Cause to be hopeful about Australia's long-term future

A panel of leaders from the government, business and the community sectors at CEDA’s State of the Nation discussed the challenges facing Australia, including economic uncertainty, inequality, and climate change, and the reasons for optimism moving forward.

Chair of the panel and First State Super Chief Executive Officer, Deanne Stewart, encouraged the audience to think on the progress that Australia has made over the last 40 years and how it “provides a key to solving those important pragmatic challenges we face today.”

Picking up on this theme, Citibank Australia Chair, Sam Mostyn, reflected on earlier efforts to discuss the future of the nation, and said that she hopes “in the future, we would be rated locally and globally as a resourceful nation rather than a nation of resources.”

With reference to the CSIRO’s 2019 Australian National Outlook, Ms Mostyn called for “a new agenda for Australia that takes us into the new economy, a resilient economy with new strengths, that don’t rely on our former resources economy.”

Among her list of priorities for the country, Ms Mostyn referenced “building new domestic products and export sectors… dealing with AI and the changing nature of work, managing our transition to a low cost and low carbon energy revolution… and a resolution of our nation as a reconciled nation.”

Reconciliation Australia Chief Executive Officer, Karen Mundine, discussed further reasons for optimism.

“In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities I am seeing a resurgence of culture and with that culture comes new thinking and the application of new business and new technology towards thinking about how we survive and move forward into the future.”

Federal Department of Treasury Macroeconomic Group Deputy Secretary, Meghan Quinn, said that while Australia faces some challenges moving forward, “the strength of the institutional structures we have gives me a lot of hope for the future.”

Ms Quinn said that “we have managed to deal with most of our differences through contested means but we have been able to resolve some very big debates in Australia. We should not forget these institutions as we move forward.”

The panel also discussed statistics that suggest much of the community feels left behind by Australia’s consistent economic growth.

“The economic boom has not been felt by everyone and survey after survey suggests that those that have benefited from it take it quite for granted and talk about it with an ease that belies what happens in communities and families all around the country who have not felt that benefit,” Ms Mostyn said.

Speaking to this point, Ms Mundine said that, “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have continued to lag behind so this idea of wealth has not trickled through. We still remain the most disadvantaged on any real measure when it comes to social equity.” 

Echoing Ms Mostyn’s calls for a more nuanced appraisal of growth, Ms Mundine said that “this is about people and not just abstract figures, so a challenge for us is how do we make these issues real and how do we see these issues play out for individuals.”  

Ms Mundine also highlighted the economic benefits of addressing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander inequality.

“Sixty-five per cent of the Aboriginal population is under the age of 30. Unless we are tapping in to that resource, unless young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have those opportunities for employment and education, we are missing a real opportunity,” she said.

The panel went on to discuss the issues of energy and water security and the dangers posed by climate change.

On this topic, Ms Mostyn said that the “number one priority is a national climate policy and a rapid transition to a low carbon economy.” Ms Mostyn also advocated for the introduction of a national water plan to address the growing issue of water insecurity.

The panel concluded by reflecting on how young ‘digital natives’ are contributing to the conversation about Australia’s future.

Ms Mundine called for a more measured understanding of the possibilities and potential hazards of new technology and said that she was “constantly amazed about the level of conversation I have with young people about complex issues.” 

Addressing this point, Ms Mostyn said “taking young people seriously and having systems and processes to uncover their insights and learn from them presents a great opportunity.”