The 26th of January each year represents Australia’s official national day and marks the anniversary of the first fleet sailing into Sydney back in 1788. For many it brings great joy, largely because it provides a day off work to share time with families and friends, not to mention the odd cold beer – and if Sam Kekovich and the Meat and Livestock Authority get their way a good feed of Australian farmed lamb. Given we are in the midst of a lovely summer, and for a sports mad community enjoying the Australian Open tennis and a test cricket match against India, along with the fact that most Australian’s have a job to return to the next day (with unemployment running at about 5.2%) one could be forgiven for feeling pretty good about life down under.
However, if you did choose turn off the cricket and put your cold beer down for a moment, and ponder what you believe will underpin the prosperity of the next generation of Australian’s, what would your answer be? We all have an awareness that we are currently living in a two speed economy where the resources sector is booming and the rest simply limping along. We have a strong dollar riding the wave of this resources boom and as a result an export sector that is struggling and many domestic businesses doing it tough against imports. Amongst this we have raging public debates about whether the Government should or should not be subsidising the automotive industry, while Toyota goes about dumping 10% of its labour force in Australia. We are seeing an ever greater dependency on our employment being derived from the services industry as companies simply seek to have their manufacturing done in lower cost developing economies. The world is getting smaller by the day and the the level of interdependency between countries around the globe more and more intertwined. We are all watching the dramas surrounding sovereign debt issues play out in Europe, all the time understanding if there is a defaulting country somewhere out there, we will feel the ramifications. Our world is changing and we have to change with it.
So what is our future? Commentators like Alan Mitchell, Economics Editor for the Australian Financial Review (24/1/2012) believes the answer resides with Australia making better use of its highly educated work force. That we should continue with the mindset of the Hawke and Keating Governments of the 70’s and 80’s when they opened up Australia to the withering blast of international competition and hoped industry would rise to the occasion, which it did. Mitchell suggests that instead of concerning ourselves with imminent job cuts and plant closures we should rejoice in the prospects of better paid jobs in businesses that have yet to be formed, producing goods and services yet to be developed, for customers still to be identified. I get Alan’s point, but we do not have to face such a vague future.
Surely, we do not have to leave the future of Australia’s prosperity solely in the hands of market forces. We could choose to adopt a brand mindset, and proactively determine what our proposition is to the world and disproportionately invest in driving that proposition to shape our destiny. We need to shift our paradigm of nation branding from one that is largely image and tourism based, to one that is founded on defining the economic and social endeavours that will fuel our prosperity. We need to commence an enlightened and imaginative national dialogue around what Australia’s future will be built on.