Australian business leaders must deliver a vision for the future: Dr Ken Henry AC

Australian business leaders must deliver a vision for the future, National Australia Bank Chairman and CEDA Governor, Dr Ken Henry AC has told the CEDA Canberra Economic and Political Overview event.

“Australians are calling for their leaders, in politics, in business and in the broader community, to develop a shared commitment to a clear vision for our future,” he said.

Dr Henry said topics that have traditionally been assumed to be in the domain of public policy, not business, have to become a focus for business.

“Australia’s business leaders have to accept responsibility for ensuring that strong population growth, and the investment opportunities that go with it, lift economic and social opportunity for all, without damaging the quality of the environment we pass to future generations,” he said.

“That means that we have to take an interest in traffic congestion, housing affordability, urban amenity and environmental amenity, including climate change mitigation and adaptation.”

Dr Henry said there are four policy challenges that need attention and are critical for the future - repairing the Federal Budget, population growth, climate change mitigation and energy security and making the most of the Asian century.

Discussing politics, Dr Henry said populism and politicking has taken over the public discussion.

“Today’s dysfunction stands in marked contrast to earlier periods of policy success – where politics was adversarial, every bit as partisan – but when the tribal tensions within parties were generally well managed and the political contest appeared to energise policy, not kill it,” he said.

“The reform narrative of an earlier period has been buried by the language of fear and anger, it doesn’t seek to explain; rather, it seeks to confuse and frighten.”

Providing an overview of the political environment, Sky News Canberra Bureau Chief, Lyndal Curtis said “the policy reform system is broken or rather politicians have forgotten how to do it.”

“The idea that good policy makes good politics has given way to the idea that all politics all the time wins,” she said.

“In the old days when things were normal, opinion polls triggered a leader to change policies or perhaps change the way they were sold, now they’re just a trigger to change the leader.

“Government needs to get back to explaining the problems it wants to solve, proposing ideas to solve it, getting third party support and making the case not only to the parliament but to the people.

“There are bright signs in my rather gloomy view of things, one of those is that sometimes big reforms in Australia take a really really long time, the GST took a good 20 years.”

On the Senate, Ms Curtis said the attitude of cross benches and minor parties has changed.

“They used to be there to improve government legislation, now they have their own agenda and they want to implement it,” she said.

Also speaking at the event, ACT Minister for Transport and City Services and Higher Education, Training and Research, Meegan Fitzharris said the global political and economic environment is uncertain.

“We have a level of certainty and stability here in the ACT with a relatively small economy but we certainly acknowledge that we are in an international and national age of uncertainty,” she said.

Ms Fitzharris said one of the fundamental goals of the ACT Government was to drive growth and create new economic opportunities.

“We must ensure that the benefits of that economic growth are shared more evenly and provide benefit to those particularly more vulnerable in our community,” she said.

On the ACT Government’s reform agenda, Ms Fitzharris said tax reform can be an important lever that government can use to increase productivity outcomes and they started introducing reforms in 2012.

“These reforms have as their aim to move away from a volatile tax base toward a more stable and efficient broad based land tax,” she said.

“The ACT Government has a medium term goal of having the lowest rates of conveyance duty in Australia and long term goal of removing them all together.”

Discussing the health sector, Federal Department of Health Secretary, Martin Bowles PSM said Australia’s healthcare system is one of the best in the world and an important contributor to the economy.

“It is both an economic driver, but it is a cost in the overall community,” he said.

“Therefore we need to take that part of it seriously and start to think about how we actually build a healthcare system that is sustainable in the long term.”

Mr Bowles said technology is a big issue the healthcare system needs to grapple with.

“Technology is probably the biggest driver of cost in the healthcare system today, and that is positive and negative,” he said.

One example of technology usage in the healthcare system is precision and personalised medicine which is driving growth in different techniques and technologies, he said.

Capital Health Network Chief Executive Officer, Gaylene Coulton said there are opportunities for primary health networks to contribute to better funding allocations.

“As a regional planner there’s some areas where we could really be more effective and inform the Department of Health where dollars would be better spent,” she said.

“So aged care and community care, if we’re understanding what the needs of the population are and where there’s service gaps I think we could have a greater role in that over the future.”

A full copy of Dr Ken Henry AC’s speech is available here.

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