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Three ways to stay focused on diversity

By Amy Poynton | January 19th, 2017

By Amy Poynton and Mithran Doraisamy

The issues of inclusiveness and diversity have had a significant and encouraging level of attention since 2010 through initiatives such as the recommendation by the ASX that companies disclose gender objectives in their annual reports and the establishing of the Male Champions of Change group by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick.

However, 2016 proved a challenging if not backwards year; despite a good level of policies, guidelines and awareness of inclusiveness and diversity, we can’t seem to sustain the change.

The most startling examples played out in the extraordinary prejudice and hate showed by the US president-elect including the rhetoric of building walls, vilifying and sexually harassing women, and religious registration and segregation. These thoughts and actions are seemingly acceptable by some parts of our society.

In Australia, there was a recent example on social media regarding a simple photo of two senior leaders meeting Ita Buttrose. All three people in the photo are women. All three are senior leaders in their fields. However, the comments about the post were about the attractiveness of one woman, the fashion choice of another and lastly that Ms Buttrose was the subject of one commentor’s sexual fantasy. There were zero comments about event or the achievements of the women.

No doubt Ms Buttrose has dealt with this sort of attention throughout her successful media career, however it struck us that such commentary that would have been unlikely had she been a man. Sadly, we can just hear the response of social media commentators to this observation: “Geez, they were just kidding. Can’t you take a joke?”.

Renewed focus

We have seen businesses being formally recognised and awarded on the success of their advances in inclusion and diversity in the workplace, yet too often the individual experience can be different.

We came across a woman who was returning from parental leave after having twins. She needed more time allocated to family commitments and asked if she could work four-days a week. She was given redundancy because it was deemed that the role had to be full-time.

Rather than being distracted by such stories, there are three things leaders can do to renew their focus on meeting their business inclusiveness and diversity objectives.

First, what you pay attention to gets the attention of your people. It is imperative that leaders role-model the importance of the strategy and goals by incorporating it into the way you work every day.

Secondly, you need to ensure your leadership team and the board strongly support the inclusiveness and diversity agenda.

Finally, you need to measure and monitor the progress of your goals.

Right now, there is a real risk of disconnection between what you meant to say and what is heard as your corporate message bumps against the tsunami of different (and sometimes fact-free) external messages.

We recommend that you remain vigilant about what you say and how you say it. Then, consistently do what you say.

Amy Poynton is an executive and consultant specialising in performance improvement and transformation. Mithran Doraisamy is an executive, consultant and board member specialising in strategy, digital and transformation.

This article was originally published in the AFR. Read the original here.


The environment and energy superportfolio can deliver real action – here’s how

By Anna Skarbek | July 21st, 2016

When Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews reshuffled his cabinet in May, most of the headlines were about Wade Noonan’s return after suffering mental health issues, and Lisa Neville who became the state’s first female police minister.

But from an environmental perspective there was another significant change. Energy and resources, long regarded as twin portfolios, were split. Instead, the energy brief was partnered with climate change and environment under a single minister, Lily D’Ambrosio.

On Monday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull followed suit, creating a new super-portfolio of environment and energy, with Josh Frydenberg as the minister.

Linking policy development and decision-making for the energy and climate change portfolios makes sense. As a result of the historic Paris Agreement struck last year, the world – including Australia – is committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050.

This calls for a major transformation, shifting the world’s energy away from fossil fuels and towards renewable sources like solar and wind, newer technologies such as wave and geothermal energy, and innovations like battery storage and energy demand management.

In that sense, energy and climate (and therefore the environment) go hand in hand. Decisions about energy sources have direct implications for our ability to deal with climate change. Conversely, decisions taken to reduce emissions will invariably impact on the energy portfolio. The two sectors have been crying out for better integration.

Many of the technologies needed to decarbonise our electricity system are already available. But we need to move faster. Our research at ClimateWorks Australia shows we will need at least 50% renewable electricity by 2030 if we are to decarbonise the electricity sector in time to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

This means we need policies that will push harder to help large-scale clean energy technologies reach the necessary level of commercialisation and integration.

Within these broad portfolios, there are particular policy areas that also need to be linked more closely with one another. In particular, renewable energy policy needs to be combined with measures to promote energy efficiency.

