Reconstructing our futures: What we can learn from the consensus politics of the 1980s

While Kevin is promoting a new way and Tony announces his jobs and growth plans next week, small business must put its hand up and offer to invest in national reconstruction. As we head into the final month of faux conflict between the parties,  smart companies need to address their own strategic place in all of this.

Three decades after the Accord, we are still to see a truly collaborative partnership between the interests of large business (the Business Council of Australia – BCA), smart companies (Small Business Council and the entrepreneurial innovators) and the regional communities that are struggling for a place in the global agenda.

Thirty years ago, the BCA was established as an association of the CEOs of 100 of Australia’s leading corporations with a combined workforce of one million people. It was established as a forum for Australia’s business leaders to contribute to public policy debates to build Australia as the best place in which to live, to learn, to work and do business.

It is committed to the generation of national wealth, job creation and ensuring Australia keeps up with rapid, ongoing change. Last month the BCA released its Economic Action Plan for Enduring Prosperity as a discussion paper to encourage community thought and discussion on actions that need to be taken to achieve goals and aspirations in three interconnected areas:

  • a strong economy and full employment
  • a strong society and improving living standards
  • growing sustainably.

The BCA  has been influenced by consultations with people in all sectors of the community and smart companies have been invited to respond with a new agenda for investment, innovation and incentives to be true partners in business development.

Way back in 1986, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) initiated a fact-finding mission to a number of European countries that had addressed similar problems to those being experienced by Australia. In particular, the ACTU was interested in visiting those countries that had overcome balance of payments constraints in ways that produced low unemployment, low inflation and economic growth that was more equitably distributed. Their findings shaped our national productivity agenda until the election of Kevin Rudd.

The mission’s report examined, and made recommendations about, macroeconomic policies, wages, prices and incomes, trade and industrial policy, the labour market, industrial democracy and strategic unionism. The report also made appropriate recommendations for action. The section of the report on ‘labour market and training policies’ was of particular importance to education and training.

It stated that: “One of Australia’s overriding concerns must be its deficient skills base, as Australia’s future international competitiveness would depend largely on how successful it is in creating advantages based on its ability to exploit up-to-date knowledge and skills-intensive products and processes. Success in a world of rapidly changing technologies will require a constant effort to acquire and develop state-of-the-art skills.”

This year, the ACTU has made a conscious decision to reinforce its historic and ongoing role to defend and fight for workers’ rights. It seeks to address the ever-present threat of families losing jobs to offshoring or plant closures caused by fluctuations in the value of the Australian dollar, along with inadequate investment in the real drivers of productivity: skills, education, infrastructure, innovation, technology and better management systems.

As soon as we see the restoration of a more positive post-election common level of business and consumer confidence, there should be a national forum that brings together large and small business, local government and the non-government agencies to set a collaborative, community-oriented agenda aimed at:

  • building a modern, globally focused economy that offers real jobs growth,
  • installing a fair and equitable guaranteed income system,
  • investment in small business entrepreneurship, and
  • facilitating home ownership and career development opportunities in emerging health, aged care and service industries.

We still need to collectively address issues of innovation, productivity and competitiveness rather than the false economy of capital and labour conflicts about working hours, penalty rates and entry of foreign workers to fill our skills inventory.

Every candidate should be required to identify their role in the reconstruction of our futures rather than squabble over our pasts.

Dr. Colin Benjamin OAM is the chairman of Cultural Infusion Ltd and director general of the Life: ‘Be in it’ Australia charity.


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