CEDA CEO update: 15 March 2021

CEDA CEO Melinda Cilento writes that Australia’s leaders need to face up to difficult questions on everything from sexual harassment to climate change and future sources of growth

In the two weeks since my last update it is an understatement to say a lot has happened.   

On the political front, it was truly an historic victory for WA Labor, which is on track to hold at least 52 of the Parliament's 59 Lower House seats. While the WA economy is mostly a success story – and continues to benefit from high and rising iron ore prices – the state’s leaders have plenty to turn their attention to, in particular how to sustain jobs and investment growth, including as decarbonisation gains momentum. CEDA looks forward to remaining an important platform to hear from government and to promote critical discussion of the state’s biggest policy issues and priorities.

One immediate priority, according to CEDA’s WA-based Senior Economist Cassandra Winzar, is housing affordability, particularly for more vulnerable citizens. The Government must act to increase social housing stock given the COVID-19 rental moratorium will be wound back at the end of this month. This includes a need for creative short-term solutions to deal with the immediate lack of housing and homelessness, such as repurposing existing stock or modular accommodation.

CEDA looks forward to playing its role in the discussion of these critical issues, as well as opportunities to diversify the economy, including continuing our conversations on hydrogen next month. The McGowan Government wants to grow WA’s market share in global hydrogen exports by 2030 to a level similar to liquefied natural gas (LNG) today. To do this, it will need to combine its competitive advantages in resources with the right policy settings, investments and disciplined execution. If WA gets this right, it will enhance the state’s economic diversity and help accelerate the transition to a lower carbon future to the benefit of the nation more broadly. 

Another urgent policy issue front of mind this week is addressing gendered violence. Women and men took to the streets in their thousands today at the more than 40 March 4 Justice rallies around the country.

The powerful momentum behind these rallies is unsurprising given the prevalence of gendered violence such as sexual harassment and abuse. A 2018 report from the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) found 85 per cent of Australian women 15 years and older had been sexually harassed at some point in their life. These numbers certainly resonate with me, as almost every woman I know has experienced some form of sexual harassment or abuse at some point in their life.

The AHRC, through Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, has done very important work in this area, in particular last year’s landmark Respect@Work report on sexual harassment in workplaces. The Government should move quickly to implement the recommendations that flow from the rigorous work that went into this report.  

Finally, last week at the AFR Business Summit the Prime Minister spoke again about getting to net zero as fast as possible – ideally by 2050 – and the importance of technology in enabling Australia to do so. CEDA’s focus is clearly on how to do so, and next week we will hold the first in a series of important conversations on the topic we have planned for 2021. On Wednesday 24 March, join us for Net zero: jobs and opportunities in a climate positive future, where keynote speaker Professor Ross Garnaut AC, former Ambassador to China and author of the Garnaut Climate Change Review, will outline the enormous economic opportunities of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The event will also address what the transition means for carbon-intensive industries, how to develop new industries and creating new jobs. Joining Professor Garnaut are CEDA board director and Deloitte Access Economics Lead Partner, Dr Pradeep Philip and Star of the South Chief Executive, Casper Frost Thorhague. Register here.

Speaking of CEDA events, we continue to build momentum on that front, and I am delighted to announce that tomorrow we will be welcoming Jo Lilley to CEDA as our new Director of Content Programming, based in Melbourne. Jo comes to CEDA from Macquarie Group and has led strategic international content programs there, and previously with EY. With a passion for purpose and strong leadership credentials, Jo will make an excellent addition to the CEDA team. Feel free to reach out to her if you have ideas for “must have” CEDA events and conversations.  

Turning to our own research program, CEDA members would be well aware of our strong focus on immigration. Our current work is looking critically at improving Australia’s skilled migration system in the lead-up to an eventual reopening of international borders. This was another theme raised by the Prime Minister at the AFR Business Summit, where he flagged revamping the temporary migration scheme to meet areas of burgeoning demand and skills shortage while borders remain closed due to COVID-19. CEDA is putting the finishing touches on an important report that looks at how to improve the efficiency of the permanent skilled migration program to ensure it is properly filling the skills needs of Australian businesses. Look out for it later this month.

I too had the opportunity to speak at that AFR summit last week, on a panel about the future of work. Can I say how nice it was to be travelling again and to catch up with so many CEDA members face-to-face for the first time in a long while. As you can imagine, it was a lively conversation about the future of the office, the workplace and cities in a world of hybrid working. You can read more about it here.

