The federal government’s Australia in the Asian Century White Paper highlights how the rise and growth of Asia presents immense opportunities to shape Australia’s destiny, Business Council of Australia Chief Executive Jennifer Westacott said today.
“Lifting Australia’s competitiveness and productivity and accelerating more effective engagement within our region are rightly at the heart of the white paper,” Ms Westacott said.
“The white paper recognises that to realise the gains from Asia’s rise and growth, Australia must create deeper connections in the region, including through two-way movement of talented people, to broaden the flow of ideas and acquire new knowledge that can underpin enduring prosperity.
“The white paper has the potential to be an important road map for a more prosperous and resilient future by considering Australia’s long-term economic potential firmly in the context of our proximity to the world’s growth region.
“By identifying a number of the challenges we simply must get right, the white paper is an opportunity to refocus our national reform conversation towards the detail required for a successful longer-term national strategy.
“The broad direction outlined in the white paper generally provides a sound and sensible basis for future policies that can now be developed in detail in partnership with the community including business, which has already made big inroads in greater Asian engagement in recent years.
“While the white paper includes a number of reforms that are already underway, it highlights how a consistent and predictable policy framework and a sustained, whole-of-nation effort is needed if Australia is to take full advantage of the Asian Century opportunities.
“As always, the challenge with such a long-term vision will be implementing detailed policies which are consistent with that vision over a sustained period of time.
“There will be debate about the specific policy solutions to the challenges outlined in the white paper, but what is needed is bipartisanship on the broad direction.
“The direction we need to head in as a nation is one based on making the most out of our Asian opportunity through a focus on competitiveness and productivity and for all groups in the community to work towards becoming more capable within our region.
“Clearly the government must take the lead in adhering to and delivering on many of the policy commitments, but equally the business community plays a significant and critical leadership role,” she said.
The BCA has previously called for an Asian engagement strategy focused on improving Australia’s competitiveness and its ability to attract foreign investment; reducing barriers including regulatory impediments to trade and investment; and lifting the Asian capabilities of government and business.
“Having strong economic foundations is a fundamental pillar of the white paper, but as we have seen recently, significant challenges remain in the areas of tax, fiscal policy and workplace relations, and we cannot take things for granted,” Ms Westacott said.
“Australia must continue to welcome foreign investment and promote ourselves as a premier investment destination.
“The white paper acknowledges we need to ensure our rules are transparent and well communicated, and that there is a need to increase access for Australian investment in Asian markets as well as be more open to investment from Asia.
“The white paper also outlines a number of ambitious targets to be achieved by the year 2025, and, while attaining them will be a stretch, they are nevertheless worthy.
“A highlight of the paper is its recognition of the importance of lifting the capacity of Australian businesses to operate successfully in the rapidly changing Asian market.
“A large number of Australian businesses are already integrated into Asian markets and we must build on this by ensuring that businesses and industry bodies work together with governments and the wider community to make sure Australia is a highly competitive, high-performing country.
“The Business Council certainly endorses the aspiration contained in the white paper for Australia to become a high-wage, high-productivity country.
“The Business Council supports the sentiments around the potential for Australia and Australian businesses to leverage off our hosting of the G20 Summit in Brisbane in 2014 and the associated B20 business forum.
“The release of the white paper today is a major and timely milestone. More than at any other time in our history, our endowment of our natural resources, our human capital, our adjacency to Asia, and our capacity to adapt and innovate, have given us the chance to do this on our own terms.
“Grasping the full opportunity presented by Asia’s development on our own terms requires a mindset change throughout the whole community about the region that means engaging with openness and confidence rather than fear and uncertainty.
“It is vital government provides the institutional settings to enable effective implementation of this long-term vision on the ground, which includes ensuring policy signals are predictable and consistent with a confident and optimistic mindset about the great potential of our region.
“The BCA looks forward to contributing to what must be a bipartisan foundation to Australia’s continuing engagement in the Asian Century,” she said.