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What Australia’s Leaders Are Saying About #Budget2016

By Women For Media | May 4th, 2016

Nicki Hutley, Chief Economist, Urbis

“This budget is a case of fiscal groundhog day. We are seeing the Government move the pieces on the chess board but not actually make significant inroads into the budget deficit.”

“There’s nothing in here that inspires a vision that is going to fundamentally change the Australian economy for the better.” ABC News

“There’s very little here to get excited about. The economic predictions are ridiculously optimistic. We live in an uncertain world and you have to build on conservative forecasts. …as Australians we have to ask, what is it we want from policy and then how are we going to pay for it, because we can’t have increased expenditure and reduced taxes.” World Today, ABC Radio

Andrea Staines, Non Executive Director, QIC, Transport for NSW, SeaLink

“The government’s plan to encourage asset recycling is on the right track with its focus on proper cost benefit analysis for new projects. It was also terrific to see the scope of the program expanded from roads to also include public transport.” Sydney Morning Herald

Professor Miranda Stewart, Director, Tax and Transfer Policy Institute, Australian National University

On the income tax cut for earners over $80,000: “It’s basically a tax cut that benefits the top 20% of female taxpayers and top 35% of male taxpayers by taxable income.”

“If the government was serious about addressing real tax disincentives to work it would have looked at the high effective marginal tax rates facing many women.” News.com.au

Su-Lin Ong, Head of Australian Economics, RBC Capital

“An improvement in the budget trajectory remains the central forecast but the underlying budget remains firmly in the red.” Sydney Morning Herald

Romilly Madew, CEO, Green Building Council of Australia

“We are pleased to see a renewed national focus on Australian cities, with more than $3.4 billion allocated to urban rail projects. Only then will Australian taxpayers know they’ve invested in infrastructure that is resilient and that delivers the best value for decades to come.”

“It is disappointing that the budget announces no new funding to assist Australia to reach its international commitments for emissions reductions and to transition to a low-carbon economy.”

“The built environment represents significant opportunities for emissions reductions at relatively low cost, but there are no new incentives or support for the property and construction industry, or any other industry for that matter, to make the most of these opportunities.”

“…investment in urban forests is important, but we’d like to see the development of a national green infrastructure policy that goes further than being just about trees, and include boosting biodiversity, enhancing the public domain and building more resilient cities.” The Fifth Estate

Pauline Vamos, CEO, Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia

“We do not support the reduction of annual concessional caps to $25,000.”

“While today less than two per cent of people with superannuation make contributions above $25,000, a significant number of such individuals that have low balances are attempting to catch up. For instance, around 36,000 women with balances less than $200,000 in 2013/14, were making contributions in excess of $25,000.” SMSF Adviser

Belinda Robinson, CEO, Universities Australia

On cuts to the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Programme (HEPPP): “Cutting such a program means we could be denying talented students a chance at higher education just because of their background. That is not only unfair but it robs Australia of future highly skilled graduates and innovators.”

“To build the highly skilled contemporary workforce of the future Australia needs all Australians – regardless of their background – to have the opportunity to gain the skills required by employers.”

“Improving equity in higher education is not only fair, but an essential platform for building the diverse, skilled workforce of the future.” Guardian Australia

Catherine Robson, CEO, Affinity Private

“There were some welcome incentives, such as the Low Income Superannuation Tax Offset (replacing Labor’s Low Income Super Contribution) and the ability to effectively average concessional contributions over five years, which will assist the self-employed with lumpy incomes and those in the early stages of their career.

However, the reality is that those who have periods out of the paid workforce, or work in low-paid or not-for-profit industries, will continue to find accumulating retirement savings challenging. These people are at a much higher risk of ending their working lives without the security and dignity of independence.” Canberra Times

Dana Fleming, Tax Partner, KPMG

“We strongly support the Government’s measures to allow those with broken work records, often women, to make top-up payments. This is a very fair and important move which will go some way to ensuring those individuals have a decent retirement package.”

