Alana Matheson | Senate Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers

22 Feb 2018 |

Opening Statement
Senate Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers
Alana Matheson, Deputy Director | Workplace Relations
21 February 2018 appearing with Jenny Lambert

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We thank the Committee for the opportunity to address important issues raised by the future of work in Australia.

The private sector creates more than 4 out of 5 jobs.  The one absolute certainty we can bank on for the future is that these work opportunities will not exist without viable and sustainable businesses.

The ongoing prosperity and success of our community depends on our capacity to deliver a clear and powerful value proposition for investing and doing business in Australia.

Meaningful, productive dialogue on the future of work cannot be politicised, nor can it be divisive. We have an opportunity in this discussion to do much better for the community and emerging generations by engaging with genuinely relevant questions for our future.

We should attempt to develop a shared understanding about what is actually going on in the global economy and global labour market and what Australia needs to do to secure our share of future business and jobs.

Australia faces intensifying global competition particularly from the rapidly developing economies in Asia.

Competitive concerns are not just confined to cheaper labour. These rapidly developing nations are increasingly competing in other areas.

They are improving digital infrastructure and can already access online opportunities free of geographical limitations, and they are rapidly increasing skills and education in areas of critical global demand.

Other nations throughout the world are responding to change and working to ensure they are competitive and securing jobs for their people, including by repositioning their tax policies to better encourage international investment and grow their economy. We will need to adapt and compete more effectively in our own right if we want to maintain our high living standards.

In the 1980s, the then Treasurer famously warned that a failure to adjust would see Australian end-up being a “third-rate economy, a banana republic”. Times and language have changed, but turning our minds to the future of work creates a similar opportunity to fundamentally think about how to adjust and better position Australia for the future.

We need to engage with policies that will help us secure competitive advantage, and bring future opportunities to this country.

  • For a start, let’s have a good look at our tax system and pull state and federal governments together to work out how we can deliver a more efficient and competitive system that avoids duplication, complexity and over-taxation.
  • Let’s make secure, reliable and affordable energy supplies a key part of the value proposition for doing business in Australia. This is particularly important in Australia given our geography and given we are a high wage nation.
  • Let’s make sure we have the infrastructure our community and business needs. This includes access to reliable, fast and inexpensive telecommunications and mobile networks that will enable Australia to thrive in a digital economy.
  • Let’s connect businesses with cohesive and complete public datasets. Data is set to play an increasing role in informing how businesses adapt, and there will be jobs created for people who can analyse and apply data.
  • Let’s get smarter about how we regulate, and make sure that business regulation is not so pervasive or poorly designed that it diverts unnecessary time and resources away from servicing customers and markets.

While our land may abound in nature’s gifts, our future will increasingly rely on smart, adaptable people in our increasingly service oriented economy.

We need to ensure businesses can employ people with the skills and capabilities they need to compete and succeed.

  • We need to get much better in ensuring that the skills and competencies of our current and future workforce align with the demands on business. There must be improved involvement from industry at all stages of students’ learning journeys.
  • Let’s use data to develop a deeper understanding about how training and education outcomes are translating to employment. And lets then invest where we will get the most productive returns, including in Vocational Education and Training.
  • Let’s encourage innovation in employee share ownership, including through favourable tax arrangements. This could be a powerful tool to attract and develop talent and to reward employees that contribute to the evolution of the businesses.
  • And let’s make sure a broad range of workplace participation options are available to maximise the potential of our diverse workforce. This is not the time to attempt to blindly channel everyone into Monday-Friday, fulltime jobs in fixed working locations, or to label as inferior options that businesses and the people who work in them are using to successfully navigate the changing world of work.

Our economy and the needs and expectations of our workforce are evolving.  Most Australians don’t want to work full-time for 40 years on a production line or in an office that looks like a scene out of Mad Men.

We cannot afford to fall into the trap of assuming any government should attempt to freeze work in time like a wax works exhibit – this is a sure path to a future with fewer jobs and falling living standards.

This is not the time to add further layers of regulation to an already complex and overlapping workplace relations system grounded in labour market assumptions tracing back to the 19th century.

We cannot afford to have businesses so put off by our regulation that it’s more attractive to take their business and employment opportunities elsewhere and we don’t want to see all of the good Australian ideas being commercialised abroad.

Instead, let’s show the world that our Governments in Australia have a positive attitude toward doing business by delivering a competitive policy environment that encourages risk taking, investment and employment and which doesn’t create apprehension regarding sudden, unannounced or untested shifts in regulation.

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