There was a time when Australia engaged in “nation-building” projects: The Snowy Mountains Scheme, the national road and rail systems, the ports and the creation of corporations such as the Post Office, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, CSIRO and Telstra – more recently CSL and Cochlear. These projects emerged out of visionary Government policy. There are many others I have not named.
It appears that recent Governments have lacked the will to engage in such ambitious behaviour.
As a nation, our capabilities are limited only by our imagination and by “political will”.
In that same vein in the 80’s many ‘nation building’ measures were dismantled so the economy could open up to the world – floating the $, the reduction in tariffs, deregulation of the finance sector and a restructuring of the labour market.
In this time the motor vehicle industry, a “nation building” investment from another era, is effectively closing down ….with much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
It is hard to name any ‘nation building’ projects of substance emerging in the last 20 years – perhaps NBN. While the concept of National Broadband is laudable, it seems those charged with the responsibility in Government, misjudged the nature and scale of the undertaking. The Future Fund? – and ….
So what are the industries that will drive our future? Which industries will create the platform for many thousands of hi-tech, high-skilled jobs that will cultivate “work” and long-term careers for the next generations?
Surely the role of Government is to establish an environment where the country and it citizens can flourish. In Australia we are blest with so many natural resources; so many talented people but somehow we don’t seem to get it!
Recently at a talk given by Andrew Liveris (an Australian), who is Chairman of Dow, he suggested our more recent political history was an embarrassment and ‘the jury was out in the current year’. (2014) He did suggest there is a new paradigm in operation!
One point he did make (and I don’t have the transcript) is that most R&D emerges out of the manufacturing and that we have limited manufacturing in Australia and it is diminishing.
Andrew Liveris is a very successful expat Australian and he is embarrassed!
As an ordinary Australia I am embarrassed!
I wonder why in a country where we are well educated and have in place an advanced democratic system we struggle with:
- Making decisions about building major infrastructure!
- The Very Fast Train conversation continues – almost!
- The Sydney airport decision was only made this year after a 30-year conversation! It will probably take another 20 years to build!
- Long-term water issues! From the time of our primary schooling we have been taught that Australia is the driest continent – but there have been few significant water projects initiated since the Snowy Mountain scheme. (The desalination plants which were built in a panic, during our last water crises appear to be useless! How many billions spent?)
- Productivity challenges! All seem to acknowledge there is an issue but it appears to be too difficult for anyone and there is little thought leadership.
- Wealth creation (increasing the size of the pie)! As a country we are wonderfully good at discussing and debating how our national wealth should be redistributed! However we are incapable of an intelligent conversation about wealth creation!
- The “globalisation’ of population! In a world of 7 billion heading to 9 billion people, Australia surely cannot believe we can engage in the same divisive debates, which are currently the standard. Whether it is refugees or “Big Australia”, we seem unable to have a thoughtful conversation (and the polarities of the debate are so divisive).
- Major tax reform (root and branch)! There appears to be general agreement about the need to underwrite major changes to the system. There appears to be little political will.
- Building “infrastructure” in a Public/ Private partnership! The media then go into melt down when it does not make a profit in the first 12 months.
- Stalling economic reform! In the 80’s major structural reform occurred and positioned Australia to lead the world through the GFC. Now in the words of Andrew Liveris, – “My observation is Australia is actually in rigor mortis. It’s lost its ability to actually innovate and actually develop the things that the United States has.” Andrew Liveris: ABC website June 2013
- A political system, which for a number of years indulged itself in a conversation about “who sits in which chair”! There were substantially more important things to discuss! (It continues today!)
- A system where one rich person can buy a seat at the Governing table (and create mayhem)! Australians are so disillusioned with the established political parties?
- A system of two political parties where mediocre debate reigns supreme in the Parliament and allegations of corruption appear to permeate their “backing” systems!
- Having a genuine political debate about anything of substance! The political system is devoted to spin and talking points and the media is devoted to instant entertainment and “gotcha” moments. Issues are then let die because of a 24-hour news cycle.
It may be argued that there is no coherent Vision for Australia. It may also be argued that our leaders are lacking in the capability to articulate a Vision for Australia. Both of these issues are a part of the problem but from my perspective a big part of the problem is, that as a Country we are too comfortable. “We love our lifestyle”.
This baby boomer generation has wanted for little and at some level we are happy to cruise along with a well developed sense of cynicism and an overdeveloped sense of criticism – not to mention a form of political correctness which is stifling!
Major issues (i.e. those which “create controversy or discomfort”), we deny, we avoid, or they are closed down!
There are some politically acceptable issues which often command lots of attention!
Ultimately there is a dominant view that somehow the Government should and will fix it (and we bleat about it interminably)!
Maybe one day Australia will wake up!