07 March 2023

When I accepted this invitation some weeks ago I envisaged quite a specific speech, about some of the staging points of a busy 2023 – and I’ll still do some of that.

Address to the Australian Financial Review Business Summit, Sydney

A defining decade

Thanks for the opportunity to join you tonight.

When I accepted this invitation some weeks ago I envisaged quite a specific speech, about some of the staging points of a busy 2023 – and I’ll still do some of that.

But flying back from a meeting of G20 economic ministers and central bankers in India the weekend before last –

In the skies above Asia, on a flight path increasingly familiar to many of you –

And conscious you’d have spent the whole day speaking about very specific policy areas –

I decided to zoom out a bit and take a longer view.

I want to talk about how we can meet and manage the challenges of the 2020s, maximise our advantages, and propel our country forward into the 2030s with confidence and verve.

We are a third of the way through a defining decade for Australia – and this is our window of opportunity.

And at some later stage we will reflect on, and historians will write about, whether we made the most of our chances.

In our economy, of course, but in our society too.

The Voice to Parliament is one part of this effort to make right, to establish the link between economic and democratic strength in ways that can make us really proud.

And here I acknowledge the elders, customs and traditions of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation –

And I thank all of you who’ve already committed to the push for recognition and consultation.

This is crucial but doesn’t stand on its own, it’s part of a bigger story –

Doing the right thing for the right reasons, and turning this gift of being Australian into enduring opportunities for our people –

In a growing, thriving, more productive, more competitive economy –

An inclusive, vibrant society.

Seeing these goals as complementary, not at odds.

And essential to our collective success in the years ahead.

The near term

This is not to say we don’t have our share of nearer term challenges to deal with at the same time.

The principal issue for the economy right now is inflation, as you know, and that means it’s the Government’s main priority.

The combination of high living costs, rising interest rates and global uncertainty has slowed our economy and will slow it some more.

Another interest rate rise today will put more pressure on borrowers and businesses.

Already Australian households spent $20 billion on mortgage interest payments in the last quarter, compared to $11 billion in the same period the year before.

While the Reserve Bank does its difficult job, we do ours – using the levers we have available to us, a combination of relief, repair and restraint.

Cost‑of‑living relief where it can be done responsibly and where we think we can get an economic dividend out of it.

Repairing some of the supply side issues that exacerbate inflation.

Restraint in the Budget, and modest but meaningful changes to super concessions that will improve the structural position.

We’re hopeful that the peak of inflation is behind us – that’s what the Treasury expects, that’s what the RBA expects, and that’s what last week’s monthly read indicated too.

It’s still unacceptably high, more persistent than is ideal, but we’re optimistic that it’s moderating.

Three big shifts

That’s obviously welcome – price stability is a necessary condition of our future prosperity.

But the broader question for us and for Australia is whether we can emerge from the last few years stronger, or weaker.

That will be partly determined by whether we can turn the necessary steps we’re taking now, particularly on the supply side, into long lasting gains.

But our ultimate success in the defining decade will come down to whether we managed and maximised change, and particularly the big shifts that will matter most to our prospects.

Three trends and transitions dominate our thinking:

One, using the climate and energy transition to build a bigger and better industrial base.

Two, supporting the broader adoption of data and digitalisation.

And three, ensuring that our services and care sectors are effectively and efficiently meeting growing demand.

To benefit from the three big shifts depends on big questions –

Whether we can build a bigger and better‑trained workforce.

Whether we can improve the path for productivity.

And whether we can grow in a way that ensures more Australians are offered more opportunities, in more parts of the country –

When the geopolitics are more challenging than they’ve been for some time.

These trends and questions are central to so much of our economic agenda.

From the RBA Review, to the Employment White Paper, a new framework to Measure What Matters, and of course, the May Budget.

But tonight, I want to focus on the path to net zero and digitalisation.

It’s well‑recognised that we have immense potential when it comes to the climate and energy transition.

Cheap, clean renewable energy, new industries up and along the supply chains of the net zero economy, and new ways to maximise traditional strengths.

To get there, we’ll need hundreds of billions of dollars in new investment by 2050 – plus thousands of new clean energy workers in just the next few years alone.

And now there’s a race on for clean energy capital – and this means understanding our comparative advantages and remaining a reliable global partner open to trade and investment.

It means moving up the value chain – a key focus of the National Reconstruction Fund.

And it means giving investors and companies clearer guardrails, and the clarity and confidence they need to invest.

Thanks to the work you’ve done with us – on the safeguard mechanism, on climate risk disclosure, on sustainable finance – we’re well placed to make important strides here.

