This opinion article by Business Council chief executive Bran Black was published in The Australian on 13 December 2023
On Tuesday, in these pages, Treasurer Jim Chalmers wrote that he was working to “make our economy more productive, more competitive and more dynamic.”
It is a pitch suitable for his beloved Brisbane Broncos but importantly it’s a rallying call our economy badly needs. It’s a call I endorse.
Next year must be the year we get truly competitive, but there are some hard truths for the government to consider over summer.
As things stand, Australia is at risk of losing out to global competitors and limiting homegrown entrepreneurship. We used to attract more investment than we send overseas — but we’ve been a net exporter of capital since 2019.
We need this investment, and we are steadily losing it.
Thanks to rising interest rates we are up for an extra $80bn in borrowing costs from our national debt over the next decade. That’s an interest payment which could be building hundreds of schools and hospitals.
Our ageing population makes this debt even more daunting, with a significant revenue shortfall on our horizon according to the 2023 Intergenerational Report.
Today the government releases MYEFO and we expect and welcome the Treasurer’s commitment to discipline in spending and no new major measures.
The best way to manage high interest rates and the surging cost of living is for the Government to show restraint and get spending under control.
But we need to do more than tighten the belt. We need to attract investment, and we need to drive productivity in our businesses.
It’s telling the Treasurer omitted the government’s workplace relations changes from his economic plan in these pages yesterday.
No modern or competitive economic plan should include workplace changes that take our country, our workers and our businesses backwards.
The changes are viewed as toxic by the business community, and the feedback I consistently receive is that they are already dulling interest in further investment in Australia.
It’s the worst sort of handicap to place on our nation’s competitiveness at the worst possible time.
Our business community is seeing decisions being taken and regulations being implemented which are making us less competitive compared to peer nations.
Countries all around the world are on the hunt for capital, and they’re making it an easier decision for businesses to bring it to them. We’re doing the opposite.
If we can’t step up and compete, the jobs and investment will go elsewhere.
That’s a bad outcome for all Australians and our living standards.
Australians instinctively understand what it means to compete and what’s at risk.
When a business considers investing, it assesses the entire scope of our economic and regulatory settings — it accounts for any kind of risk as a potential cost.
We are concerned about an even more difficult 2024 unless the government reshapes its business agenda, eases the burden of regulation and puts in place more competitive settings.
If there is one thing business would ask the Government to consider over the Christmas break, it’s how we can recapture our competitive settings for economic prosperity.