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A snapshot of a country going backwards

In 2013, the Climate Change Performance Index rated Australia at 40 out of 61 countries and improving. By the time we went to Paris late last year, we ranked third last among major emitters ahead of only oil-rich Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia.

“Experts criticise that Australia’s attitude appeared to be to try to avoid making any substantive commitments, and to do the absolute minimum that it has to. There appeared to be no recognition of Australia’s national interest in minimising climate change; rather, the focus seems to be on protecting domestic energy and resource exporters (coal and gas industry),” the report says.

The 2016 Environmental Performance Index, released every two years by Yale University in the US, has dropped Australia’s ranking by 10 places to 13th out of 180 nations in its latest update.

Australia was ranked top for water and sanitation, and for exposure to environmental risks. It achieved only mid-rankings for biodiversity, agriculture, and forestry.

The country’s worst performance, though, came in the climate and energy category, where Australia was ranked 150th for its trend in carbon emissions for electricity generation.

Australia’s greenhouse gases from its power sector jumped by 3.8 million tonnes in 2015 alone, and were 5.1 per cent higher than in June 2014 before the Abbott government scrapped the carbon tax, energy consultants Pitt & Sherry said.

The survey, which benchmarks nations according to their economic peers, follows a recent report showing investor confidence in Australia’s large-scale renewable energy industry had evaporated because of uncertainty in the sector.

Australia may no longer keep its place in the top ten for installed solar capacity. India will almost certainly move up the table in 2016, leaving Australia at the bottom of the leader table. Korea and France are installing at a rate that could see Australia lose its long-held position in the top-ten countries for installed solar.

But this is far from the only area where our ranking is sliding.

Less than three years ago when Malcolm Turnbull changed course on the National Broadband Network Australia was ranked 30th in the world for average peak connection speed. Today we are ranked 60th. We are behind most of Asia and most of Europe, the US and Canada. We are even behind Romania, Russia, Slovakia and Poland.

The latest bi-annual Global Infrastructure Investment Index released by design and consulting firm Arcadis indicates that Australia has fallen two places to 11th position when it comes to the attractiveness to international investors of infrastructure undertakings.

According to Gareth Robbins, Arcadis’ Director of Built Asset Consultancy – Australia Pacific, uncertainty surrounding the commitment of local government to infrastructure projects is the chief reason for Australia’s fall in the rankings.

“In many states we are seeing infrastructure projects treated as political handballs and often not completed, which is reducing investor confidence in a government’s ability to see a project through and deliver a ‘bankable’ investment,” said Robbins.

Australia’s global competitiveness has slumped to the worst ranking in at least 18 years, slipping behind New Zealand, as business criticised the Abbott government’s failure to kick-start a fresh wave of infrastructure spending.

In a damning report done for the Switzerland-based IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook, the nation’s ranking slipped to 18 from 17 a year ago. The deterioration continues a six-year slide that started in 2009, when Australia was ranked five.

Among the biggest concerns raised by Australian businesses surveyed for the IMD rankings by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia are the fresh declines in investment in skills and leading-edge technology, and a lack of new spending on transport and other infrastructure.

Australia has stalled in innovation, being overtaken by the likes of New Zealand in the eighth Global Innovation Index. Australia is ranked 17th for the second year in a row, after slowly moving up the rankings in previous years. Australia’s relative GII weaknesses from innovation input mostly lie in human capital and research and business sophistication.

The most notable decline was Foreign Direct Investment where Australia fell from 49th all the way to 114th place. And while Australia scores well in some educational rankings, the amount spent on both education and research declined.

OECD education rankings show Australia is slipping. In the latest OECD league table, Australia is ranked 14th behind Poland (11th), Vietnam (12th) and Germany (13th).

Australia’s performance in the PISA tests, held every three years, has shown a steady decline. In 2000, when the first tests were held, Australia ranked 6th for maths, 8th for science and 4th for reading (out of 41 countries), dropping to 19th for maths, 16th for science and 13th for reading in 2012 (out of 65 countries).

