Government’s Asian Century report a “wake-up call” for small business

The Federal Government released its Australia in the Asian Century white paper yesterday and business groups welcomed the ambition behind the report but said economic reform is required to meet the targets set out in the report.

The white paper released by Prime Minister Julia Gillard sets the goals of boosting the average income by $11,000 to $73,000, calls for Australia to be in the top 10 countries for ease of doing business and for Asian trade to equal 33% of gross domestic product by 2025.

Paul Drum, head of business and investment policy at CPA Australia told SmartCompany the report is “a wake-up call for businesses of all sizes” and says Australian business in general “kid themselves” if they think they are engaged in Asia.

“Small businesses are starting from a very low base as they are typically small and insular and they don’t have the resources or capacity to do the work to crack into the Asian market,” he says.

However Drum says the white paper does not provide any easy solutions for SMEs.

“If [small business] were expecting to be served something on a platter, that is not what happened yesterday. This is a road map and the detail will come in future budgets of initiatives to mobilise some of these high level aspirational goals from the white paper,” he says.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has backed the report as well, although chief executive Peter Anderson warned it needs to be more than “a one day or one issue wonder”.

“In some cases it states the bleeding obvious, but with a populist minority Parliament the bleeding obvious needs to be restated to get policy and spending priorities back on track,” Anderson said.

ACCI welcomed the focus on Asian literacy in Australia’s schools, VET system, and universities but said this focus needed to reach beyond the institutions to educate the business community generally to improve their understanding of the opportunities that are on their doorstep and improve their capability to take advantage of them.

“The opportunity presented in this paper is for us to consider the implications arising from our neighbourhood becoming wealthy, better educated and well fed,” he said.

Anderson criticised the white paper for a “lack of willingness to turn away from domestic policy errors” like labour market re-regulation and the carbon tax. He said the white paper won’t meet its ambition unless the Australian banks lift their willingness to provide export finance to small and medium business on better terms.

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