We need bold leadership to jolt Australia out of complacency

18 Oct 2021 |

This opinion article by Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s chief executive Andrew McKellar was first published in The Australian on 18 October 2021

As we finally begin to emerge from lockdowns and restrictions, end border closures, and reach crucial thresholds in the vaccination rollout, we must ask ourselves – where to next?

We have weathered one of the most challenging economic and health crises in a century. With Australia’s economy facing significant headwinds, our standard of living and future prosperity is at risk.

Yet, out of great adversity, opportunity flourishes. We now have a once-in-a-generation chance to pursue a bold and courageous reform agenda, strengthening our place in the world.

So, do we continue to do things the way we always have, risking our international standing, or do we adopt an ambitious reform agenda, sustaining a stronger and smarter Australia?

The challenges we face are clear – a slowing economy, weak productivity and population growth, increased public debt, an inefficient tax system and the need to build a more innovative and sustainable Australian economy.

Failing to address these issues will not only determine the strength of our post-pandemic recovery but will have immense ramifications for years to come.

A broader reform agenda is required to support Australia’s economic prospects. However, many have lamented the inability of our political leaders to elaborate a convincing narrative for far-reaching economic reform.

It’s not as if we are incapable of achieving major economic change – history tells us we can.

The Hawke and Keating governments systemically reduced tariffs, floated the dollar, privatised government assets and set out a deregulation agenda.

The Howard government targeted fiscal and monetary settings, introduced the GST, and pursed far-reaching restructure of the labour market.

The realisation of these reforms required bold and innovative leadership. In many cases, it was difficult to build consensus behind these ambitions. Courage was needed to press on with the changes that enhanced our place in the world.

The achievement of a future Australia that experiences improved social and economic outcomes compared with the ones we inherited will require our political leaders to do the same.

Today, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry releases its own plan to drive public debate, pushing our leaders to improve our international standing: Better Australia – Securing the foundations for a stronger and smarter Australia.

Our strategy outlines five long-term visions for the Australia of tomorrow, focusing on themes of innovation, fairness, sustainability, economic scale and resilience.

It is not enough to outline an ambitious vision for Australia’s future. ACCI has identified specific goals for securing Australia’s path to a prosperous future.

We must address long-delayed tax reform, reducing our reliance on income taxes, modernise the GST and alleviate inefficient state taxes that stifle competitiveness.

We must implement a clear plan to decarbonise the Australian economy, securing affordable low emissions energy that meets our international commitments.

We must recognise the fundamental changes driving the future of work, delivering fair and flexible workplaces that meet the needs of business and employees alike.

We must boost the future drivers of productivity, setting the pre-conditions for business to move beyond digitalisation, grasping the opportunities of the next industrial revolution.

As the next election looms large, we need our leaders to commit to advancing ambitious reform. The aforementioned priorities can guide our leaders across the political spectrum, not just for the year ahead but for the next generation.

The cost of keeping fundamental reforms off the political agenda is too great. We have enormous opportunity to become an economic and geopolitical powerhouse.

Action must start now; the future of competition and global realignment demands we move beyond discussion.

Complacency cannot define the policy prescription for Australia’s future.

Andrew McKellar is the chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

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