Australia’s Asian Century – Business Can Turn Vision Into Reality
Last October, the Government released a much-anticipated ‘White Paper’ setting out its vision for how Australia can “tak[e] advantage of the opportunities offered by the Asian Century” (footnote 1 –http://www.pm.gov.au/press-office/australia-asian-century-white-paper-australias-roadmap-navigating-asian-century). This vision was the outcome of more than a year of work by an advisory panel chaired by the former Secretary of the federal Treasury, Ken Henry.
Given the broad sweep of developments across the vast and diverse region that comprises Asia, the document is correspondingly broad-ranging, touching upon everything from the implications of security tensions among emerging powers to the growing people-to-people links that have come about through migration, education links, cultural connections and diplomatic ties. However, not surprising given the composition of the advisory panel and the rapid rise in the economic importance of the region to Australia, the White Paper had a sharp focus on economic developments, business ties and trade relations.
White Papers of this kind are by their nature an attempt to set out a profound shift in long-held assumptions and long-term strategies on a particular topic. In a pragmatic country like Australia, such papers are therefore often criticised for being too “airy fairy” and lacking in specifics and key performance indicators that anyone can measure.
This White Paper was different. It came with a set of 25 “national objectives” and included “pathways” to achieving those objectives. (footnote 2 – http://asiancentury.dpmc.gov.au/white-paper/executive-summary/25-national-objectives) Some of those objectives are inward-looking, that is, what practices Australia needs to adopt internally to be better-prepared for the global transformation that is occuring. These include investing more in world-class infrastructure such as roads and ports and broadband infrastructure; ensuring our education system provides the skills needed to prosper in these changing times; and adopting sound principles of economic management to help our economy continue to be resilient in the face of the uncertainty this transformation is likely to produce.
Other objectives are more outward focussed and consider what can be done to improve Australia’s economic, security and cultural ties with the countries of the region.
What does this mean for business?
Almost inevitably, there have already been rumblings that the Asian Century initiative was too much spin and too little action and that the implementation of the national objectives has been far too slow. (footnote 3 – http://www.smh.com.au/national/asian-century-stillborn-as-activity-stalls-20130222-2ex94.html) Whatever truth there may be to these concerns, it has to be acknowledged that the transformation envisioned in the White Paper is not the stuff of instant gratification. In addition, many of the so-called pathways are an extension of existing government policies and continue to be implemented as such – see for example the continuing focus on improving education standards, rolling out the national broadband network and deepening our ties with China.
It was also explicit in the White Paper that achievement of the vision could not be left to government alone and government departments appear to have been genuine in their commitment to engaging with all sectors of the community.
The latest such initiative relates to the development of individual “country strategies” with the most important countries in the region – China, Japan, India, South Korea and Indonesia. (footnote 4 – http://dfat.gov.au/issues/asian-century/). The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is seeking input into the drafting of these strategies and is particularly looking to hear about the challenges to trading with, investing in and generally doing business with these countries and any proposals on what can be done to improve relations in these fields.
Dearin & Associates believes that it is vitally important for businesses and anyone else with a stake in these profound developments affecting the future of our country to engage in good faith with this and other opportunities for consultation. If a strong signal is not sent to government that all sectors of the community share in the vision for an Australia better connected to the rapidly-changing world around it, and is willing to do their share in achieving it, then we can hardly be surprised if governments take their eye off the ball. This is especially important with the impending national election. Will future governments continue the momentum for change or will the whole idea quietly fade into memory as governments come and go and short-term political scandals capture the headlines?
How can Dearin & Associates help you engage with the White Paper process?
Dearin & Associates can help your business bring its perspectives and priorities to the attention of leaders in government.
If your business will be affected by Australia’s developing relationship with Asia, we can help you engage with DFAT in the development of their “country strategies”. We can assist in the preparation of submissions and connect you directly with the key people. If there are things that government can do to assist your business to work with these countries, then this is the opportunity to let them know. Even if you do not have “problems” that need to be resolved, it is important that the government hears about the broad range of businesses that are successfully transforming the way they interact with markets, suppliers and business partners in the region. We particularly encourage small and medium enterprises in emerging sectors to consider engaging in this process to ensure that their views and concerns are not drowned out by bigger companies in traditional sectors.
To talk to us about the various ways in which we can assist your business or industry group to work with government, contact us at (02) 8003 75 83 or at email@example.com.