The National Reform Summit was recently held in Sydney, bringing together some of Australia’s top business, union and social services leaders including those from the ACTU, Business Council of Australia, Australian Industry Group and the Australian Council of Social Services, National Seniors Australia and COTA Australia.
The objectives were broad, and aimed to refocus the course and debate on policy in Australia and settle upon ideas and ways forward to boost the economy, jobs and Australia’s fiscal position. There were four main areas of focus: fiscal sustainability; tax reform; sustainable fair retirement incomes policy; and increasing workforce participation and productivity.
Egan Associates believes that all core issues are worthy of the national focus and provides comment below on the final agenda policy area.
Increasing Workforce Participation and Productivity
The Summit noted that Australia’s productivity performance has been weaker in recent years compared to the 1990s and early 2000s. With long term economic headwinds such as the slowing of the mining sector and an ageing population, productivity enhancements would be necessary if living standards are to rise in the future. Similar workforce participation improvements will be crucial to deal with these challenges.
It was agreed that improvement was intertwined with growing the economy, though not solely about working hours or real incomes. Rather, the Summit identified several key focus areas with the greatest capacity to enhance productivity – the ability to generate more output from the same inputs, and participation – by delivering more input into the economy generally:
- Fostering innovation and entrepreneurship;
- Fostering healthy competition;
- Streamlining red tape and regulatory constraints;
- Improving education for future demands; and
- Improving the workplace relations system to be non adversarial and flexible
Additional areas that the Summit has undertaken to look into include lifting collaboration between universities, research institutes and industry and utilising the skills of young researchers such as PHD students in small and new businesses.
Role of Government
The opportunity for participants across business, unions and social services to come together to discuss this issue was significant. Despite varied perspectives there was an overwhelming consensus on the urgency for reform in key areas, all of which are interrelated. It remains to be seen how this spirit of collaboration on ideas for the betterment of workforce participation and productivity will translate at State and Federal level.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), commenting on the outcome of the Summit, stated that it hopes to see more economic reform from the Turnbull government.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has so far announced that innovation will be front and centre of the new government, receiving a positive response from the science and technology sector as well as the wider business community. Many have high expectations that the Prime Minister’s reform agenda, which he states will build on values of individual initiative and free enterprise, will facilitate the level of job creation and economic growth required to boost our national competitiveness.