‘reset’ seems to be appearing a lot lately, witness Ross Garnaut’s new book “Reset: Restoring Australia after the Great Crash of 2020”. In 2021, ‘Reset’ might be the word to capture the essence of the year, just as ‘disruption’ perhaps is one word that captures 2020.

But what do we mean? Reset is quite a powerful word and can mean many things to different people; a good word for political discourse because of its strategic ambiguity. We can gather many into the ‘Reset tent’, keep the language general and aspirational, and build momentum. Bit like ‘Yes We Can’.

But the rubber has to hit the road some time. Reset will require policies and programs. What will they look like?

Reset could be a euphemism for ‘snapback’. A return to the pre-pandemic status quo with its privilege for some and desperation for others; where ‘Life’s Lottery’ as Glyn Davis recently described it, means that some will be born to opportunity, support and hope while others will be born to inequality, ignominy, and hopelessness.

Can we be bigger and better than that? Can we walk for a while in the shoes of our First Nation People? Can we hear the cries of those suffering mental illness or other disability? Can we feel the pain of the dispossessed and homeless? Can we share our affluence and comfort? Can we re-connect and care for ourselves, each other and the land which nurtures and sustains us? Can we rebuild foreign relationships and chart a new international policy course? Isn’t there a “New Better”?

I often heard Ministers and senior officials observe that you should never waste a good crisis. It presents an opportunity, a ‘crack where the light gets in’ to borrow from Leonard Cohen, to enable much needed, even radical change; to recalibrate the settings; to steer a new course; to write a new chapter – whatever metaphor works for you.

We certainly have a good crisis and it’s not over yet.

So are we up for a Reset, a better ‘normal’ than we’ve had? A “New Better”? How might it happen? How might it be lead? What do the new structures look like, what scaffolding have we got and what do we still need? Can we build a consensus, a new accord on the kind of Reset we want – the underlying values and the goals we want to pursue? What will change minds and motivations? Where will the wisdom, as opposed to the knowledge, come from to support and sustain this “New Better”? And what is my role, my responsibility?

Where do I start? These are the questions I am wrestling with, and I know others are too.

I have no silver bullet. I think some terrific grass roots consultation was undertaken to produce the vision and pillars of Australia ReMade ( . It is a really helpful roadmap, a framework to address the key elements of Reset. The nine pillars are: Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders are celebrated at the very heart of what it means to be Australian; A natural world for now and the future; An economy for the people; A society where all contributions count and every job has dignity; A diversity of people living side by side; A country of flourishing communities; A new dawn for women; A thriving democracy; A proud contributor to a just world.

The Council for the Human Future ( is exploring seriously how we thrive and survive in the coming decades as we confront 10 major existential threats facing humanity. Solutions exist but adjustment to the way we live and care for ourselves, each other, and our planet are called for.

So such frameworks exist but how do we start building desire and momentum for such change? And what will sustain that hope and desire? It seems to me that we need wisdom and an individual and collective change of heart. Senior Australian of the Year, Miriam Rose Ungunmeer, encourages us to practice dadirri – inner deep listening and quiet still awareness. I believe dadirri does offer a foundation from which we might sense the spirit of our time, find a new heart about what is most important in this life, and develop new possibilities together. It is a deep practice that takes times to develop – not a quick fix. What I’m not clear about is how the spirit of dadirri might capture the hearts, minds and imagination of our nation; and yet if it did, I think it would unleash an energy that would power profound change.

This is the Year of the Ox. When I think of an ox, I have a picture of a strong animal, slowly, deliberately pulling a cart or a plough – enabling a farmer to ‘reset’ for market, or for a new crop.

I think it will require deliberate reflection and strong will if we are to find a way to Reset. And it will take time – though we have seen through Covid, how seemingly impossible things can get done when there is will and motivation.

No good wringing my hands. I was reminded of what Arthur Ashe said - “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can”. Getting going and building momentum starts with us: what preoccupies us; what we talk about with family and friends and share in wider conversations; the groups in which we participate or choose to support; the coalitions of interest we might join or begin; advocacy we might undertake or share in; where we put some of our time, attention and resources. What else? I am interested to hear what others are thinking, feeling and doing?

What else might be possible?

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