Opinion: Australia needs policy clarity



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Opinion piece by CEDA Chief Executive, Professor the Hon. Stephen Martin.

The Federal election last year was expected to not only deliver a new government, but public policy clarity around the issues that would truly see Australia open for business.

The business community expected that the travails endured for the last few years, as a result of a minority government, Senate make-up and Labor Party leadership tension, would be put to bed with the change of government.

However, the Senate results combined with the government's lack of transparency and plethora of inquiries and reviews, despite the best efforts of Treasurer Joe Hockey, is clouding the long-term horizon and the ability of Australians to get a clear vision of where Australia's economic future lies.

Expert analysis in CEDA's Economic and Political Overview being released today (5 February 2014) expects that business confidence will remain subdued this year. This is due to a range of factors, but the lack of clarity on public policy direction cannot be discounted.

The attacks on unions and core institutions such as the ABC in recent weeks along with stopping people smuggling being referred to as a war have been distractions from what should be the government's focus right now and that is determining a long-term economic vision for Australia.

Investment in mining and resources has underpinned our economy for the last 15 years but we know that is coming to an end. So what will be the future industries that revitalise our economy and how will government reform services and delivery to support that vision?

Currently public sector reform seems to be focused on reducing the head count and blunt cuts. However, true reform needs long-term vision for service priorities and delivery but most importantly a vision for what will sustain our economy in 10, 20 or 50 years' time.

Reducing assistance for industries long-term that are not viable or that have failed to attract appropriate levels of investment from multinational often foreign-owned parent companies makes sense, whether it be automobiles or chocolate makers, but it must be matched with investment in driving innovation and skills to develop our future industries.

In a fragile economy, sometimes you've got to spend a dollar to create the reward. Governments must be careful not to overreach when describing the current state of national finances.

We also need to consider what we want the role of government to be and what services we want delivered.

What we need in 2014 is a transparent public debate on Australia's future, the role of government, its priorities and what services the public is willing to pay for.

In addition introducing measures to reduce red tape, such as periodic audits of regulators and government departments, should be a priority. Reducing red tape is an important factor in encouraging innovation in the private sector, something we desperately need.

This is an opinion piece by CEDA Chief Executive, Professor the Hon. Stephen Martin.

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