Government | Regulation

Imagination and boldness essential in advancing Australia: Keating

Nostalgia for the reform politics of the 80s and 90s is not going to advance us mightily, former Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon. Paul Keating said at CEDA’s Annual Dinner.

“It was not, as is often today suggested, a period of consensus between the parties on what needed to be done,” he said.
Mr Keating said the Opposition voted against reforms such as means testing pensions, enterprise bargaining reforms, the superannuation guarantee, and the broad elements of the landmark 1985 tax reform package.

“They opposed each and every pay increase under the Accord – and it was the Accord processes that broke the back of Australian inflation,” he said.

“My colleagues and I had to fight for every one of those reforms – invariably against the Opposition, mostly against the business lobbies, occasionally with our own caucus.

“But they were fights worth having.”

Mr Keating said today the economy is still crying out for liberating forces in the nature of those employed during that tumultuous period.

“You hear, these days, reform expressed by organisations like the Business Council as simply being about a reduction in the corporate tax rate or hopping into low paid workers by knocking off their penalty rates,” he said. 

“The limitedness of it is remarkable – the laziness and backwardness of it, profound.

“If you had any foresight or understanding of the forces now available to promote the kinds of changes we employed in the opening of the economy 30 odd years ago – they are staring you in the face – globalisation and galloping international digitisation.”

Mr Keating said digitally enabled business models are reshaping entire industries which the technology facilitates to scale faster and at lower prices.

“And in reshaping those industries, bringing down monopolies, smashing market barriers, while lifting the utilisation of otherwise static and underperforming assets,” he said. 

“You can see examples of this with Airbnb or Uber.

“The wider phase, the grander phase, where even larger gains are to be had, is in the heavily government influenced areas of health, aged care, education and human services.

“With the use of big data it is possible to make the delivery of these services smarter, less costly, more tactile and more friendly to the consumer.”

Mr Keating said these are the reform horizons Australia should be concentrating on, not company tax cuts or penalty rates.
“Changes on a canvas of this kind are not going to drop from any department,” he said.

“You will not find them falling from a Treasury printer. 

“Because of their essence, they require imagination, the principal tool that was employed in underwriting the 80s and 90s changes.

“If you can’t imagine it, you are as sure as hell never going to see it.” 

Mr Keating said we are now in a new world which requires new world thinking. 

“All of our lives we have witnessed change, more or less on a linear basis over time,” he said. 

“These technologies dramatically change those trajectories. From now on the changes will be so rapid, so exponential, we will have difficulty, even in our mind’s eye, of comprehending their scale and implications – let alone planning for them.

“All the more reason our imagination must be leaping, not being at all relaxed and comfortable.”

Mr Keating said Australia is facing big challenges but has significant opportunities ahead. 

“We have come a long way, but the important point is the pace is quickening rapidly,” he said.

“There is no rule book or plan for this next phase. 

“But imagination and boldness have to be the essential elements of our next major advance.”