By Robert Hughes, Advance.org Research & Insight
How do we focus the attention of the Government on critical opportunities beyond Australian borders?
Bringing together Advance GameChangers and industry experts to discuss key issues for Australia has been an important aspect of the planning for Advance annual dinner. While this tradition has been on hold since 2019, we had the opportunity in March 2022 to once again host an in-person dinner and on the day before the dinner, to gather Advance GameChangers to consider this question.
- The hybrid event included 14 GameChangers, and was generously hosted by Gilbert+Tobin in their Barangaroo office.
- The forum enabled Advance Awards winners to meet for the first time in this format and tackle issues to help Australia thrive in the post-pandemic era.
- The Advance network must identify horizon opportunities and challenges, and have the evidence to articulate them clearly, before an attempt is made at leveraging the critical opportunities that exist for Australia.
- Advance has a role in communicating these opportunities to industry decision-makers and governments, on a local, state and federal level, to ensure they are integrated into policies and forward-planning.
- To demonstrate how these opportunities exist outside Australian borders, we must relentlessly counteract any parochial mindset for one that’s more global.
So, what are the critical opportunities Australia has been presented with over the past few years? It’s a broad question, and when posing it to a room of professionals who span multiple sectors, you’re bound to come up with a variety of answers. What makes it tricky is, almost all of the answers are correct. There are countless opportunities that have arisen as a result of both events internally within Australia, and internationally, that if seized and leveraged correctly, would advance Australia’s global position. Some of these opportunities are known, and are already being worked on, while others haven’t even been discovered yet, and some, just haven’t been communicated properly.
Keeping this in mind, it emerged that underlying all the various issues discussed were three critical opportunities:
- the emerging debate between democracy and authoritarianism, and Australia’s place within it;
- global health and healthcare, and
- climate protection.
Democracy vs Authoritarianism
The first critical opportunity relates to a debate on the advantages of a country’s political basis as a conduit for change. This debate has been deliberated on for some time now, but has been brought to the forefront of every country’s thinking by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In light of this tragedy, it is expected that there will be a global campaign to protect and grow democracies in opposition to their authoritarian neighbours, as countries that have traditionally experienced a long period of peace, are once again afraid for their safety.
No matter your own political beliefs, as Australians, we come from a very strong democratic background; but, to successfully address the opportunity of entering the political debate, we must be the first to say that our, or any other state’s, democracy isn’t perfect. There’s always work to be done in creating a better and fairer society for all. But, as far as democracies go, Australia has the chance to be the staple for what a healthy, thriving democracy looks like. Resting on strong democratic foundations, with well established democratic institutions and a powerful civil society, Australia should be stepping up to play a leading role in this debate. As Alexis de Tocqueville says, ‘The genius of democracies is seen not only in the great number of new words introduced but even more in the new ideas they express.’ The freedom that comes with our country’s political basis, is what allows our individuals to create new things, and drive innovation in the process. If we were to step up to this role, Australia would soon become the destination for plethora of talented innovators, who were all drawn to the democratic ideals our country is based on.
The second critical opportunity raised was that of public, and global health. Only a few years ago, healthcare was viewed in a completely different light than it is today. Despite constant warnings from healthcare professionals, it took a global crisis to bring healthcare to the forefront of every country’s agenda. What has now become apparent is that this pandemic won’t be the last, and may not even be the worst global health issue that we will face in our lifetimes.
While this information is daunting, it does provide Australia with an unparalleled opportunity to become a world leader in medical research and healthcare. Australia has always punched above its weight when it comes to epidemiology, public health, research and the delivery of health innovation.
Australia has been one of the top infectious disease research locations in the world. We had the opportunity to lead the way for global pandemic recovery. We need to learn from this pandemic.Dr Bruce Stillman AO
While this isn’t a new phenomenon, there’s more that can be done, and there has never been a better time to leverage this strength. Due to global perceptions and the consequent changes in government policy to better reflect the importance of healthcare, Australia could utilise its strength in research and its national health care structure to become a world leader in the field.
