This is an edited extract of a speech BCA Chief Executive Jennifer Westacott delivered at the Australian Unity Great Australia Day Breakfast. It was published in The Daily Telegraph on 26 January 2015 under the title 'Future in your hands.'
Australia Day is a chance to remember what a wonderful country and community we live in. It’s also a time to reflect on the kind of country we want for the future.
For me, thinking about that future begins with an honest reflection about the changes taking place around us.
They are impacting on our economy, our labour market, our national budget and the choices we have as individual Australians.
Our budget is confronting a pincer movement from increasing demand for services from an ageing population, at the same time as the capacity of the economy to pay falls.
The ageing of our population could drive a fiscal gap of 4 per cent of GDP by 2060, in today’s terms that’s about $65 billion.
Australian politicians across all parties —whether they are in government or not — have one vital task: to prepare the community for the enormous, social and economic change which must take place in our society. And they can only do this by pursuing a positive vision for our country, which brings out the best in us.
It has to begin with a dialogue, and a conversation with the Australian people. A conversation that honestly confronts the reality we are living in here and across the world.
A renegotiation of what governments can be expected to pay for, not an increase in the overall tax burden.
Australians should no longer accept band-aid budget repair; we need a fundamental re-think of the fiscal strategy.
I want an Australia where today’s generation of decision makers are not accumulating debt that their children and grandchildren will need to repay.
An Australia where we generate surpluses not for the sake of it, but because we want to reinvest in:
● the best infrastructure in the world;
● a world class health system that can be sustained and improved over time as our population ages, and;
● the skills, training and education that allow us to grow the economy and create the jobs of the future.
I want an Australia that is an innovation, technology and knowledge driven economy that thrives off the back of growing demand in Asia and continued open trade and investment around the world.
Many people will say this can’t be done. It’s too hard, and there’s no appetite for change. Well I fundamentally contest this.
I believe in Australians. I believe in their wisdom, their intelligence. Their generosity, their acute sense of fairness and awareness of the legacy we are leaving for the next generation. I believe and trust in the fundamental strengths of Australia’s institutions.
We have been able to get things done in the past within our institutional arrangements, big difficult things.
Australians should trust the institutions which have served us through two world wars, the Great Depression and the global financial crisis.
We seem to find the capacity to make them work when it matters most. It matters now.
We rally when natural disasters strike and when terrorism threatens our way of life.
As Australians we should expect this sense of national purpose, this shared ambition for the country, isn’t reserved for emergencies.
I don’t believe my vision for Australia is all that different from most Australians.
A progressive, modern, prosperous country.
A country of freedom and choice.
A nation of opportunity, of compassion and kindness because we have the wherewithal to leave no one behind.
An Australia that is the best place in the world to live, work, learn and do business.