Australia, it’s time for a reality check
There are a handful of countries that consistently rank among the most peaceful and prosperous in which to live from around the globe: Denmark, Switzerland, Finland, Canada, and you guessed it, Australia.
Amid the outrage that characterises so much of what passes for debate in our media and on social media, this simple and reassuring fact is sometimes missed.
Along with our Antipodean cousins in New Zealand, Australia is in that top echelon of countries that has a high standard of living, relative equality, and a working and mostly stable political system.
We have a successful, modern economy that survived the GFC reasonably unscathed and we’re working to innovate and meet the challenges of the tech age. We could be doing some things a little better in terms of making things easier for businesses to grow and prosper, but those issues are on the agenda.
We have strong and robust disagreements among politicians, policymakers and economists about the need for reforms across the economy, which is a good thing. It shows that a high level of debate and thought goes into our thinking on economic matters.
We’re still regarded as a great place to do business. Our legal system provides business with the transparency and certainty required for trade and our education system provides us with a mostly high quality labour pool for employment.
It’s worthwhile to take stock of these points and compare Australia’s situation to the turmoil engulfing so many other parts of the world.
Our election was a bit of a mess, and the outcome is probably not ideal in terms of ensuring the ongoing stability of policy and decision-making from our federal government. We might yet see another prime ministerial coup – but that’s far from being the same type of political instability wracking the United Kingdom in the wake of the Brexit vote. And it’s a million miles removed from the chaos of a real coup like the one we recently saw in Turkey.
We also don’t face the massive scale of the ongoing and seemingly unsolvable refugee crisis gripping Europe. The flood of people fleeing places like Syria for the relative security of Europe dwarves what we here in Australia have had to contend with on this issue. It is potentially a social, political and economic rupture which might take European countries a generation from which to recover.
In the USA, we’re seeing a bitter presidential race between Republicans and Democrats, with fractures appearing across the political spectrum. Underlying that political battle is the resurfacing of serious racial divisions as well, tragically illustrated by the shooting of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, and the continued protests of the Black Lives Matter movement.
In the face of all this we can take strength and solace in our situation. Hopefully the election will act as a wake up call for the major parties, with both Labor and the Coalition realising they have to listen more closely to an electorate that’s calling out for stronger engagement. Our system, our democracy, is strong enough to learn such lessons.
The challenge for Australia and for business is to not sit and wait, but be courageous. The reality, however, is that generally we have an underlying conservative business culture here in Australia. A short term focus where some executives favour cost-cutting as the pathway to growth. As the pathway to increasing productivity. As we all know, this is not the answer. If business “sits on its hands” this becomes self-fulfilling; that is, the economy slows.
When we continue to blame our political landscape for our productivity woes due to a lack of leadership, lack of vision, indecisiveness, spin – which includes red tape, higher compliance costs, pro-union labour market policies, etc – we shift agency away from ourselves and give it to politicians.
The reality is that it’s not the politicians or our government that is the source of productivity; it’s us – the business community. We need to take the initiative. It’s all about building an innovative workplace, investing in new processes, investing in new systems, markets and products. We have to establish and maintain our competitive advantage, by taking calculated risks and setting ourselves up for the future. This takes courageous leadership.
We’re still very much the lucky country. We should rejoice in that and work together to ensure we maintain our position as one of the most peaceful, prosperous and happy countries in the world.