CEDA Chair Diane Smith-Gander's address to the 2024 State of the Nation

CEDA Chair Diane Smith-Gander gave an opening address to CEDA's State of the Nation dinner on 26 June 2024.

Our theme this year is Accelerating Productivity.  

We will explore key issues that many of you and your colleagues are grappling with right now.

They include:

  • Finding ways to a more innovative economy 
  • Mapping the future of higher education
  • Extracting more from mining rare earths
  • Navigating the Australia-US relationship
  • Understanding the implication of the electrification of everything
  • Making sense of ESG
  • Opportunities for innovation, productivity and reskilling with AI; and
  • Considering the nexus between cities and productivity

These topics all come with big and complex challenges, how do we start rowing together as a nation to address them over both the short and longer term?

Right now it is not clear to me that we are recognising the need to face into these challenges together.

While households and employers alike are focused on price pressures, the pace of change and level of uncertainty we are facing are pulling at the threads of our social fabric.

We see it in the political polarisation that is playing out, whether online in social media or in protests around the nation.

Geopolitical tensions are adding to the complexity, the war in Gaza, our relations with China, the very real possibility of change again in the White House.

Each of these challenges requires conversation, nuance, listening, and understanding.

CEDA is focused on helping our members create space for those conversations.

Because it is these exact issues that will shape our future economic opportunity – and to a greater extent than they have over the previous couple of decades.

How can we find a way through this that respects genuine differences of opinion, but still addresses our national interest and strategic priorities?

The short-termism engendered by our three-year electoral cycle makes it hugely difficult for our elected leaders.  

Think about the big issues currently dominating the agenda, migration, climate change and the energy transition, our sluggish economy.

They all require serious, well-planned policy solutions, real reform.

We need to come together to discuss and debate them with good intentions and open minds.

But we are less than 12 months out from the next Federal Election.


So instead of the promised more respectful Parliament, we get point-scoring and name-calling.


Could extending parliamentary terms to four years improve the quality of political and policy debate?

The states and territories have already done it.

At the very least it could help the Budget if we pay for fewer elections.

Importantly I think it could improve political productivity, giving politicians more time to focus on policy and less on securing re-election.

We need any boost to productivity we can get!

Having more time to bring the public along for real reform, to explain the ideas and solutions… to survive the media cycle, social media blow-ups and misinformation.

To make the case for change.

Surprisingly, it seems like one of the few things leaders on both sides currently agree on.

Before we get to a referendum maybe fixed terms would be a first step?

Another small nod to bringing both sides together is the appointment this week of a former NSW Liberal Treasurer and Energy Minister as Chair of the Climate Change Authority by a Labor Government.

So perhaps there is hope.

But we will need more than hope to weather this storm.

Because while in some respects we are doing OK, we are still creating jobs, and unemployment remains very low, the fear that things could get worse is real, as are the cost-of-living pressures felt by so many.

That precariousness pulls at our social fabric.

It becomes harder to find the space and time to listen to each other, to have a respectful conversation, to work together to find solutions.

One way to help this happen is to get to know each other better.

To be curious about each other’s perspective.

So at CEDA, relationships are key.

We connect and collaborate across government, business and academia.

Our ability to identify long-term trends and see what others cannot is driven by your curiosity.

So I hope you will use these next couple of days to talk… to listen…

And to understand.