28 March 2014
By NAB CEO Cameron Clyne
Fans of US drama, The Newsroom, will recall the first episode where Will McAvoy gives a soliloquy, bemoaning that America is no longer the greatest country in the world. He finishes off by saying that in the past, America “didn’t scare so easily”.
That scene, for me, captured the mindset of Australia too. Are we scared of the future? Are we looking at the glass as half-empty? Should we recognise that, in fact, Australia is one of the greatest countries in the world?
Job losses at Ford, Holden, Qantas, Shell and Alcoa have dominated headlines – and we’re right to tell this story because it is extremely tough for the people who work in these industries and for these organisations. It is tough for them, for their families and for the communities around them.
Lost in this news is the fact that we have a fundamentally strong economy. We are in transition but we are not in recession – and we shouldn’t talk ourselves in to one.
We never hear about the 500,000 jobs in the health industry and the 300,000 jobs in education created since 2000, compared with the 100,000 lost in manufacturing over the same period.
We need to remember that the Australian economy is 10 per cent bigger than it was in 2008, while the UK economy has shrunk.
Yes, some industries are in decline but others are on the rise. It has been this way since Federation.
In 1900, 23 per cent of Australians worked in agriculture, by 1960 it was eight per cent, it is now less than three per cent. If we look back even 20 years, the superannuation industry and the digital economy were in their infancy.
Now, that doesn’t mean change is easy and this is a tough time for many people. It is unlikely that anyone will finish up as an automotive worker on a Friday and start work in the health industry the following Monday.
We must have policies that ease the transition but if we look at the Australian economy as a whole, it is resilient enough to handle this sort of structural change. It has done so in the past and it will do so in the future – and there will be jobs for Australian men and women.
Let’s change the perception that people aren’t spending anymore, when we are simply seeing a change in spending habits. Fundamentally, the services part of the economy is growing quite strongly, with more money and more jobs in entertainment, eating out and travel and on essential services such as education and health.
Let’s recognise the opportunities for exporting these services. Huge opportunities exist for the Australian tourism industry, as the Asian middle class continues to grow. Just as there is
opportunity to broaden our export base of professional services, as regional leaders in legal, accounting, health services, infrastructure construction and technical agribusiness services.
Let’s talk about the production phase of the mining industry and the outputs of it, rather than fearing the end of the construction phase.
Let’s start reminding all Australians of what we have to offer. There’s always an emphasis on our high wages, but not enough on our high skill level.
We need to have the guts to take advantage of the opportunities in front of us. We need to start looking at the opportunities rather than just the problems.
We need to drive the solutions, not wait for someone to deal with the problem. I am talking to business people every day – and there are plenty out there dealing with the conditions that are there now, seizing opportunities to adapt their business to the prevailing conditions.
They will be our future. They are the agile businesses. The nimble businesses. The ones that don’t scare so easily.
These will be the businesses creating new jobs for Australian men and women – the next stage in our nation’s history.
We’re the economic envy of the world, we just need to see it. Let’s put our shoulder to the wheel and get on with creating our own future.
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