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Thank you Jennifer, welcome Prime Minister, welcome Treasurer and a very warm welcome to all guests and members who are here with us tonight.
I too would like to recognise the Traditional Owners of the land we meet on, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation and pay my respects to elders’ past, present and emerging; and in the year where all Australians will have the chance to respond to the respectful request of Indigenous Australians for a constitutionally enshrined Voice, I’d like to restate the BCA’s support of this reform. At its core, the BCA is an advocate for prosperity, and we believe the Voice will move our nation closer to a future where prosperity is enjoyed by all.
I will introduce our guest speaker shortly, but as is tradition, I’d like to first take the opportunity to make a few reflections, the first of which are to Jennifer.
I’m sure you’re all aware that in the next month Jennifer will conclude 12 years as Chief Executive of the BCA and hand over to Bran Black.
We will have a chance to farewell Jennifer in a different forum, but I could not let tonight go by without expressing my personal, the BCA’s and the broader business communities thanks to Jennifer.
No-one could have put more of themselves into this role, no-one could have worked harder, taken more arrows or represented members more effectively. Jennifer has been a leader of industry, a confidant of CEOs and a frank and fearless adviser of governments.
Jennifer – this may be your last BCA annual dinner as Chief Executive, but it’s certainly not your last BCA annual dinner. We all look forward to welcoming you back here for many, many years to come.
I’m sure you will join with me in saying thank you to Jennifer Westacott AO.
Ladies and gentlemen, earlier this week, the BCA released a broad ranging report titled Seize the Moment. It is an ambitious document, that reflects on the hard work done by all Australians to build a nation that today, boasts some of the highest living standards in the world. This wasn’t achieved by luck or by accident.
It was achieved through the ingenuity and entrepreneurialism of our people; through a market-based system that encouraged business investment; by bold policy reform that enabled flexibility and encouraged competition while ensuring minimum standards; through an education system that ranked amongst the best in the world; through a targeted tax and transfer system that balanced the budget while supporting those in need; and by strong public institutions and respect for the rule of law.
Together these ingredients created a dynamic economy where business thrived and, with workers taking the largest share of the wealth created, living standards consistently rose.
These same factors have meant that through the first decades of this century through financial downturns, natural disasters and a global pandemic – our economy was resilient, faring better than most nations.
Seize the Moment argues that today, however, in an increasingly uncertain world, with GDP growth forecast to be 2.5 per cent over the next several years versus a long-term average of 3.3 per cent and effectively no productivity growth over the past three years versus a long-term average of 1.8 per cent, we cannot rest on our laurels and expect that current policy settings will continue to deliver. To do so would be to fail in our role as leaders.
The BCA’s mission is to advocate for a prosperous nation, where that prosperity is shared by all citizens. We want to see real wages sustainably increase, and we want to maintain full employment. We want Australians to get the right start in life and to build the capabilities for the future, we want them to have access throughout their lives to the education and skills they need to keep pace with change, and we want them to have decent and dignified retirements.
We want all Australians – no matter who they are or where they live – to be included and to have the opportunity to reach their full potential - both economically and socially. This aspiration is the beating heart of Seize the Moment, and Prime Minister, we know our aspirations align with yours.
The Productivity Commission has made it clear that almost all of the improvement in living standards since federation has come from productivity. To achieve our aspiration, from what is now a standing start, there is no alternative, we must tackle our productivity dilemma.
And yet productivity is often a misunderstood word. It sounds cold and academic, but in practise it is simple – we need to leverage technology, education and investment to work in new, smarter and safer ways, so that each unit of input, whether it be an hour worked or a dollar invested, produces more outputs. As our nation ages and the ratio of workers to retirees falls from around 4 today to a forecast 2.7 in the coming decades, this imperative only grows.
It’s why our report outlines what we believe are the big ideas to lift productivity and national competitiveness through building the skills and capabilities of our people, fashioning a more competitive tax system, broadening our economic base, accessing new export markets, tapping into the world’s largest supply chains, embracing innovation, decarbonising our economy and importantly, increasing workforce participation by ensuring opportunities are open to all Australians.
We want to restore the flexibility and economic dynamism that our economy once showed.
Prime Minister – from decarbonisation to immigration, from trade to infrastructure, from skills to economic inclusion to digitisation, I believe many of the goals we have laid out are very aligned to those of your government. Furthermore, I hope many of the recommendations will fit comfortably within your government’s policy agenda.
Treasurer, as you pointed out in The Australian yesterday, while there is much we agree on, there are areas where we disagree. For example, at the BCA we don’t believe a narrow tax system that is heavily biased towards taxing the activities that drive economic growth – people working and businesses investing, will meet the challenges to be highlighted in the IGR you will be releasing tomorrow; and we would encourage you to remain open to a conversation around broad-based tax reform to encourage growth.
Similarly, we don’t believe that adding further risk and complexity to an already overly legalistic IR system by discouraging flexibility, will yield positive productivity outcomes. Indeed, the lived experience of most in the room tonight is that it will do the opposite and instead we need to focus our efforts on simplifying the award system and going further to encourage enterprise based, win-win agreements.
In releasing Seize the Moment, our goal was not to create a to-do list for government; but rather to articulate a plan for our nation.
We know that reform doesn’t simply happen in Canberra, rather that it occurs because leaders across all parts of our community play a constructive role in agreeing on a goal, engaging in debate and then rallying behind a plan.
While we remain optimistic about the possibility of our people and our nation, the clock is ticking on much needed reform because as the world changes other countries are pushing hard to improve their comparative advantages, quite frankly they are moving harder and faster than previously, and because our current levels of growth will not see future generations experience the same improvements in living standards that we have.
This year the BCA turns 40 years old. We authored Seize the Moment with the aspiration that the next 40 years for our nation will be as prosperous as the last 40, not for the people in this room, but for those not in this room.
I would like to thank the Prime Minister, the Honourable Anthony Albanese for his unwavering commitment to working together to find common ground and to advance our nation. And it is in that spirit that I’d like to ask you all to put your hands together and give a very warm welcome to the Prime Minister.