Government | Regulation

Do not expect reform from Abbott: ANZ CEO

The business community should not expect economic reform in this term of the Abbott Government, according to ANZ CEO, Mike Smith, who delivered the keynote address at the 2014 launch of CEDA's Economic and Political Overview in Perth.

"It does seem the ground is being prepared so that we should not expect the numerous inquiries and reviews underway will result in meaningful reforms until the next term of government," he said.

Mr Smith also said the time has come for the government to act on ideas and implement economic reforms.

"A rapid shift from listening to acting is now urgent given the absence of meaningful economic reform over the past decade and, to be frank, by the fiscal mess created over the past few years," he said.

Despite his criticisms of the Abbott Government, he said it has shown a willingness to engage in a national policy discussion and the government should continue to listen to the views of the business community.

"I would encourage the Prime Minister to foster this discussion, to build a consensus around the ideas that Australia needs to build a stronger economic future," he said.

"We all need to remind ourselves of what can be achieved when Australia is led by politicians who think first about what benefits Australia in the longer term rather than focusing primarily on the short-term election cycle."

Mr Smith said Australia needs to return to the Hawke and Keating era of reform during the 1980s, to create change, vision and bipartisan cooperation.

"If I were Tony Abbott or Bill Shorten right now, the one thing I would do is try to create a bipartisan vision of what Australia should look like in 2050," he said.

Download a pdf copy of Mike Smith's speech.


Also speaking at CEDA's forum, Business News Western Australia Columnist and Political Commentator, Peter Kennedy, agreed there is the need for reform but questioned if the new government has the Cabinet to make that happen.

"Is there a political salesman there (in Cabinet) of the calibre of John Howard or Peter Costello? Or to go back a bit further, Bob Hawke (or) Paul Keating?" he said. 

Mr Kennedy said the Coalition has lost its post-September glow and the Griffith seat by-election will be an important indication of how the government is going in its first term.

"No government has won a seat from the opposition in a federal by-election for more than 90 years," he said.

"I understand there's a very distinct chance that Dr Bill Glasson will win the seat for the Liberal Party."

Commenting on Western Australian state politics Mr Kennedy said it would not be surprising if there are two new party leaders by the next state election in 2017.

According to Mr Kennedy, there are a number of possibilities, with suggestions that former federal Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, may return to politics as the leader of the WA Labor party.

As for the Liberal Party, Premier Colin Barnett will not contest the next election, Mr Kennedy said.

"There are several possible successors in the wings; they need more experience but to me the obvious successor to Colin Barnett is Troy Buswell," he said.


A jovial WA Treasurer and Minister for Transport, Troy Buswell, responded to these claims while addressing the same CEDA event.

"I heard there was some speculation on things like leadership, I heard you (Peter Kennedy) made some incisive incredibly wrong comments," he said.

Speaking on the topic of the WA economy, Mr Buswell said it has undergone significant structural changes in the past decade and there are challenges that growth brings.

"One of the great policy areas we sort of abandoned as a nation is how we address that sort of structural change," he said.

"We have debates on issues from time to time like should that fruit tinning company stay or should that car manufacturer close but there's actually a broader public policy issue around structural change," he said.

Mr Buswell indicated the State Government will implement widespread structural changes to the government business model and public service including further voluntary redundancies.

"The government business model needs to be fixed up because it's not sustainable, it's just not sustainable," he said.

He said a key aim for the State Government will be to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the public sector.


Griffith University Centre for Governance and Public Policy Associate Professor and CEDA EPO contributing author, Dr Anne Tiernan, also discussed the public service and efficiency of government in Australia at the EPO launch.  

"It is important to talk about...reforms to make the public sector delivery across Australia more efficient and effective," she said.

Ms Tiernan said it is important to include Cabinet and ministers in discussions about public sector reform and productivity.

"We need to include ministers who govern the public sector and set its directions into these considerations, for 40 years they've been strangely and conspicuously absent from debates about how the efficiency of government might be improved," she said.

"It's important to note that previous public sector reforms have helped to create systems provision in most areas of service delivery that are mixed."


On the topic of delivery of services, Western Australian Council of Social Services CEO, Irina Cattalini said the social sector's role in providing services continues to grow.

Ms Cattalini said with continued growth comes challenges and there has been constant government reform in the social sector.

"It's no secret that for many years, significant changes to funding, regulation, the quality standards, the service models and the tax settings for not-for-profit organisations has had the close attention of successive governments at both the state and federal levels," she said. 

According to Ms Cattalini, one area that needs to be further discussed is tax revenue.

"We need to consider the adequacy and the equity of government tax revenue," she said.


CEDA members can access event audio and presentations here.