Finally, the last major issue, and critical opportunity, addressed by the forum was that of environmentalism, and climate protection. This is an issue that was agreed Australia is lacking a clear vision or pathway in. Australia is widely known for its pristine natural resources and is home to a variety of ecosystems and environmental wonders which are all now under threat due to climate change and global warming. At the same time, the suffering as a result of climate change is constant – take the fires a few years ago, or the immense flooding we are currently experiencing; it’s clear that the current trajectory of humanity is taking an immeasurable toll on our natural world and Australia is being made aware of this tragedy in a very immediate way.
Therefore, while we aren’t currently known worldwide for our sustainability, and environmental protection, there is a major opportunity to step up and become a world leader in this space. As a wealthy country, with plenty of space, Australia has the capability of reversing the path it has chosen, and could become the rule, instead of the exception, when it comes to environmentalism.
How to focus the attention of the Government
Once climbing over the first hurdle, and identifying the opportunities that Australia should be seizing, the next step is focusing our government’s attention on these opportunities. There are massive structural changes coming for the global economy, and Australia should be leveraging its skills to be prepared, seizing the aforementioned opportunities in the process.
We have to reach the leaders in every community and they have to be convinced first.Derek Muller
What will be important is how our government deals with these changes, and what structures it puts in place to better accommodate the demands of future organisations and generations. This is an opportunity for leadership to step up and start making sensible decisions for Australia’s future; but they may need a nudge in the right direction.
And if there ever was a time to nudge a government, it would be now, right before an election. Whenever there’s a potential for a new government, there is always an opportunity to shape a narrative. So when trying to focus the government’s attention, the opportunities must be positioned in a time frame that associates with that government. Of course, some of the opportunities Australia has at its fingertips will take longer to achieve than one government term; but, showing how some benefit could be achieved within the time frame, or at least creating a strategic pathway to achieving benefits for Australia excites governments that plan on making a mark.
But, to get the Government on board with seizing these opportunities, it must first be displayed that this is what Australians want. To do this, we need to not only influence our media, but better understand it. Forum participants noted the parochial nature of our major media outlets, with limited coverage of world events, means our greater population has an inward facing perspective, limiting our desire to seize global opportunities. This could be due to the domestic focus of Australian media professionals, where they are not encouraged to view themselves as part of a global community.
I don’t think about Australia versus… We are all on this awesome planet, and we ought to explore the whole thing.Andrea Boyd
If we were to look for inspiration on what we could be doing, we could take Rwanda as an example. The government of Rwanda, and media professionals within it, go on annual roadshows around the world, showcasing their talent, and attracting their diaspora to develop a global mindset. This has clearly had a direct effect on their economy, which has been one of the fastest growing economies in the world for the past 20 years. This is an important revelation – that media can be another lever to drive a more global outlook. The Advance community harnesses the global outlook of individuals – those who have taken their talents overseas, skilled expats who have returned home, and business-owners that are seeking opportunities overseas – but as the pandemic has shown, a pervasive parochial attitude can outweigh all efforts to transform the economy to be future-facing.
Creating a global mindset
Encouraging an entire nation to change its mindset can’t happen overnight, and certainly not before the next election. So in the meantime, how can we focus the incoming government leaders (whoever they may be) to leverage the opportunities we’re presented with?
In the short term, it’s about using the media to express safe, and instant benefits from pursuing the aforementioned opportunities. And what this usually comes down to, is showing how they will provide economic and employment benefits within a government’s term (for example, with initiatives such as innovation precincts, a greater focus on STEM education etc). Longer term, we need to take a look at who we are electing into our governments, at every level, and get behind those that have global aspirations for Australia. Whether that means electing global Australians into office, or fostering a global mindset for our future politicians, this is essential if we are to effectively focus our government.
The forum discussion made apparent a stark difference in mentality between Australia and a country like the US. Traditionally, in Australia, the best and brightest tend to move towards careers in law, engineering and medicine, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But, if we are truly to enter the next stage of our country’s development, we must be encouraging our people to take their talents into high growth areas, areas with room for innovation. To do this, we must reassess how our education system prepares our next generations. This means school-age and continuing education to include far more STEM skills training and literacy, and fostering a global, entrepreneurial, and innovative mindset.
Once this mindset is ingrained, we will have more global oriented people taking up office, influencing policy, and focusing on the issues and opportunities that Australia is presented with. Australia is already at the forefront of a number of different fields. If we are to facilitate collaboration globally, and reverse our parochial mindset, it won’t be long before we are at the forefront of key global opportunities.