“Retaining the Low Income Super Contribution for low earners and allowing tax deductions for all contributions into superannuation are also welcome.” ABC Radio

“Paring back some current concessions – bringing down the 30 per cent tax threshold from $300,000 to $250,000 seems to strike a reasonable balance between equity and incentives for people to fund their own retirement.” Sydney Morning Herald


Being Green is no longer a tick the box exercise

By Romilly Madew | March 21st, 2016

Most of us can recall the early green beacons that sent shockwaves through the sector.

Think 30 The Bond in Sydney, with Australia’s first application of chilled beam technology, or Council House 2 in Melbourne, with its iconic yellow wind turbines.

We remember these buildings because, at the time, they were rare gems.

However, a green building, once a disruptive force in the industry, is now business as usual.

Australia has been recognised as the world’s green leader by the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark for five years in a row.

A massive 600,000-plus Australians work in Green Star-rated offices; that’s 4.5 per cent of the nation’s workforce.
In an industry always looking for that first mover advantage, what are the disruptive forces shaking things up again?

As we chalk up our hottest global temperatures on record, we must move from “low carbon” to “no carbon”.

The Green Building Council of Australia is working on a new “net zero” label to recognise buildings, fitouts and communities that are energy, carbon or water neutral. Expect net zero to become the new 7 Star Green Star.

“Wellness” is another trend reshaping the industry. Green Star kicked off the conversation by rewarding design and construction choices that enhance indoor environment quality and minimise the use of hazardous chemicals, for example.

However, what happens if the cleaners use harmful products, or the office cafe serves unhealthy food? Organisations are looking at everything from workplace fitness programs to how lighting affects circadian rhythms to help them capitalise on their most important asset: people.

Our understanding of “resilience” is also changing. We can’t adapt to climate change without thinking about how we access fresh food and water, limit urban sprawl, create diverse employment and foster social equity. Melbourne and Sydney have chief resilience officers. And when both cities are expected to double in size over the next 15 years, it’s easy to understand why.

Social sustainability is increasingly in the spotlight as property companies recognise their obligation and opportunity to influence the communities within which they operate. The Homes 4 Homes project, for example, encourages home buyers to donate 0.1 per cent of their sale price to fund social housing for homeless people.

Finally, with workplace equity champion David Morrison named Australian of the Year, expect to see the property industry embrace diversity not because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the smart thing to do.

This article was originally published at the Sydney Morning Herald, read the original article here.

Sectors: Business

Australia, Being Lucky Is No Longer Enough

By Tania de Jong AM | December 22nd, 2015

Australia has traditionally been a highly successful and prosperous nation. On almost every important business index, we are accelerating. The stakes — the financial, social, environmental and political consequences — similarly are rising.

Being lucky is no longer enough.

We lag well behind many other nations on innovation. We have to nurture our entrepreneurs and innovate faster in order keep up with the pace of growth. To compete globally we must welcome, include and empower the many diverse voices of our citizens, migrants and the refugees who are seeking a haven here.

Over the next five to 10 years it is estimated that up to 40 percent of companies on the Standard and Poor’s index will be disrupted by rapidly advancing technologies and the entrepreneurs adapting quickly to this new environment. According to international research, 47 percent of middle-class jobs will become redundant due to robotics and new technologies. And some jobs will continue to exist but will be performed in cheaper labour markets overseas.

Australia doubles the research outputs of the United States per capita but produces half the amount of patents. We generate plenty of ideas and research but we don’t commercialise them enough. We urgently need to train our young people to be entrepreneurs: makers and creators of the jobs of the future. We need to build a culture of innovation to sufficiently develop our capabilities to turn ideas into enterprises.

Willingness to experiment and fail leads to innovations creating opportunities and prosperity for millions. FAIL, after all, stands for First Attempt In Learning.

