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Australia -We have a problem!

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Australia -We have a problem!
a boy putting his face in the sand on a white background

There are so many lenses through which to view Australian business culture it is difficult to know where to start. It may be that it is an impossible task. In saying that, some years ago I prepared a paper,

How does the Australia Culture Impact on your business?

This paper written in 1990 was written in the context of the debate in Australia about microeconomic reform – specifically award restructuring. At the time, there was substantial work being done at many levels in Australia to ‘open’ our economy to the world. It is obvious now, but that period of restructuring laid the groundwork for a period of unprecedented growth in Australia. Is it possible to engage in that level of restructuring again? My view is, we can initiate it ourselves, or there will come a time when the global economy will do it to us.


In this Blog, I have recorded a number of statements from reports in the media about what leaders are saying about the culture of business in Australia.

The news is not good. Just a half a dozen statements highlight a number of issues which, at best, are a genuine problem.

Some thoughts:

One of Australia’s key downfalls is our inability to allow failure. 

Robert Finkeldey was a former vice president market & business strategies at Gartner and the founder of two startups. 

Located on the rim of fast-growing Asia with immense ­opportunities that should set up the nation for decades, a complacent Australia is succumbing to its old-fashioned ‘she’ll be right” mediocrity’.

Many of our business leaders suffer from the disease of domestic introspection and fail to appreciate the scale of the changes happening right on our doorstep.

It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the national psyche – or that of our policy makers – is completely detached from reality. How did it become like this? Australia is a great country with excellent growth prospects. Yet it is a nation that is increasingly giving into despair. There is no sense that a better future awaits us now that the mining boom is gone. Most policy makers, now openly question the ability of the nation to maintain its living standards. Australia is like a ship without a mast.

How about some innovative policy?

There have been numerous innovation-related statements produced in this country over the past 40 years. None has led to fundamental change because the relationship between innovation and industry development has not been understood. Well-intentioned efforts to boost the supply of venture capital end up achieving very little, because the innovation system (that is, the network of connections, experience and support, nestling within a serious bipartisan policy commitment) remains undeveloped.

We are on a slippery slope to global irrelevance, if you consider the size of the economy as the ticket to play.

“It just puts pressure on us to have a long-term plan to be productive and to be innovative and to compete on a world scale even though we are smaller.”

The issue is whether Turnbull’s vision can be reconciled with the nation’s business culture where caution and protectionist regulation remain strong. This is what he seeks to change. In many ways, Australia starts a long way behind….

Each one of these statements highlights worldview, which is disappointing at best, disturbing at worst. It is hard to find a positive comment about the business culture in Australia. The absence of serious business debate, about the major shifts occurring globally, at the national level is again very disappointing.

Where is this debate/thinking occurring?

The future of business is happening around us and there is little serious articulation of the big business environment about the future we are preparing for.

We are in the 16th year of the 21st Century.

What is happening now?

  • Mines in WA are being managed remotely
  • At those same mines, we have the largest robot in the world in place and operating
  • Uber and AirBnB are launched and are operating nationally
  • Driverless vehicles are in the foreseeable future
  • We are on the leading edge of the world becoming a cashless society
  • Whole new Industries are emerging (who had heard of Fintech 5 years ago?)

This is happening now! And more?

Economic megatrends should be debated in Australian politics because only a larger frame tells the true story of our economic future. Without this debate, we cannot play the leadership role the world is expecting. We are not a small player in economic diplomacy. We are the 13th largest economy in the world. Out of 193 nations. That is not the middle.

In reading about Australian business it is hard to be excited. Our leaders in business and politics are either absent or very ‘down beat’ when talking about the culture of business. (See above)

We are the 13th biggest economy in the world and by default, we are leaders, BUT in WHAT? We dig stuff out of the ground and flog it to the world! I believe, as Australians, we have no idea how lucky we have been and are. One Prime Minister actually said, “being born in Australia was like winning the lottery!”

Our record in terms of economic growth is outstanding. We lead the world.

The Indicator: Number of consecutive quarters without a recession.

There are other areas in which we are not so highly ranked:

In four of the 6 areas, we are in the range 10-21. This is good but not great.

The Social Progress Index we are placed fourth. This result is better and is probably where we should set the bar. (Top 5)

It is what we expect in the Olympics.

The Economic Complexity index, which is an indicator of our Industry base and our future prosperity we are 79th and slipping down. Remember the comment , “The slippery slope to global irrelevance”?

Is this the sort of a country we want to leave our grandchildren?

Only in the last few weeks, Standard and Poors issued a warning on our AAA Credit rating. It is now AAA negative. It made the news cycle for a couple of days.

These other indicators barely make the news.

After 29 years of economic growth – how long can we continue to live in the delusion that it will continue forever?

In the current debate on Innovation, the issue of collaboration between the universities and industry is identified and a major barrier to successful commercialization???

Bill Ferris Australia’s innovation czar said in a recent address: Bill Ferris AC, Developing an Entrepreneurial Eco system in Australia, 19th April 2016

“But where do we sit in regard to collaboration between industry and academia:

  • 30th out of 30 OECD countries in terms of the percentage of innovation-active large firms collaborating on innovation. So if collaboration is the answer, what is the question?

The recent Senate sub committee inquiry on Innovation in Australia highlighted one fact, which makes this collaboration, and the commercialisation process difficult.

It may be right at the core of our cultural problem.

In Australia, only 30% of the research and development workforce is employed in industry. Contrast this with other developed countries where it is closer to 80%. Australia rates poorly on industry-led innovation.

It seems to me that if we don’t confront the brutal facts and there are plenty, then as a Nation, we have a problem.

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