Releasing Community pulse 2018: the economic disconnectat CEDA’s State of the Nation conference in Canberra, CEDA Chief Executive Officer Melinda Cilento said the message that economic growth equals prosperity is not resonating with the wider community.
“We’ve seen that manifest in a number of ways, not least the difficulties in getting comprehensive reform agendas up and running in this country and for building a strong consensus behind reform agendas,” Ms Cilento said.
“One of the things we want to do is try to better understand that disconnect.
“Because if we’re going to develop an agenda that resonates with the community and which therefore can gain the support of the community and the support of politicians and policy makers then we really need to understand why the message isn’t connecting.”
Ms Cilento said the research was CEDA’s first ever nation-wide poll. It involved nearly 3000 people across the country, providing a national snapshot of who Australians believe have benefited most from the country’s economic growth.
Ms Cilento said she was surprised to learn that just five per cent of survey respondents – just one in 20 – said that they personally had gained a lot from 26 years of economic growth.
“That’s a result that gives you moment for pause, particularly if you’re a believer of the growth equals prosperity narrative and the power of that narrative,” Ms Cilento said.
“What this tells you is that narrative is not cutting through.”
Forty-four per cent of respondents felt they had not gained at all, 44 per cent said they had gained a little, with 11 per cent responding that they didn’t know if they had gained personally.
Fifty per cent of Australians aged over 50 years felt they had not gained from economic growth.
“This is the baby boomers and these are people for whom the last 26 years where we’ve had sustained uninterrupted economic growth would have formed a big chunk of their highest earning working lives and even they are saying that they don’t feel they have benefited from this period of what we see as prosperity,” Ms Cilento said.
The survey also found that 74 per cent of Australians believed that large corporations and senior executives had gained most.
“One of the messages for economists like me is that the community has had its finger on the pulse probably a little bit more than some of us who comment on the headline figures,” Ms Cilento said.
“Because when you look beneath the GDP number, what sits beneath is GDP per capita, or income per capita, numbers that have been nowhere near as strong.
“And so what people are telling us is that what matters to them is how they feel right now. Talking about 26 years of economic growth really doesn’t amount to much to people who don’t feel that their lived experience right now is translating in the way that we’re talking about.
“I think that’s a really important message. We cannot look at the headline numbers and assume that translates in a way that resonates with the community.”
CEDA’s survey also asked respondents to identify the issues that mattered most to them at a personal level and preferred policy pathways for the nation.
“What we got was a very strong, consistent message across the country, across demographics, across income brackets on these five issues: reliable low-cost healthcare, reliable low cost essential services, stable affordable housing, high quality chronic disease services and reduced violence in homes and communities,” Ms Cilento said.
At a national level, respondents rated high-quality and accessible public hospitals, strong regulation to limit foreign ownership of Australian land and assets, high-quality and choice of aged care, increased pension payments and tough criminal laws and sentencing as most important.
In contrast a strong private school system, lower company taxes, increased humanitarian intake of refugees and less business regulation were rated as widely unimportant.
Ms Cilento said a key take out from the survey was that the community has concerns about the costs and affordability of key services like health now and into the future. The services the community values are also those that will come under increasing pressure in the future as the population ages.
“There’s a really strong theme that goes to the importance of the compact between the community and government in the provision of essential services,” Ms Cilento said.
“While people are looking to the public sector to deliver these services the reality is delivering these services efficiently and effectively and reliability in the future is going to require innovation and it’s going to require both the public sector and the private sector being involved.
“What this survey tells us is that there’s a lot of work to be done in terms of understanding what community expectations are, engaging with the community about how we can deliver better outcomes for less money and how the private sector and the public sector can work together towards that.”
Following the report’s launch, Ms Cilento led a panel discussion on the issues coming out of the CEDA report with COTA Australia Chair and ANZ Banking Group Non-Executive Director, Jane Halton AO PSM; Collins|Gartrell Partner, Tim Gartrell; and Foundation for Young Australians Chief Executive Officer, Jan Owen AM.
Ms Halton said the results of the survey, particularly around the provision of health care services, didn’t surprise her at all.
She said people tend to judge services against a personal experience and everything is personal.
“Health is something everyone likes to assume they have it but they worry that if something goes wrong with their health that they can rely on a service network and professional skill and capacity and access to those people that will deliver them an improved outcome,” she said.
Referring to a new report released last week by the Foundation for Young Australians, Ms Owen said 18 to 25-year-old Australians are facing some tough employment challenges.
Ms Owen said the FYA report found that while 60 per cent of millennials have a tertiary qualification, 50 per cent of them can’t get full time work.
“There is a massive disconnect between the investment, the time, the money and the commitment to learning and growing and getting qualified and actually what the reality is,” she said.
“You can say all you like about avocadoes, laziness and millennials and put them all in one sentence if you want to but the reality is deeply more complex.
“Every single conversation that we have about employment, about transitions, about the fact that we’ve got double the number of young people in casual precarious work than 10 years ago, all the numbers point to a very precarious labour market for this generation,” Ms Owen said.
Ms Owen said challenges around education, employment and the next generation should be the nation’s number one issue because the underutilisation of 18 to 25-year-olds is costing the country $15.9 billion a year.
Mr Gartrell described CEDA’s poll as a “massive wakeup call” that he found worrying.
“I think the fact that only five per cent of people believe they have gained a lot after the last 26 years (of economic growth) was the real stand out for me,” he said.
He said he was most concerned about what the report means for the Australian notion of a fair go.
“The Australian sense of fair go and fairness is still really there,” he said.
“It’s one of the wonderful things about our country and our culture - even though it’s a bit of a myth, not everyone’s equal, we’ve still got a long way to go, but the Australian cultural leaning towards fairness and equality and a fair go is still there.
“But this research is showing that the underpinnings of that are now probably going to be weaker. And if we move away from that in our culture then I really worry about where Australia is going.”
CEDA research: Community pulse 2018: the economic disconnect
Read the report here.
Explore interactives and key insights from the report here.