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Open society, common purpose taskforce

How can Australia re-engage with the world?

An Independent Taskforce from a broad range of sectors is working to promote a society that is outward-looking to the world and enhances social connection at home.

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In 2022, the Sydney Policy Lab is building on the work of the 2021 Open Society, Common Purpose taskforce with a new taskforce which will consider how a post-pandemic Australia can build back better, and sustainably. Read about the work of the Open Society, Common Purpose Taskforce 2022.

The Taskforce convened a summit on 23 August with leaders from business, government, civil society and academia to explore the next phase of Australia’s pandemic response, the lessons of international experiences, and the hidden costs of the strategy Australia has been pursuing. This builds on the  Roadmap to Reopening Report (pdf, 4.8mb) released in May 2021. 

In generating a dialogue between leaders and experts in epidemiology, infectious diseases, biomedical sciences, and human rights, the taskforce has identified some principles that can guide Australia’s public conversation about how it can move towards reopening its society and mending its social fabric. The principles include:

1. It is not sustainable for Australia to maintain a zero Covid stance and we should begin removing lockdown restrictions when 70-80 per cent of the adult population is fully vaccinated.

2. Australia needs a more proportionate public conversation about the risks and burdens of COVID-19, in order to build the psychological runway required for reopening the country.

3. The design of public responses to the pandemic must be informed by diverse perspectives, in particular those communities that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

4. Australia should consider mandatory vaccination for key workers and professions, including those in health, education, logistics and transportation.

5. Australia should have a national plan for schools to enable as much face-to-face learning for the fourth term of school in 2021 as is safely possible, and to stay open into 2022, preventing further deterioration in children’s education and mental health.

6. Australia should increase investment in public health and mental health in the next stage of the pandemic and beyond.

The Taskforce has released its Roadmap to Reopening Report (pdf, 5.7mb). 

The reports calls for a staged process of international re-engagement based on three public health pillars:

  • widespread and rapid vaccination backed by measures to increase public confidence,
  • rigorous border testing and immunity requirements for incoming travellers, and
  • scaled up quarantine designed to meet the needs of specific industries.

About the Taskforce

To be prosperous, fair and strong, Australia must be open to the world at the same time as being close-knit at home. Never have both of these been so important, but rarely have they ever been so difficult to achieve

Not since the end of the Second World War has there been a threat to Australia’s future as an open society as there is now. With borders having been closed both between states and between the nation and the world and tensions growing daily in many communities, the Australian ideal of confidently looking outwards looks harder to realise than ever. Yet without strong connections internationally, our economic prosperity will be threatened and our position in the world undermined.

At the same time, never have our bonds at home been more important to strengthen. Without deep social solidarity and real attachments encompassing all Australians, it will be impossible for the country successfully to battle the virus and it will be equally impossible to rebuild our economy in the months and years ahead. Yet we know these bonds are fragile right now, undermined by intolerance and racism, by culture wars and the growing gulfs between different parts of our society.

Two people on oxford street Sydney

Image credit - Grace Sui and Tim Fennis 2019

Australia, then, faces a new mission during the next stage of the pandemic and in the crucial period of rebuilding that will follow it. We need to learn how to look out to the world again, while also re-stitching our society together so that we will be stronger and more united in the years ahead.

An Independent Taskforce, appointed by the Chancellor of the University of Sydney and hosted at the Sydney Policy Lab and the Culture Strategy seeks to understand:

How can we help Australia to be an open society with a common life?

Since it was established, the Taskforce has been listening to the experts, taking evidence from the public and learning from developments across the world. The Taskforce’s work will reshape debate and set out policy options that will make our future stronger and more confident.

Read more about the establishment of the Taskforce in the Chancellor’s announcement on 15 December, 2020 in The Australian.  

Who are the Taskforce?

The Independent Taskforce is comprised of high-profile leaders from business, academia and civil society.

The precise issues at stake will be identified by the Taskforce as it conducts its work. Key areas of concern include:

  • Under what conditions would it be considered appropriate to reopen Australia’s borders to the world?
  • Is there a relationship between borders being closed to the world and an increase of racial and cultural divisions at home?
  • What does an outward-looking Australian patriotism look like in the years ahead?
  • How can we best support those families and communities that are separated by border closures, both internal and external?
  • What can be done to generate stronger bonds of connection across difference in the diverse range of Australian communities?
  • How can we best secure the place of First Nations communities in shaping policy in this area?

For more information about the initiative, or to find out how you and your organisation might participate, please get in touch.


Independent Taskforce

Mark is the immediate past Global CEO of Herbert Smith Freehills having served for two terms from 2014-2020. He was also Chair of the firm's Global Executive, Chair of the Global Diversity & Inclusion Group and a Member of the HSF Global Partnership Council. 

Robyn joined the School in 2016, bringing with her longstanding research in urbanism. Her current research is concerned with the ways in which urban governance and urban life are responding to climate change and technological disruptions.

Emma joined the Sydney Symphony Orchestra as Chief Executive Officer in 2018. During her 20-year cultural management career, she has partnered with more than 125 creative organizations in the United States, the U.K., and Australia, and served in leadership capacities across every artistic discipline.

Violet is a social entrepreneur and the CEO of Settlement Services International, a community organisation and social business that supports newcomers and other vulnerable individuals to achieve their full potential. Through her C-suite and board roles, Violet uses innovation and collective impact to promote social justice and inclusion.

Tom is the CEO of PwC Australia and leads a team of more than 700 partners and 8000 staff across PwC’s three businesses - Assurance, Financial Advisory and Consulting. He has more than 25 years’ experience on taxation matters, particularly in the infrastructure, mining and energy industry sectors.

Michael commenced his position as CEO of The Law Council of Australia on 1 August 2020.

He was previously Chief Executive Officer of the Law Society of New South Wales. He has worked in both the government and business sectors in Australia, foremostly in strategic management and senior policy advisory roles.

Advisors to the Taskforce

Ben is an internationally renowned infectious diseases specialist with a focus on global public health. He is currently Co-Director, Marie Bashir Institute for Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity and also Infectious Diseases Consultant at the Children’s Hospital Westmead. In his role at Marie Bashir Institute he is working towards a dynamic, multi-disciplinary research community in infection, immunity and biosecurity.

Ben is trained as a paediatrician and his primary research interest is tuberculosis (epidemiology, strain diversity/evolution, diagnosis, prevention, treatment, drug resistance) with a special focus on how children are affected by the global epidemic. He is regularly called upon as an expert consultant and advisor to a range of prominent international health organisation.

Sue is a Partner of Newgate Communications and is regarded as one of Australia’s leading market and social researchers. She has more than 25 years’ experience as a market researcher, research buyer and communications consultant in the corporate, financial, issues and political arenas.

Sue’s core expertise is conducting sensitive community and stakeholder research for organisations facing complex issues and working with clients to identify the most effective ways in which to engage and influence. She has recently been sought after as a commentator on community sentiment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

University of Sydney Sponsors

Tim is Professor of Practice (Sociology and Political Theory). He is also Director, Culture Strategy at the University and helps lead the University’s efforts to build a culture that supports its teaching, research and service to society. A political theorist and human rights advocate, from 2013 to 2018 Tim was Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner.

Marc is Director of the Sydney Policy Lab. Before arriving in Sydney in 2018, Marc had been Professor of Political Theory at the University of Oxford and Chief Executive of the New Economics Foundation, one of the UK’s largest think tanks. Between 2012 and 2015, he was Chief Speechwriter to the UK Labour Party, a co-author of the party’s 2015 election manifesto and a member of the Party's general election steering committee.

Roadmap to reopening report

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Principles for reopening Australia

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