Why Australia is falling behind the pace

Why Australia is falling behind the pace

The last week has offered evidence of an Australian tendency to substitute excuses for causes. The head of the AOC, John Coates, blames schools for failing to provide a pool of winners and industry leaders blame the umpires for not giving them a win in the Fair Work Act (FWA) review.

Ever since the Montreal Olympics there have been vast sums of money invested in national sporting organisations. Funds have been committed to the prize of excellence in sporting prowess and even the illustrious Sports Minister, Kate Lundy, will have to row her way out of a bout of over-promising.

The fundamental problem with the FWA review, like that of John Coates, is that yesterday’s wins are taken as the measure of today’s complacency. The judges have found the industrial system not guilty of causing decades of slowdowns in the rate of productivity improvement.

The review of the FWA reached a similar conclusion in respect of winning in the international productivity stakes. The panel found that it was not persuaded that the legislative framework for industrial relations accounted for the productivity slowdown.

Fair Work Australia involvement in productivity debates within individual enterprises is one of several recommendations that would increase its powers, scope and discretion over many workplaces. This is yet another example of blame-shifting rather than addressing the need for a greater focus on employability skills and leadership.

Iain Ross, the president of Fair Work Australia, wants to broaden dialogue between employers and unions about weak productivity over the past decade and structural changes driven by the rise in the dollar above parity with the US dollar.

This will lead to institutionalisation of the conflict between organised labour and the industrial relations consultants rather than an effort to promote flexibility and encourage corporate leadership. We need greater engagement with the productive labour force of the firm rather than more institutionalised industrial relations interference with the operations of the enterprise.

AMMA chief executive Steve Knott says: “We’re concerned by the?panel’s recommendations that employers with highly-qualified managers somehow need constant intervention to run their businesses.”

Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Mitch Hooke said the review “tinkered at the edges” while threatening to entrench the “bureaucratisation of workplace arrangements by institutionalising union and Fair Work bodies’ intervention”.

Twenty years ago David Karpin led anther expert panel to address the reasons for Australian business failing to thrive. The report drew attention to the need for an ‘enterprise culture’ and provided wide-ranging recommendations on small business, globalisation, diversity, life-long learning and enterprise and education institution best practice.

We were warned that the nation would fall behind the rest of the world unless we rejected the “conflict” model of industrial management and adopted a more consensual model of labour relations. The slowdown in competitiveness and productivity shows that we are still to take up the actions recommended in 1995:

“We still need new thinking and developments in aspects of leading and managing people and organisations and a massive investment in Australian leadership capability and development of solutions and initiatives that will address future leadership challenges.”

The Karpin Report still provides a sound basis for building management and leadership capability in Australia in place of the class warfare and bosses versus unions cop-outs. The themes raised by Karpin remain relevant:


Global influences and international business opportunities

•       Risk and volatility

•       Sustainable development

•       Innovation, entrepreneurship

•       People management and management education

The cause here is simple. Getting a few people to do all of the heavy lifting allows the rest of the population to sit back on the couch and become armchair critics.

The answer is not to allow a ‘more of the same’ culture to justify falling behind the pace of global change and innovation.

Australia needs to reward a collaborative and competitive culture that takes up the challenges of change and a commitment to creative thinking.

Dr Colin Benjamin is an entrepreneurship and strategic thinking consultant at Marshall Place Associates, which offers a range of strategic thinking tools that open up a universe of new possibilities for individuals and organisations committed to applying the processes of innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship. Colin is also a member of the global Association of Professional Futurists.


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