This week saw a gathering of Australia’s most prominent leaders and industry advocates from the business, union, community and academic sectors, convened by The Australian and Financial Review, to discuss a national approach to economic and social reform.
As a delegate, one of the unique and welcome things I observed about the National Reform Summit was the presence of women shaping and leading the important policy reform debate. It is something to be celebrated.
Governor Glenn Stevens, in his remarks to the Summit, apologised for the fact that, by the fifth speaker, we still hadn’t heard from a woman. But he promised they were coming.
Women may have been low in the speaking order of the morning, but their influence in the lead up to and on the day was high, with just under 50 per cent representation on the panels. Interestingly, at Summit press conference, women outnumbered men as leaders of organisations leading the call for reform.
Participants and commentators alike noted the unique fact that the Summit was the coming together of often opposing interest groups from across the business, union and community divide.
The idea of a summit was born by former Labour Minister Craig Emerson and head of the Menzies Research Centre Nick Cater. I would offer that the distinct absence of ego in leaders like Catherine Livingstone and Jennifer Westacott of the BCA, Kate Carnell CEO of ACCI and Cassandra Goldie, CEO of ACOSS, made securing participation of opposing groups much easier.
To have these leaders at the forefront of the debate ensures that diversity of thought and experience is injected into the discussions. It is even more important to provide that balance when our parliaments are so lacking in equal representation.
The Summit was important because, after 24 years of economic growth, we cannot rest on our laurels. With growth below trend and competitiveness slipping, action to lift growth and support job creation, foster a competitive environment and enhance the living standards of all Australians should be of paramount interest to all women in the community.
Attendees agreed that reform is now urgent, the nation’s economic and social position is slipping, youth unemployment particularly is unacceptably high and growth combined with equity is the priority objective.
- The summit looked at four interdependent issues:
- Lifting productivity growth and workforce participation;
- Fiscal policy for a growing economy;
- Tax reform; and
- Sustainable retirement incomes policy.
It was agreed that action is needed to secure:
- Rising productivity that is shared throughout the community;
- Continued access to world-standard healthcare and education;
- Maintenance of an effective social safety net;
- Further progress on closing the gap in outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people;
- Improved access to quality child care, youth services, aged care and disability services;
- Improved access to quality affordable and appropriate housing; and
- Protection of our natural environment.
The Summit helped to deliver a clear set of priorities drawn from shared goals and common ground to leverage Australia’s economic fundamentals.
It was in no small part due to the hard work of leading women.