Turning ideas into enterprise also benefits from diversity. With skilled migrants and refugees seeking a home here, we have real opportunities to foster a new wave of entrepreneurship and innovation.

We surround ourselves with people who make us feel safe, who come from similar backgrounds and educations, who think, feel and dress like we do — and who agree with and endorse us. Yet our biggest gains as humans come from “creative abrasion”, where we rub up against people who make us feel uncomfortable and challenge our notions of ourselves and the world we live in. This is where creativity and innovation truly spark.

Inclusive leadership must be paramount. Instead of fearing people from different backgrounds and cultures, there is an opportunity for all of us to choose to create a happy, healthy, inclusive and innovative Australia. This is about removing the ‘us and them’ mentality and acknowledging our common humanity. Ultimately we are more similar than different, yet our negative focus on the differences between us creates a lot of our problems.

Let’s remove the walls between us and build bridges of understanding. As a community we need to empower all voices, no matter what their faith, background, disadvantage, disability or age. People need to feel like they have a place here, a true home, a sense of belonging, a sense of self and respect from others. Then they will truly be able to contribute to our future.

And does size matter? No.

Look at Israel, a nation founded by refugees that faces permanent geographical, political and social challenges. It thrives because it has a risk-tolerant culture producing massive innovation. Imaginations are allowed to run free, ideas are nurtured and entrepreneurs celebrated: Israel is home to over 5,000 tech start-ups and lists more companies on NASDAQ than all of Europe combined. Israel proves that small countries can be engines of entrepreneurship and innovation.

When refugees and migrants come to a new country they want to restart their lives. They work incredibly hard and bring a diverse and rich cultural background that contributes economically, politically and socially. They just need to be given a voice.

We do accept people from diverse backgrounds into Australia. Now we need to put out the welcome mat and provide everyone with the education, skills, engagement and opportunities to participate in this accelerating environment and contribute fully to their new homeland. Then they can truly call Australia home, and together we can co-create a productive, innovative and prosperous future.


Don’t blame “merit” for lack of executive diversity

By Ann Sherry AO | December 13th, 2015

If merit is the solution to building diversity in the workplace then something is wrong. As we end the year it is time to reflect on whether the “merit” selection process in our organisations is delivering.

A commonly used defence when questions are asked about diversity in companies is that “we select on merit”. It is a defence that assumes that “merit” ensures all candidates are assessed equally, that no bias exists in the selection process, and that the jobs are described in a way that attracts a diverse candidate pool.

As Diane Smith-Gander said recently, women are being held back by preconceived ideas of female skills and leadership style as well as gender-based interpretations of how they should behave. While in that example Diane was speaking specifically about the advancement of women, the truth is that preconceived attitudes can stymie broad diversity in a workplace.

What is “merit” really? It is the idea of selecting somebody who is considered worthy of a position. Inside organisations it is a process that describes best endeavours to make selection processes fair. In reality it is a blind spot, a word to make the process feel fair even when the outcomes of selection processes clearly result in something else.

Merit-based processes should have outcome measures, which are the real test of the application of a fair process. Outcomes such as the diversity of the candidate pool, the diversity of a short list of potential candidates, and ultimately the diversity of the employee mix by level that is the result of the application of real “merit”.

Look around us. The lack of a pipeline of graduates from universities and career options were once put forward as the reason for there being so few senior women in senior positions. That excuse, however, disappeared many years ago as women filled the ranks, not just of university enrolments, but also attained superior results from universities.

The same can now be said of the pipeline within organisations where a significant number of middle management roles are filled by women.  In Australia, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency data shows that across all industries and companies, women hold 15 per cent of CEO positions and 27 per cent of general management.  In the ASX 200 companies, 5.75 per cent of CEOs are women. More men named Peter are CEOs than women. So what has happened? It appears the barrier to entry hasn’t disappeared. It has merely shifted. It is no longer a pipeline problem but is more an experience/style/commitment/suitability problem. And that is where the “myth of merit” is exposed.

