The Australian Financial Review
President, Business Council of Australia
With the incoming government being a minority government requiring independent and minor party agreement to implement its agenda, there is the danger that the bold reforms Australia needs might take a back seat.
After a campaign disappointingly low on the visionary policies needed to secure Australia’s recovery from the economic downturn and guarantee the next generation of prosperity, will the incoming government be willing and able to gain the support of minor parties and independents for these reforms?
And will the independents and minor parties put national interest ahead of sectional interests and support the reforms?
Research conducted for the BCA found that 85 per cent of Australians agreed that the country can achieve economic success and be more socially responsible. The broader community thinks that we should work towards these two goals simultaneously. It is clear the community is seeking inclusive policies rather than policies that pit one sector against another.
Australia came through the global financial crisis in better shape than much of the developed world. Our economic resilience suggests we should be more confident now in pursuing our own brand of ambitious reform. We need the right policies to take advantage of this situation to build a stronger economy, and to ensure all Australians share in the benefits.
The incoming government could garner strong community support through a bold and clearly explained vision that aims to build on our advantages and tackle our obvious limitations. It should include measures to promote investment and innovation, increase workplace participation, improve skills and capabilities, enhance flexibility for workers and employers, and overcome red tape and other hurdles to efficient business operations.
The independents and minor parties could play a constructive role in achieving this vision. They carry a heavy responsibility for Australia’s future. All Australians will watch their response closely.
The right approach would strengthen the community’s regard for the independents and minor parties.
As they weigh whether to provide the support needed by one of the major parties to form a government, we urge independents and minor parties to consider the importance of delivering on the priorities the BCA has outlined.
These priorities include, first, tax reform which continues to be critically important. The Henry tax review provided a blueprint for reform but the response has been far too narrow. We need to see a road map for further reform that can be implemented through an open and transparent consultation process. A comprehensive infrastructure policy should deliver the infrastructure we need through better regulation, pricing and market structures and a more rigorous and strategically co-ordinated approach to planning, so as to ensure better use of, and investment in infrastructure.
The agenda of the Council of Australian Governments needs to be tightened to focus on those key reform areas with the biggest potential to lift productivity. We can get better value for money on health spending by improving the quality, effectiveness and efficiency of the healthcare system, enabling and educating individuals to make better health decisions, and improving the way the system delivers services.
We want to see a comprehensive national health strategy that includes strengthened governance arrangements to promote the reshaping of the health system in line with future needs that make better use of resources.
On education, our governments must work together to reduce unnecessary differences, enable greater participation in education and training and lift the quality of education and training outcomes across Australia.
Early intervention to assist students, more attention on the relevance of skill development, a greater focus on teacher development, and reward for performance and greater autonomy for principals to manage their schools are key
We believe population growth can support a stronger economy and improved lifestyles. It requires the right policies to support investment, particularly in key infrastructure, and to address environmental issues so that growth occurs in a way that meets community expectations.
Emissions reduction policies must be at the least cost to the economy, and, include market-based mechanisms where possible, maintain the reliability and viability of our domestic electricity industry and protect the competitiveness of trade-exposed and export industries.
As the new industrial relations arrangements are bedded down, it remains essential that the system continues to support workplace flexibility.
Australia’s international relationships will be critical over the next term of government. A focus on free trade and investment and the development of deeper relationships internationally must continue.
As the BCA research suggested, there is much common ground in the objectives of business and the community in their expectations of government. This should give all political leaders the courage to do what is required in the next parliamentary term.