There is a natural synergy between renewable energy and energy efficiency, yet the two have never been systematically linked at either a national or state level. The better our energy efficiency performance, the less investment we need in new renewable energy sources to replace carbon-intensive ones. This in turn helps to lower the overall network costs and can protect households against rising power bills.

While unit prices of electricity are expected to rise as we modernise and decarbonise the energy system, household bills need not. If governments promote energy efficiency at the same time, households can reduce their energy use to offset the rising energy costs, keeping bills flat or even reducing them.

The lack of joined-up thinking between these two areas has led to missed opportunities. Some 1.5 million Australian homes have solar panels, thanks in part to the federal incentive scheme. Meanwhile, there are separate state-based incentive schemes for household energy efficiency. Why have these two never been linked? If solar panel installers could also provide household energy efficiency audits, householders could kill two birds with one stone and further reduce their demands on the electricity grid.

Household battery storage technology provides the next key opportunity to link installation incentives with renewable energy and energy efficiency. But this opportunity will again be missed if policies are not better integrated within the portfolio.

The National Energy Productivity Plan is a new policy with 34 measures aimed at improving energy efficiency. Frydenberg led this process when he chaired the COAG Energy Council last year. He has retained these responsibilities within his expanded portfolio, giving him a golden opportunity to take a truly integrated approach.

In the meantime, D’Ambrosio has taken the opportunity to review Victoria’s upcoming action plans on renewable energy and energy efficiency, to take advantage of the opportunity in her joint portfolio to ensure energy and climate policies have the close integration they need.

Of course, integrating the energy and climate portfolios is not the whole solution. Cabinet support will still be needed to introduce integrated policies in other areas that are critical to hitting Australia’s emissions reduction targets. Examples include: putting specific regulations on emissions-intensive industries; creating market enablers for low-carbon technologies; ratcheting up green standards for buildings, vehicles and infrastructure; and ensuring planning approval systems are designed to take account of these targets.

The real work will need to happen in the federal government’s 2017 review of policies to achieve Australia’s Paris emissions target of 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030. A recent Pricewaterhouse Coopers report found that “Australia will need to nearly double its historic rate of decarbonisation, to 4.4% annually”, if it is to meet even the lower end of this goal.

Ministers often talk about taking a “whole-of-government approach” to major issues. Yet plenty of silos still need breaking down if we are to achieve meaningful action on climate change.

The moves in both Canberra and Spring Street to bring environment, climate and energy under a single umbrella are a positive step towards better policy and real action. But, as ever, there is still plenty of hard work ahead.

Anna Skarbek is CEO of ClimateWorks. 

This article was originally published at The Conversation


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.”

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

Is Scott Morrison dreaming when it comes to tax reform?

By Professor Miranda Stewart | February 19th, 2016

“This Government isn’t dreaming,” the Treasurer told us in his speech yesterday. He is right that “the scope for tax reform is limited in this economy.” As he bluntly says, “we don’t have a surplus to fund reductions in taxes.” In fact, we have a $35 billion deficit.

The Treasurer might be dreaming when he says he wants a “friendly” tax system: “Growth friendly, earner friendly and profit friendly.”

Much as I admire our Australian Tax Office, you are not supposed to be friends with your tax collector. Just pay what’s required like everyone else does so we can raise sufficient revenue to fund the public goods and services that people want.

Dreaming about spending?

Based mostly on bracket creep in the income tax, without any change, the budget is projected to reach a small surplus by 2021. The Treasurer aims instead to return to surplus with expenditure restraint, which is going to be tough. Even if expenditure is successfully “controlled” over the next five years, over the medium term that surplus is projected to decline again into the red. In the long term, the Intergenerational Report projected a growing deficit, on more heroic economic growth assumptions.

The times are not right for a GST

The Government has already said it’s not the right time for a GST increase, or a major “tax mix switch” between GST and personal income tax, finding that there would only be a modest growth effect. That seems sensible now – but we should not be looking to the GST to deliver significant growth. That does not mean the GST is irrelevant: the main thing it is good for is revenue.