None of those statements or convenient rationales is actually about a person’s competence, capability or effectiveness in a role. They are simply subjective views and a form of screening.

It means we are not as successful as we could be, given our collective investment in people development and our shared challenge to drive national productivity and organisational capacity.

The nation’s prosperity requires all of us who run businesses, select people or sit on boards to ask hard questions when we see candidate pools that are all of one gender, reflect a monoculture, are age specific or just happen to look like the recruiter or recruiting manager. That is when it is time to ask, where is the talent? Why are we choosing from such a narrow group? Is this the future of the business? Does this match our customer profile?

The world around us is changing fast. Customer habits and preferences are shifting. Technology has created whole classes of business types that were once unimaginable and new ways of doing business that only a decade ago were not considered possible.

How do we face these challenges with the same mindset, talent base and prevailing attitudes? We can’t. We need to open our business and processes to new ways of thinking, new talent pools and new ways of measuring outcomes in our businesses.

It must also be remembered that the community and our workplace teams are watching very closely. Australians have become accustomed to living in a wonderfully multicultural society. For the most part they understand and embrace diversity.

Given that life experience, employees will be the first to notice if their workplace fails to reflect the interestingly diverse community in which they live. Organisations that fail the diversity test might not just get probing questions from their boards. The questions might be posed in a different way from the shop floor but employees will increasingly want to know why their workplace appears to be a cultural island — or a throwback to another era.

The “myth of merit” needs to be challenged and thinking shifted so we are measuring what we do in our people management as we already do in all other parts of our business operation. Then we will be able to capitalise on the talent pools we have at our fingertips and currently not using as well as we could.  We will be able to drive innovation and prosperity for another generation.

This article was published at the AFR.

Sectors: Business

Does Lobbying Promote or Challenge Democratic Principles?

By Sue Cato | September 30th, 2015

While it may not be the oldest profession in the world, organised lobbying shares a similar image problem to the one most often associated with that tag. Lobbying has, in some company, become a dirty word, and nobody has yet applied for the job of lobbying for its redemption.

The Australian government’s Code of Conduct on lobbying describes it as ‘a legitimate activity and an important part of the democratic process’. There are countless examples of reasoned lobbying campaigns shaping good policy outcomes in areas as diverse as taxation, conservation and anti-discrimination. But rightfully or wrongfully, the reputation of the lobbying industry, more specifically the practice of paid lobbying, is wallowing in the badlands. There is a fixation on how much money is expended on lobbying and how much influence these so-called masters of the dark arts wield, often with little regard for the merits of an argument. The great challenge facing lobbyists and public officials is how to encourage more people to engage in the political process, rather than putting more hurdles in the way.

It is not a challenge confined to Australia. In 2013 the American League of Lobbyists changed its name to the Association of Government Relations Professionals. It saw the writing on the wall after Barack Obama took hardline measures to avoid the scandals that plagued the former Republican administration, and it reached for the sugar soap. Back home, a string of highprofile corruption hearings in New South Wales has cultivated a perception that any encounter between a paid lobbyist and a public official leads down a path to secret deals and acts of corruption. While claims of a minister falling asleep on a masseuse and the story of a premier being undone by a bottle of red wine make great media fodder, the everyday reality of most encounters between lobbyists and public officials is far less interesting and often more productive.

So should we care that lobbying is on the nose? Do we even need lobbying? The answer to both questions is an emphatic yes.

Contrary to some reports, lobbying is not a practice reserved for the top end of town to peddle influence for narrow benefit. It occurs on many levels and contributes to the development of policy settings covering every spectrum of society. Whether it is World Vision advocating for increased foreign aid, a solarpanel manufacturer promoting the virtues of renewable energy investment, or a neighbourhood traffic group calling for a new roundabout, lobbying will always involve one party attempting to influence the decisions and spending priorities of public officials. In a democracy, elected officials can’t do their job properly without this type of consultation.