While old news now, since my last update, the latest national accounts showed the economy grew by a much-stronger-than-expected 3.1 per cent in the last few months of last year. The growth was driven by strong household spending, as well as solid business and housing investment. While this near-term recovery is fantastic news, we must keep our eyes on horizons further ahead. CEDA’s Chief Economist Jarrod Ball will release our March Quarter economic briefing next week, looking at the economic recovery so far, Chinese trade tensions, the findings of the aged care royal commission and looming pressures in public infrastructure. These briefings provide excellent insights into the opportunities and risks of the latest economic, policy and geopolitical developments. If you would like to better understand these developments and their implications for your business or organisation, CEDA’s economics and research team can provide a more detailed and tailored briefing. Contact them here.

Not wanting to leave you out of the loop, CEDA members also have an opportunity to have their say on how Australia’s economy is tracking by participating in the World Competitiveness Yearbook (WCY)’s Executive Opinion Survey. The yearbook is the leading source of information on international competitiveness and economic efficiency and is produced by one of the world’s top business centres, the Switzerland-based IMD World Competitiveness Centre. I encourage all members to participate – your responses contribute to the Australian assessment and ranking in the yearbook. It is crucial that we gauge how Australian businesses are faring as we recover from the COVID-19 recession, and how we compare with our international peers. To access the survey, click here. It is open for two more weeks, until March 31.

And a reminder for WA members, we have a few places remaining in our Copland Leadership Program in Perth. This is an opportunity to nominate a manager in your organisation who is looking to build their leadership skills. Applications for the program close this Wednesday, 17 March. More information is available here or email our Partnership & Collaboration Adviser Julia Tolj.


Coming up later this month, join us for the livestream event AI: innovation in action on Wednesday 31 March. Artificial Intelligence has informed Australia’s responses to COVID-19, bushfires and healthcare. To further develop and deploy AI, we must understand whether Australia has an AI-ready culture and how well we are building domestic capability, as well as address security concerns and build public trust. Speakers include: Federal Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, the Hon. Karen Andrews; UTS Australian Artificial Intelligence Institute Director, Distinguished Professor Jie Lu; and KPMG Futures National Leader, James Mabbott. This event is supported by Microsoft. You can register to attend here.


In the latest episode of our podcast series The Greater Good, CEDA Chief Economist Jarrod Ball is joined by Flinders University Professor of Health Economics, Julie Ratcliffe and former Chair of the Productivity Commission, Peter Harris, to discuss the much-anticipated findings of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. Listen here.


Ahead of the WA election last weekend, Anglicare WA Chief Executive Mark Glasson wrote an opinion piece for us about the social policy challenges facing the state, and how the community services sector is taking a more active role in driving change. You can read that here.  

Following the release of the Aged Care Royal Commission final report, Nous Group Principal Stephen Teulan and Director Nikita Weickhardt discussed some of its key findings and how they were likely to shape aged care policy. Read that here.


A big welcome to our new members this week, LHH and WA Primary Health Alliance. We are thrilled to have you join the CEDA community. And thank you as well to each of our renewing members.

New members


WA Primary Health Alliance

Renewing national members

Aware Super

Renewing corporate members


British High Commission

Queensland Treasury Corporation



Renewing business members

Clean Energy Council

Star Scientific

Sustainability Victoria


As always, stay safe.

Melinda Cilento

About CEDA

CEDA – the Committee for Economic Development of Australia – is an independent, not-for-profit membership organisation.

We identify policy issues that matter for Australia’s future. We work to drive policies that deliver better economic, social and environmental outcomes for Australia. We deliver on our purpose by: Leveraging insights from our members to identify and understand the most important issues Australia faces. Facilitating collaboration and idea sharing to invoke imaginative, innovative and progressive policy solutions. Providing a platform to stimulate thinking, raise new ideas and debate critical and challenging issues. Influencing decision makers in government, business and the community by delivering objective information and expert analysis and advocating in support of our positions. CEDA's membership spans every state and territory and includes Australia's leading businesses, community organisations, government departments and academic institutions. The organisation was founded in 1960 by leading economist Sir Douglas Copland, and his legacy of applying economic analysis to practical problems to aid the development of Australia continues as we celebrate 60 years of influence, reform and impact across the nation.;