In the medium term (see above on budget) – or even in the next term of either a Liberal or a Labor government – we are going to have to look again at increasing the GST rate or broadening the base. We will need to support an ageing population; fund education, retraining and early childhood human capital investment needed for a transitioning economy; let alone the true cost of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Will there be tax cuts aimed at “bracket creep”?

Bracket creep affects everyone because tax brackets are not indexed so your total tax payable as a percentage of income (the average tax rate ) increases with nominal and real wage growth. Is bracket creep a “killer” of economic growth? It’s far from clear. The Treasurer conspicuously did not express concern for people at the top rate of 45 per cent plus the 2 per cent temporary budget repair levy plus the 2 per cent Medicare levy (that is 49 per cent if you are counting). That temporary levy comes to an end on June 30, 2017 unless it is extended.

Instead, the Treasurer focused on the average wage earner moving into the “second top” tax bracket of 37 per cent (plus the Medicare Levy) at a threshold of $80,000. An increase in that threshold would, in fact, benefit higher bracket taxpayers too. Average full time male earnings are above the 37 per cent threshold now, but average full time female earnings are a lot lower, and most workers sit below about $60,000 in wages.

It’s been suggested that bracket creep is a disincentive to work. The Treasurer did not say this, but Treasury modelling assumes that bracket creep does affect work behaviour to some degree (it assumes work elasticity of 0.2). Yet empirical studies consistently show that most men are very unlikely to change their work behaviour because of tax rates(e.g. see a recent analysis of 30 studies around the world).

More importantly, women have much higher work responsiveness (estimated at more than four times that of men). That suggests that if the Treasurer really wants to help workers and growth by cutting taxes, he should focus on women with children working part-time and on the interaction between the tax and transfer systems.

A tried and tested approach

Tax reform does not have to be big bang. The Treasurer indicated that “modest” personal tax cuts would have to be funded from other tax changes. The biggest benefit would come from broadening the income tax base. This would help prevent the increased tax planning that we know is a behavioural response to bracket creep (as demonstrated in a US study).

The Treasurer criticised the Labor Party’s proposals to limit negative gearing to new housing construction and reduce the capital gains tax concession. But he seemed to leave open the option of capping deductions for higher income earners, possibly both interest and work expenses. He also did not rule out increased tax on superannuation contributions and earnings.

Unlimited negative gearing of rental losses against other income, in a context of easy finance and rising property markets, has become one of our most widely used tax shelters for wage earners. It is indeed true that some nurses, teachers and police negatively gear to reduce their taxes, although high earners get about 10 times the tax benefit from negative gearing and get much higher capital gains at a reduced tax rate. The Treasury chart below shows that a much smaller fraction of 10-15 per cent of taxpayers in income bands under $80,000 are negatively geared, compared to 24 per cent of high income taxpayers.

It’s time to apply a sensible limit, just as we did on introducing Fringe Benefits Tax in 1986 to crack down on tax-free fringe benefits. The Henry Review recommended reducing the capital gains tax discount to 40 per cent and quarantining investment expenses – both still worthwhile reforms. Deduction of property losses against wages was halted in the US by Ronald Reagan in 1986. In the UK, such losses are limited to rental income and the government announced in 2015 it would cap this deduction at a 20 per cent tax rate.

What about the federation?

It was disappointing to hear the Treasurer speak of the states as sovereign governments responsible for their own affairs (and hospital funding), when the Commonwealth continues to pick up the lion’s share of tax revenues. John Freebairn and I have previously argued that state tax reform could make the biggest contribution to economic growth through land, payroll and transport tax changes, but this needs national coordination.

And one last word… er… climate change?

The Treasurer spent quite a while talking about the global context for Australia’s tax system, but he failed to mention one aspect: climate change. Specifically, the legally binding Paris Agreement of December 2015 to keep global warming to 2 degrees.

The unpleasant reality in which the Government finds itself is partly because the Abbott-Hockey government abolished the carbon pricing mechanism, or carbon tax. It raised more than $6 billion and growing in the single year of 2012-13, with less pain per household than a GST increase, while having a positive impact on transitioning – to use the Treasurer’s word – Australia to a new economy for the 21st century. I wonder if it’s time to revisit that idea?

Professor Miranda Stewart is director of the Tax and Transfer Policy Institute at ANU.

This article was originally published at ABC’s The Drum.

Sectors: Government

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.