In clean energy and low emissions technology, and in our mining and manufacturing sectors.

Just like the clean energy revolution, the benefits of the digital revolution are clear and growing.

AI and data could represent the next big leap forward in productivity, but there are key questions we need to grapple with together –

Like how to create the right conditions to foster faster adoption –

How we make sure technology is enhancing and not just replacing work.

And how we make sure our training systems and migration settings supply the skilled labour that we need.

Next week you’ll see a number of these familiar themes reflected in the five‑yearly productivity review from the Productivity Commission.

It’s not due till May, but I’m releasing it early so that you can see what we need to grapple with and where we’re already acting to get us on a better productivity trajectory.

The role of the private sector

Every one of the themes in the report, and each of the big shifts I’ve identified tonight requires a more central, more constructive role for business and for investors.

By and large over the last decade, you’ve picked these trends – the threats and the opportunities that come with them – well before they were acknowledged or addressed by government.

Our success rests in large part on a thriving, profitable, successful, wealth creating, opportunity generating private sector –

And the best working relationship and understanding between you and governments, state and federal, Labor and Liberal.

I’m here on a quick dash from Canberra and back again tonight because I’m eager to take any available chance to deepen our engagement with you.

Recognising and valuing your indispensable role in the economy and our society – as creators of jobs, of wealth, and of opportunity.

I want to genuinely thank you for that – and for the way you’ve engaged with me, with the Prime Minister and with our colleagues in these past nine months, and before.

Through forums like this, through the Jobs Summit, or the Investor Roundtable, the Housing Accord, in boardrooms and on industrial sites, in regular meetings in Canberra –

It’s always frank, it’s always respectful, and for me at least, it’s always productive. I get a lot out of it.

And I believe we’re a better government because we’re taking these chances to work with you and learn from you –

Trying to understand your perspective because we know that our country has a much stronger chance of future success if the private and public sectors are working, where possible, in concert and not in conflict –

To create wealth that’s widespread and long‑lasting, and to generate more opportunities for more people in more parts of our country.

I don’t believe the solutions will be found in some rigid ideological model from the past – and neither do you.

I believe markets are a powerful and positive tool to help us address our challenges – so do you.

I know that there are more opportunities for collaboration and cooperation between us – I hope you do too.

The future and the past

This is an important year full of anniversaries and milestones.

I don’t mean the birthday I shared with the PM last Thursday, or the anniversary of the 2013 election a wasted decade ago.

I do mean last Sunday’s 40th anniversary of the 1983 election – and this Saturday, 40 years since Bob Hawke’s government was sworn in, with Paul Keating his Treasurer.

Our job now is to build on their achievements, to lengthen that long list, but in a very different context.

What was tariff reform and financial deregulation in the 80s is maximising the opportunities offered by the energy and climate transition, a strategic approach to advanced manufacturing and a strong and sustainable care economy.

So, expecting us to replicate Paul’s agenda from 1983 in 2023 is as absurd as saying he should have just copied Chifley’s agenda from 1943, forty years earlier again.

Two terrific Labor treasurers, two transformational Labor governments, two defining, but different, economic periods.

We recognise and celebrate that past, but we aren’t stuck in it or shackled to it.

In 2023 – a new age, with new challenges, calling on a new generation to make its own way in another defining decade.

Windows of opportunity

Times like these are called windows of opportunities because they open – but also because they shut.

We can’t afford to waste another decade of complacency and conflict.

The 2020s will define and determine our prospects in the 2030s and beyond.

And we won’t build the modern economy we need by wasting time spinning our wheels in the cul‑de‑sacs at either end of the ideological spectrum.

We need to take advantage of the future not just take comfort from the past –

Engage in sensible, methodical, evidence‑based policy making rather than governing through a flurry of press releases.

We’re here to make a difference – not for a dose of comfortable complacency or for the performance and fakery and puffery of politics.

In politics like business, some days are better than others.

Some days the wind is at your back, and others it’s stinging your eyes.

But it’s the mission that drags us in and peps us up and propels us forward.

It’s the idea that a wonderful country is built on the collective efforts of its people and its leaders, on its governments and businesses and unions, working together where we can to advance the greater good.

And in that series of fine judgements, in that effort to make the right calls for the right reasons, in that ability to deal with the big shocks and land the big shifts, lies Australia’s prospects into the 30s and beyond.

I believe in our mission, I believe in you and your role, and I’m asking you to believe in our country and its government too.

Thanks very much.