Reform has slowed and some areas have ground to a halt, Monash University, Faculty of Business and Economics, Professorial Fellow and former Chairman ACCC, Graeme Samuel AC told CEDA's State of the Nation 2013 audience.
Speaking as part of a panel on Australia's International Competitiveness, Professor Samuel said Australia's economy is operating in an intensely competitive global environment and reform inertia would mean declining living standards in Australia.
"The economic reform momentum has slowed and in many areas has ground to a halt," he said.
"Of greater concern is increasing evidence of recidivism in some of those occupying the halls of parliament house, eagerly urged on by the usual culprits with vested interests in our business community."
He said the lack of substantial reform - which we haven't seen since the Hawke/Keating and Howard/Costello eras - was due to a lack of leadership, and to be successful required conviction, courage and communication.
He said there needed to be focus on cutting middle class and business welfare, which had resulted in billions going to selected interest groups that serve political purposes and not the public interest.
For our tertiary students we lend them funds to equip them to earn a satisfactory income and expect them to repay once they are earning a reasonable income, he said.
"But with middle class and in particular business welfare we don't consider this option, instead we offer a grant whether in the form of payment, co-investment or taxation benefit," he said.
"We so easily succumb to the implicit threat that investment will not occur or existing operations will cease unless the philanthropic hand of the taxpayer is extended to line the pocket of the rent seekers."
Professor Samuel said improving productivity was key and improving productivity was an issue for all.
"It's not a matter that is of sole interest to business, it's not an issue about job cuts or reduction in wages or conditions, it's about producing more efficiently, encouraging innovation," he said.
"Increased productivity increases incomes and government revenue both of which are necessary to raise living standards and rectify disadvantage."
CPA Australia, CEO, Alex Malley said we need to start benchmarking against the fast growing Asian economies if we are serious about setting ambitious goals for our country.
Providing the example of the fast train between Beijing and Shanghai and the proposed fast train for the east coast of Australia, he said Australia got a 50 year plan while China took only 38 months to build their fast train.
"We need to take action faster, act boldly and seize the opportunity. We need a different engagement between employers, trade unions and employees (otherwise) the reality is we will become irrelevant," he said.
Mr Malley also highlighted the need to cut unnecessary regulatory burden for business.
"Australia pays at least 127 taxes a year and at last count, of the total tax revenue collected, 90 per cent was derived from just 10 taxes. That means 117 taxes account for just 10 per cent of revenue from tax," he said.
"There is a strong case for broadening the GST but more than that we've developed a simulated analysis that says if you were to simulate the right scenarios with GST you could completely free yourself of taxes like payroll tax and other taxes that we've come to accept are part of our life."