By Michael Chaney
Business Council of Australia
This year’s federal election will be one of the most important in many years in determining the direction of the country's future. Policies outlined will bind future governments to critical policy paths and determine whether, as a nation, we pass on our prosperity to future Australians or merely dissipate it.
We all want a strong economy, and we have certainly grown accustomed to good times in recent years, but our current position hasn't come about by accident.
It is the result of governments thinking beyond the short term and taking difficult reform decisions over the past 25 years in areas such as workplace relations and tax. Now, however, we are starting to see some of the gloss come off our economic performance.
Productivity growth has slowed, there are shortfalls in skills and important infrastructure and our export performance has languished.
Despite growing public support for reform, the business community remains concerned the election might sidetrack the task or large financial and policy commitments made for short-term reasons will limit the ability to plan and invest strategically for sustained growth.
So in order to frame election thinking around a single, basic objective – elevating the country's living standards into the world's top-five band by 2012 – the Business Council of Australia has outlined a set of reform standards for the election. Moving into the OECD's top five ranking is a realistic objective. Reforms over the past quarter century have seen Australia’s living standards rise from 17th in 1990 to 7th currently.
The BCA's reform standards are based on roadmaps subject to independent research and whose general direction has been largely agreed upon by political parties and policy leaders.
These reform standards will be used by the BCA to assess whether the economic policies of the parties contribute to passing on our current prosperity or eroding it. The standards cover a wide range of issues including workplace relations, education and climate change.
Workplace reform by both major political parties over the past 20 years has been fundamental to jobs growth, productivity and increased prosperity across the community. Our reform standards make clear that there can be no winding back of the core elements of workplace deregulation, given their crucial importance to future prosperity. In a global knowledge economy, the quality of Australia's education, training and innovation systems are vital.
As part of the BCA’s reform standards, we are calling on political parties to review and update these systems across a number of fronts to raise the quality of teaching and achieve uniformly high standards of literacy and numeracy.
Climate change and developing a long-term strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is one of the most complex challenges facing Australia's economy and will be the subject of significant debate. As the BCA standards make clear, lasting solutions require a balance between protecting Australia’s economic strengths while achieving sustainable cuts in greenhouse emissions.
There's been a lot of talk about fixing our current state of dysfunctional federal–state relations.
We need politicians to commit to a broad reform plan because many of the challenges and opportunities faced by Australia, including infrastructure, health and business regulation, require better co-operation and co-ordination between governments.
The business community believes we can forge a new pathway to prosperity, provided our leaders commit to moving forward, rather than opting for complacency and letting hard-won gains slip away.