Opening Address to the National Reform Summit: Speech by Catherine Livingstone

Business Council of Australia President Catherine Livingstone delivered this speech to the National Reform Summit in Sydney on 26 August 2015. The Summit was jointly sponsored by The Australian, The Australian Financial Review and KPMG.

Check against delivery.

Thank you David.

My remarks will echo the comments of earlier speakers.

We are here today because we have shared commitment to ensuring Australia’s long-term prosperity and social wellbeing, wherein people can have healthy, purposeful lives, and where there is an adequate safety net for the more vulnerable among us.

Social wellbeing is predicated on having economic wellbeing, which is in turn dependent on having a diverse, growing economy, with successful enterprises creating jobs and national wealth.

Without jobs for our people and wealth for the nation, Australia will not have a re-investment capacity to sustain its social wellbeing.

Our commitment to a prosperous Australia has led to a shared concern, now, that our ongoing social wellbeing will be compromised if we do not actively, and urgently, shape our future, given the context of the disruptive forces which are themselves reshaping the world.

We believe that we can initiate this shaping by focusing on the four areas which are the subject of our discussions today, and by exploring ways in which they can be reformed to become fit for purpose and durable through economic cycles.

We do understand that reform will require leadership. And while we might decry the lack of political leadership, as others have said, the fact is leadership is a collective dynamic where multiple constituencies are engaged in framing the problem, and working together to find the way forward.

We today have a leadership responsibility to present fellow Australians with an ambitiously positive vision.

In doing that, we also need to be clear that achieving our potential as a country requires us to make changes.

And those changes must be made in the context of a complex system of interdependencies of long casual loops, where the intended and unintended consequences may not immediately be apparent.

The perfect answer is rarely the right answer; and for every right answer there is often a second right answer more compelling than the first.

The four areas we will focus on today are interdependent and are central to the degrees of choice and freedom our country will enjoy.

Today will be hard because we will be talking about choices. But we will also be talking about transitions, over time, to 2025.

To help us work through the interdependencies, every idea raised today should be seen through the lens of:

  • Does it help to diversify the economy?
  • Does it help to create jobs?
  • Does it facilitate social progress by providing people with the education and skills they will need for those jobs?
  • Does it support our capacity to maintain a decent social safety net for those who need it?

All of us here need to approach the discussion as the beginning of a conversation that must continue after we leave this room.

A conversation focused on:

  • identifying policy barriers to achieving our shared and interconnected economic and social aspirations
  • agreeing on reform principles for moving forward, and
  • wherever possible, finding common ground on specific actions that should be taken.

The summit has generated a great deal of media attention.

Thanks to The Australian and The Australian Financial Review for taking the initiative, along with Craig Emerson and Nick Cater.

This gives us an opportunity and a responsibility to engage the broader community.

We need to show that the reform conversation can accommodate a diversity of views, and use the opportunity to demonstrate our willingness to work through issues respectfully and collaboratively in the long-term interests of Australia.

We shouldn’t underestimate what has already been achieved and the extent to which the statement issued this morning reflects agreement on the fundamentals.

Even where we believe it is unlikely we can reach agreement on the actions which now follow, we will try and we will commit to continuing our discussions until we find resolution – in the interests of our respective constituencies and the nation as a whole.

I don’t think that I am exaggerating to say that we hold the future of the country in our hands.

Thank you.

Closing Remarks to the National Reform Summit by Jennifer Westacott