Andrew McKellar, chief executive Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Business Leaders Summit
Tuesday, 19 October 2021
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Our long-term prosperity and living standards rely on us doing more than just reopening; we need to make changes – intelligent and courageous changes – to secure a Better Australia for our future.
We face a stark reality. Not every generation of Australians automatically has it better than the last. We must take action to strategically improve our nation.
The challenges we face coming out of pandemic are every bit as significant as those that we have struggled to deal with over the past two years.
Australia’s economy was slowing before the pandemic, so returning to pre-pandemic growth will not be enough.
More than ever before, we need all of Australia to work in unison. Our states and territories, our industries, our employers and our workers, young and old, to be working together for a better future.
Can we afford to merely stumble into recovery during the coming months? To leave the pandemic behind us as quickly as possible and get on with our lives? Most Australians are more than entitled to do just that. They have well and truly earned it – and we need them to come out, spend and be confident.
However, for our elected representatives, for policy professionals, analysts and commentators, and for representatives of key interests – more is asked of us. Now it’s our turn to step up in the national interest.
The coronavirus pandemic has been a massively disruptive event that demands our policy leaders think fundamentally about our future and how we can do better. As the chief health officers step back from the limelight it’s time for the policy profession to do its work – and to do it better.
Australia is reaching an inflection point that we simply cannot afford to ignore. Our decisions in the next 5 years will have immense future consequences. We cannot risk failure in that endeavour.
Right now, we are economically, socially and mentally bruised and traumatised. Our changed reality demands new policies, or at very least understanding where our current strengths lie and where progress is needed.
Our competitors face the same challenges, and they know it. The countries that would take our place in the G20 and OECD rankings, along with our already highly developed peers, know that they need to do better to prosper post-Covid, and they are readying themselves to come out of the blocks hard.
The world was already changing before the pandemic. Prior to Covid we were already facing massive global transformations with increasingly outmoded, inefficient and unsuitable arrangements in the key areas of policy and regulation that determine success in the 21st century.
Changing patterns in the way we consume have driven disruption of business models in many industries. In turn, this upheaval is changing the way we work. These trends demand adaptation and smart, insightful changes of policy and regulation to both reflect and take advantage of how the world is transforming.
In many respects we are doing very well.
Australia is the 13th largest economy in the world (with the 55th largest population), we are in the G20 and OECD; we are an emerging middle power; we enjoy very high standards of living and have the stability and resources to be a force for good regionally and globally.
But we have no guarantees. We need to work for our place in the world, and we need to be smart about how we go about it.
This is the challenge that ACCI is stepping up to in launching our Better Australia initiative. The challenge of securing the foundations for our next generation of growth. The challenge of thinking about the Australia we want and what we need to do to get there.
ACCI advances 5 visions for a Better Australia:
A smarter Australia
A fairer Australia
A bigger Australia
A sustainable Australia, and
A resilient and secure Australia.
We also identify various targets or goals for genuine reform: tax and regulatory reform; effective cooperation between our research sector and industry; secure affordable low emissions energy, meeting international climate change commitments; a circular economy; education and training that supports innovation; a population policy to guide investment and infrastructure; fair and secure jobs supported by productivity enhancing employment regulation relevant to how Australians actually work; and global leadership on trade.
The quality, courage and foresight of the decisions we make during coming out of COVID are set to prove every bit as critical to our future as our successful vaccination and health measures.
Also, critical will be our capacity to stick to the best course, and not become waylaid in short-termism and political opportunism. Now more than ever we need more policy change that can persist longer than a single term of government.
We hope Better Australia becomes much more than a document on your shelves.
Think about this as a deliberate, constructive provocation from ACCI, a provocation to think about how Australia can do better and what we need to do to get there.
There is no question about the most pressing challenges facing Australia.
Just as importantly, there are key first steps which must be taken if we are to begin our journey toward an even better Australia by 2050!
We must grapple with long-delayed reforms of our tax system. For example, we must be prepared to reduce the reliance on income taxes, broaden and/or increase the rate of GST, facilitating the reduction, or removal, of inefficient state taxes. Of course, it is likely that no politician will want to take the risk of openly committing to such action in the context of the next election, but we must find a way to address these issues.
We must achieve multi-partisan consensus on clear goals to decarbonise the Australian economy, ending the ‘climate wars’ that have beset our public discourse over much of the past decade.
The future of work must be based on a model of respect and cooperation, delivering flexible opportunities that meet the needs of business and offer employees jobs that are both secure and rewarding.
We must do all we can to facilitate the future drivers of productivity, setting the pre‑conditions for business to move beyond digitalisation and grasp the opportunities of the next industrial revolution.
In closing, I would simply say, the next generation of economic reform will look very different from the prescriptions of the past. If we are to set a course for a more prosperous future, we must start now.
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Read ACCI’s strategy paper: Better Australia – Securing the foundations for a stronger and smarter future.
Read Andrew McKellar’s opinion piece in The Australian today: We need bold leadership to jolt Australia out of complacency.