The CSIRO has released a study titled Australian National Outlook, comparing two versions of the nation in 2060.
It signals Australia faces a Slow Decline if it takes no action on the most significant economic, social and environmental challenges. But, if these challenges are tackled head on, Australia can look forward to a positive Outlook Vision. This could mean higher GDP per capita, ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, strong economic growth and energy affordability, and more liveable major cities.
In Slow Decline, Australia drifts into the future. Economic growth, investment and education outcomes are all relatively weak. Australia’s economy is increasingly vulnerable to external shocks. Total Factor Productivity (TFP) growth remains well below the global frontier and wage growth is relatively low.
Australia’s cities sprawl outwards, making it more difficult for people in the outer suburbs to access jobs, education and services. Housing affordability remains a major concern. This deepens social divisions and polarisation. Trust in institutions remains low.
Although energy policy issues are resolved domestically, the low-emissions energy transition is stymied by a lack of global cooperation on climate change. Both energy and agricultural productivity remain relatively low
In the Outlook Vision, Australia reaches its full potential. Economic growth remains strong and inclusive as Australian companies use technology to move productivity towards the global frontier and create new globally competitive, export-facing industries. Improved educational outcomes give Australians the skills they need to compete in this technology-enabled workforce.
Australia’s cities are dynamic and diverse global centres with higher-density populations, a diverse range of affordable housing options and equal access to high-quality jobs, recreation, education and other services.
Australia successfully transitions its energy system, with high reliability and affordability and lower emissions.
If the world cooperates to limit climate change to 2°C, Australia can go even further and reach ‘net zero’ emissions by 2050, driven by significant shifts in land use to carbon plantings.
The report cautions that the world is changing rapidly and Australia will need to adapt to keep up. In particular, there are six main challenges National Outlook participants identified:
RISE OF ASIA is shifting the geopolitical and economic landscape. By 2030, the Asia–Pacific region will be home to 65% of the world’s middle class. However, unless Australia can boost its competitiveness and diversify its export mix to meet changing demands, it risks missing out on this opportunity and remaining vulnerable to external shocks.
We can’t rely on coal forever. Do we put all our efforts into supporting the US to remain Top Dog or do we try to help shape the world that will exist when they are no longer the dominant force?
TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE, such as artificial intelligence, automation and advances in biotechnology are transforming existing industries and changing the skills required for high-quality jobs. Unless Australia can reverse its recent declines in educational performance, its future workforce could be poorly prepared for the jobs of tomorrow.
Education is an investment and should be equally available to all with support provided based on need. Skills shortages should be anticipated and training/retraining incentivised.
CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENVIRONMENT poses a significant economic, environmental and social threat globally and for Australia. The world has already experienced warming of approximately 1°C from pre-Industrial levels and could be on a path to 4°C global warming (or worse) by 2100 unless significant action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Meanwhile, our emissions continue to rise and we approve more coal mining and pay for feasibility studies into new coal-fired power stations.
DEMOGRAPHICS is growing and ageing, putting pressure on cities, infrastructure and public services. At current rates, Sydney and Melbourne will each house 8–9 million people by 2060, and workforce participation rates will drop from 66% to 60%. Investment in infrastructure and services will need to keep up as Australia’s population as a whole approaches 41 million.
More roads in not a solution for the future. As cities expand, we need jobs and services in the suburbs just as much as we do in regional centres. Cutting taxes means less money to build infrastructure and to care for the aged.
TRUST in governments, businesses, non-governmental organisations and the media has declined. Unless trust can be restored, Australia will find it difficult to build consensus on the long-term solutions required to address the other challenges.
Our winner-take-all system of government has led to a “whatever it takes” attitude. When we become a republic, we have the opportunity to change that with a multi-party executive that reflects the votes cast by the electorate. Regulations for businesses and NGOs should reflect the need for scrutiny and oversight rather than being dismissed as an unacceptable impost. And the media should focus on important issues rather than scandal and provide truthful analysis rather than partisan propaganda.
SOCIAL COHESION measures have declined over the past decade, with many Australians feeling left behind. Although the drivers of social cohesion are complex, issues related to trust, as well as factors such as financial stress, slow wage growth and poor housing affordability, may all play a role.
Unsustainable tax concessions have driven investment away from more productive enterprises in favour of personal wealth accumulation. This has exacerbated inequality and contributed to housing unaffordability. Combined with a deliberate fear campaign targeting “others”, the social cohesion we have enjoyed is under pressure.
In short, our future can be one of slow decline if we stick with business as usual or we can get proactive to ensure that we continue to enjoy our quality of life and provide even better opportunities for future generations.
The trouble is the current government has not shown any interest in addressing these issues. Can we afford another three years sinking slowly into the chaos created by inactivity?
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