Australia is facing new challenges and opportunities within the shifting patterns of international trade and the security of its commercial foothold and viability both locally and globally.
Australia’s continuing success depends on its constituents being both aligned with, and supportive of, Government policy and related initiatives.
It requires the prudent use of tax payers’ funds by Government and well informed commercial decisions by private and publicly held enterprises.
One element of this includes training, nurturing, developing and rewarding employees, being mindful also of the prevailing tax regime which governs disposable income and expenditure.
Another element involves employers’ attentiveness to
ensuring standards are met in relation to the competencies and capabilities of key personnel. This includes executives in leadership positions and Boards with mentoring and governance obligations and responsibilities for representing the expectations of shareholders and stakeholders.
Government and Enterprise Responsiveness and Accountabilities
All levels of Government within Australia carry significant responsibility in prescribing and influencing the policies and operational programs of our communities, regularly drawing upon the expertise of the private sector. Sound strategic direction and policy initiatives, effective design and resourcing of major projects and the appointment of appropriate local and overseas contractors to deliver those projects on budget and on time are underpinned by the assumption that high quality preparatory work will ensure the former is achieved.
Listed public companies have similar obligations in relation to the development of their enterprises. In many instances, these businesses are subject to local and international uncertainties, changing supply chains and patterns of consumption. Consistently maximising returns to all stakeholders through deploying qualified labour, appropriate financial resources and intellectual inputs is critical to retaining a competitive foothold locally and internationally.
Australian Governments and private sector enterprises must effectively respond to international influences which impact their global competitiveness and their capacity to service a domestic economy and its consumers in a continually changing world.
Overlaying these “conventional” challenges is the sudden and dramatic emergence of there definition of “traditional”fairness and equity in the context of commercial policy and community expectation and the requirement for Governments and enterprises to rewrite and amend policies and practices accordingly. This places stress on both private and public resources already struggling to constrain expenditure and remain on-target in achieving pre-determined performance outcomes.
A substantial proportion of the Australian workforce is either approaching, or has reached, retirement age. These individuals have worked for forty, fifty or more years, many being mindful of the likelihood that advances in medicine and health sciences will extend their longevity post-retirement. Consequently, over their working life, many have sought to ensure that their superannuation and retirement strategies provide sufficient income to live independently of Government support. However,
over the past two years, both retrospective and prospective revisions in Australian Government tax policies have begun to impact those approaching or reaching retirement age, creating degrees of uncertainty and disadvantage for this cohort which were neither foreseeable or, in the case of retrospectivity, avoidable. So far, some Government employees appear isolated from a number of these changes.
Expectations and Aspirations of our Workforce, Boards and Government
Against this unsettled corporate and political backdrop, aspirations and expectations of our Australian workforce are similarly varied. Many opt for continuing education or training while others simply change careers in an increasingly fluid employment market. Many of our most talented graduates and employees continue to seek opportunities and experience overseas, while at the same time we broaden our net to tap into an expanding pool of skilled migrants to fill roles where either local talent is absent or uninterested.
Over the last decade there has been a significant focus on the appropriate criteria for determining the opportunities of those leaving high school to pursue tertiary education across a diversity of disciplines and specialisations. Employers have been developing comprehensive matrices of competencies required for graduates to succeed in thousands of different occupational roles at varying levels within a job family.
In tandem, the ASX and Australian Securities Commission, with strong Government support, has demanded that Boards provide shareholders with transparency and detail of executive remuneration and the capabilities and experience of Board members. Similar disclosure at all levels in the government sector would highlight areas requiring review if Australia is to realise its potential.
Issues of diversity in respect of representation, including a greater degree of gender balance, has also been a particularly critical area for Boards to address. Boards are highly sensitive to newly elevated levels of political, media and community scrutiny of their performance, illustrative of which is the issue of remuneration, particularly the foundation for incentive payments, which has exposed many Boards to critical comment and reaction.
Australia or Utopia?
As Australians, we no doubt aspire to see our Governments managing and delivering key strategic projects on time and within budget and to witness our private sector and our institutions achieving high standards of commercial integrity and prosperity, while simultaneously enjoying the support of a committed and productive workforce.
Individually and collectively, Australians are influenced by a diversity of factors including the fundamentals of cultural background, age, education, wealth and associated prospects, the cost of living, the cost of operating a business and the quality of the environment. To date, Australia has demonstrated a capacity to maintain overall high standards of living, lifestyle and longevity despite global competitive pressures and uncertainties.
However, voters are becoming progressively more sensitive to the shortcomings of Government and bureaucracies as they are also becoming aware of apparent breaches of corporate governance, such as those emerging in some of our financial institutions.
Voters vote, and do so often to express a sentiment of dissatisfaction not only at local, State and Federal levels, but increasingly as corporate shareholders, as participants in change through social media, and even at the level of consumers through the products they choose to either support or boycott.
This unprecedented wave of social engagement and its impact on all models of governance should be channelled to contribute positively to our national political and corporate resilience and social sustainability.
In such a setting, over time, cost of living in relative terms should diminish, the quality of life should improve for all Australians, and adherence to the highest standards of governance should provide a clear path forward for our nation.
Is this viewpoint reflective of a future Australia or an elusive Utopia?