Changes to legislation support changes to the way our society operates. State and federal ministers are rarely experts in their portfolio areas. They are not expected to be. Their job is responsibly to apportion the allocated budget for each portfolio area in line with government policy and public need. It is therefore incumbent on them to seek advice from departmental advisers and experts external to government.

Take the technology sector as an example. Google spent $16.8 million on lobbying in the United States last year. Amazon, Apple and Facebook also set new records, and the top fifteen tech companies spent just shy of $117 million on lobbying in 2014. This prompted Consumer Watchdog, a prominent lobby monitor, to lament that ‘Policymaking is now all about big bucks, not big ideas.’

The truth is that big ideas are not developed in a vacuum by politicians with little understanding of industry challenges and public views. When you consider the average age of representatives in the US Congress is sixty-three, the need for consultation with industry leaders in this fastest growing of all sectors becomes apparent. While age should never be viewed as a barrier to the adoption of technology, it is safe to assume few members of Congress have been at the forefront of technological innovation. Lobbying efforts in this space are as much about education as they are about persuasion. Combined with broader consultation, that translates into benefits across the community.

So what can be done to address the negative perception about lobbying and reinstate its original purpose as a channel that facilitates direct communication between policymakers and the community on matters of public interest? The answer lies, as it does in every other area of regulation, in strong guidelines, effective enforcement and transparent practice.

Public officials the world over are forever tinkering with rules of engagement for corporate lobbyists in the vain hope of perfecting a model that will be universally accepted as sufficiently robust. In the United States and Canada, statutory lobbying regimes cover external and in-house lobbyists and include sanctions from large fines to prison terms. In most Australian jurisdictions, the disclosure requirements for lobbyists are not as onerous, the penalties are less stringent and in-house lobbyists are not required to be registered.

Too much time has been spent on the potential for a handful of rogue operators to act improperly. Just like the rules governing political donations, there is an obligation on parties on both sides of the political divide to comply with lobbying rules. In case the penny hasn’t dropped yet, in the age of unprecedented access to information, those who flout the rules are dinosaurs that will soon become extinct by their own hand. The time is ripe to align our lobbying regulations with world’s best practice and get on with the job of governing without fear of constructive engagement with third parties, including lobbyists.

A change of approach from public officials is also required. Everyone has a right to engage with their elected representatives. With the technological tools at our disposal today, this type of dialogue should be easier than ever. Organisations such as GetUp!, whether they identify as lobbyists or not, have blazed a trail in using technology to help more people express a view on issues important to them. Ministers, MPs and local councillors need to embrace this opportunity and broaden their interaction with the community at all levels, rather than just talking at each other on Sky News. If they don’t get on board with this concept they will miss the bus and further lose relevance in the eyes of the community.

There will continue to be a role for corporate lobbyists as the interface between business and government, but they need to be smart about how they work. Progressive lobbyists have known this for some time. They are empowering their clients with the tools to engage more effectively with policymakers, using cogent, evidence-based arguments, rather than promising favours because of some old connection or relationship. Those days are nearing an end.

Lobbying will always present challenges in a democracy where the motives behind every decision are scrutinised with a cynical eye. But when conducted ethically and responsibly, lobbying has the ability to connect individuals and organisations to decision-makers and help them articulate their views. That is an outcome that surely promotes democratic principles, and one that is worth supporting.

This article was published in Meanjin, Vol. 74, No. 3, Spring 2015: 166-168.


Australia’s economic future lies to the north

By Angela Mentis | August 31st, 2015

It’s time all of Australia realised our playing field is much bigger than we believe. The reality is it is global, but increasingly centred on Asia and its growing middle class. Every day Australian businesses find more ways to move up the value chain and export our products, professional services and expertise.

