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Thought leadership for Australia
Monday, 28 November 2011 06:49

The quality of current political discussion in Australia is abysmal.  In fact, the good performance of the Australian economy these past few years owes much more to the policy reforms of the previous Howard and Hawke/Keating governments than it does to the current government which journalist Ross Gittins has described as "terminally incompetent".  Budget surpluses of previous governments provided the firepower for tackling the global financial crisis.

Australia needs new ideas, vision and inspiration.  Fortunately, the maiden speech by rookie Australian senator, Arthur Sinodinos, shows that the future may well be full of hope and promise.  Let's hope that the country finds a way to exploit his thought leadership.

Here are some of Sinodinos's key points:   

Sinodinos argues while we are experiencing a resources boom, Australia faces much competition from the newly emerging economies in Asia, Africa and Latin America.  Thus, what is essential is to shape our future by working to a plan and taking charge of our economic destiny.

One of his key proposals is for a "bigger Australia", through immigration.  This would improve our prosperity, strengthen our budget, enhance our national security and allow us to project more influence in the world.  He is particularly concerned to avoid a future where Australia could "become a branch economy where decisions about our economic future are made in foreign boardrooms".  Australia currently lacks critical mass to be a key player in the global system.

The larger domestic market would provide us with more competition and economies of scale to compete better overseas. "It gives us the capacity to settle new areas, including areas like the north ... We can create more global cities capable of hosting international businesses and regional headquarters."

But for such global cities to be centres for innovation and dynamism, we must also nurture the arts and creative industries, including universities, by attracting top-class international thinkers and artists that make for a vibrant, dynamic and interesting cultural life.

Sinodinos goes beyond Australia's present preoccupation with resources trade and investment.  He argues for policies to encourage "smart manufacturing" to position Australian manufacturing in the Asia-Pacific's regional supply chains.  Quite rightly, he pushes for "more commercialisation here of our own home-grown science and research, including technologies to exploit our alternative energy sources".

One Sinodinos's most important proposals is to entrench a global mindset in the community notably by encouraging the early acquisition of foreign languages, an area where Australia has been falling behind.  He argues that "learning another language, any language, will accelerate the cognitive development of our children and give them an insight into how other people think".

Equally important is his proposal for our schools "to embrace systematic courses on entrepreneurship, risk taking and setting up, developing and marketing a business".  These skills are essential for maximizing trade and investment opportunities in the Asian century.

His emphasis on entrepreneurship is also evident in his proposal for a new sovereign wealth ("when affordable") modelled on those employed by Singapore and Korea.  He argues that this fund "could acquire stakes in individual companies to increase our exposure to the newly growing emerging markets and economies to reinforce our influence in the global economy and thereby strengthen our national security".  Interestingly, he suggests that such a fund could also kick-start a genuine venture capital market so that more Australian inventions and innovations can be commercialised here rather than abroad.

Sinodinos does not underestimate any of the challenges in pursuing his agenda.  But as he says, "politics is not worth a candle unless you are fighting for something".  And this fight must be conducted in partnership with citizens who should be engaged, listened to, and given ownership of change.

No-one will agree with everything that Sinodinos has to say such as his criticism of the carbon and mining taxes.  But his constructive vision for the country gives one hope for the future of Australian politics.



Arthur Sinodinos, First Speech, 23 November 2011, Senior for New South Wales, Commonwealth of Australia



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