Our proximity to Asia provides the Australian economy and Australian business with huge opportunities. Today there are an estimated 500 million middle-class people in Asia. That figure is expected to rise to 1.7 billion by 2020 and to more than 3.2 billion by 2030 when they will account for 66 per cent of the global middle class.

By 2050 it is estimated Asian food imports alone will grow by $US470 billion ($655bn), offering opportunities for huge growth in our agricultural exports. Asia’s share of global output has risen from around 15 per cent in 1952 to almost 30 per cent in 2010, and it is forecast to exceed 50 per cent by 2050.

Volatility in sharemarkets globally in the past week illustrates just how important China’s economy is. Investors are right to be watchful, but it is important we take a long-term view. That’s because the potential is enormous. Are we doing our best as a nation to realise that potential? Are we giving Brand Australia every chance to succeed? Free-trade agreements are opening doors in the region, the falling dollar is making Australian business more competitive, and technology can enable a small business to compete with a big one.

As Australia’s biggest business bank, NAB knows well the opportunity for our customers who are facing north. About half of our institutional banking clients, a third of our corporate clients and one in 10 of our SME clients currently trade with Asia because of the opportunities to grow. Australia is uniquely positioned as more of Asia shifts from “build” to “grow and consume”. While resources remain critical to our future, the burgeoning Asian middle-class wants our services — our expertise in health, education, governance and business, financial and professional services. The demand for agriculture grows daily because in Asia, where food security is paramount, Brand Australia means clean, green and fresh.

Australian businesses growing north include Shepparton-based Pactum Dairy Group which NAB helped introduce to then develop a relationship with China’s Bright Foods and New Hope Group, resulting in a supply agreement for high-quality milk. And then there’s Skybury Tropical Plantation from far north Queensland. Skybury is experiencing growing demand for its single-origin Arabica coffee among coffee lovers in Asia. These are just two of many Australian companies whose futures are being propelled by the Asian demand for Australian produce and expertise.

The opportunity in Asia is not limited to exports. We also see our role for Australian business and the economy as the bridge that extends both ways. Just as the trade flows shift north, increasingly the investment flows are coming south from Asia. I was recently in Hong Kong and Singapore with major clients and institutions who are hungry for opportunities in Australia because of the long-term value. They have the capital to invest and are attracted by our natural resources, stability as a nation and economy; and in particular the huge potential pipeline of infrastructure ripe for investment.

This long-term approach our Asian clients take is something Australia’s political and business leaders must heed, and the National Reform Summit co-hosted by The Australian and The Australian Financial Review last Wednesday is a show of intent. But the hard work is ahead of us. We must think and act long-term if we are to not just talk and plan for the next phase of nation-building but deliver it.

In these pages two weekends ago, The Australian foreign editor Greg Sheridan warned of the risk to Australia’s business reputation posed by the mixed signals sent to investors through decisions such as the cancellation of contracts for the East West Link in Melbourne and campaigns against the China free-trade agreement. My meetings in Asia tell me these investor concerns are real.

The nation must recognise and remember that foreign investment brings new wealth, new opportunity and jobs. That’s why NAB’s submission to Infrastructure Australia’s first national infrastructure audit advocates for certainty over which projects will be developed. NAB argues government policy needs to be formed on the back of an agreed plan of infrastructure priorities, based on transparent cost-benefit analysis. This will help realise priority projects by assuring investor confidence — confidence vital at a time when Australia is competing with other markets for investment.

Corporate Australia has a significant role to play in advocating for reforms to ensure Australia’s long-term infrastructure requirements are met, but this leadership must extend to our elected representatives. A bipartisan and depoliticised long-term approach has the capacity to deliver greater confidence in the infrastructure pipeline, thereby elevating Australia as a preferred destination for offshore capital.

Our future is in facing north. The potential and possibility is there for enduring growth for the prosperity of generations to come. Build Brand Australia and build our nation.

This article was originally published at The Australian.

Sectors: Business, Finance