By way of contrast, the report notes that South Korea’s performance — considered “on a par” with Australia in 2000 — has shown consistent improvement, deepening the gap between the two nations ever since. The OECD report predicts, however, that if Australia was to improve its performance on the PISA tests by 25 points, GDP would expand by 7.2 per cent; equivalent to $4.8 trillion by 2095.

The Global AgeWatch Index ranks 96 countries across the world according to the social and economic wellbeing of older people. Last year, Australia ranked 13th among the 96 nations but this year our score has dropped to 17th.

According to this year’s report, the poverty rate among people aged 60 and over in Australia is a high 33 per cent – we ranked 94th, ahead of only South Korea and Venezuela, for the worst rate of old-age poverty and 94th again for relative welfare.

The fact that many older Australians are stuck for years on the ‘paltry Newstart allowance’ before they are eligible for the age pension is a significant contributor to poverty among older people. Low levels of superannuation among older women in Australia – in part due to broken career paths to take on caring roles – has seen older women becoming homeless in increasing numbers.

For the first time, Australia has been named on the Human Rights Watch list in both 2014 and 2015 for our treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, Indigenous rights, disability rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, freedom of media/expression, and our reluctance to publicly raise human rights abuses in countries with which we have strong trade or security ties.

Australia has also been singled out for its deteriorating position as it continues a four-year slide down the International Corruption Index. We ranked 13th in the latest report, dropping six positions since 2012. Foreign bribery is rife and largely goes unchecked while whistleblower protections remain inadequate.

These are just a few of the many areas where our country’s relative standing is deteriorating. If our sporting teams were showing a similar decline in rankings you could guarantee more money would be invested to halt the slide.

Instead of addressing any of these problems, the government has decided to reduce social spending, cut revenue from company taxes, and waste $400 billion on buying war toys, when every indicator says they should be investing in education, research, infrastructure and lifting people out of poverty.

Where would we end up after another three years of a government who cares more about its donors than its citizens?



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  1. keerti

    Education rankings do not take migration patterns into account. For example with comparitive economiesof australia and New Zealand moving in New Zealand’s favour many families are moving back accross the ditch. This would comtribute to a falling IQ in australia.

  2. John Lord

    I didn’t like reading that news one bit.

  3. Kaye Lee

    To be one of the worst countries in the world for poverty in over 60 year olds is shameful. Far too many Australians spend their older years in fear and distress. I have often spoken about the need to increase Newstart payments but I had not fully realised the connection with poverty in old age. Unemployment for older workers eats away at any savings/equity they may have accumulated. No wonder health has surpassed the economy as the most important thing in this election.

    I wish politicians had the courage to see the benefits of social spending instead of being fixated on the ridiculous goal of a surplus for surplus sake. Labor should be congratulated for their commitment to health and education rather than pilloried in a competition of who can spend least.

  4. Kaye Lee

    Speaking of going backwards…..

    “New research by the Australia Institute reveals that across a broad range of economic measures, the Abbott/Turnbull government has performed the worst of any Australian government since Menzies took power in 1949. The institute’s paper also notes that historically there is little correlation between “business friendly” policies and economic performance.”


  5. Mark Needham

    Has Bill found the missing 50 odd billion yet, that Gilard and Rudd had organised.
    Funny how it seems to have disappeared.
    Maybe should look in the slush funds barrel.

  6. Kaye Lee

    Could you be a little more specific please Mark? Are you going back to the May 2013 budget?

  7. susan bedford

    You didn’t need to be an economist or a rocket scientist to foresee this disaster. Every single LNP front bencher had form from their apprenticeships under Howard.

  8. Arthur Plottier

    Kaye said, quote:
    “I wish politicians had the courage to see the benefits of social spending instead of being fixated on the ridiculous goal of a surplus for surplus sake.”

    Kaye, “do blame the pig, blame the one that scratch its back” In Australia, ignorance and greed rules.
    You can see in the polls, people would like to have good services including health, good education policies, better infrastructure (including stadiums) but do not like to invest.
    The mentality of “I am OK, bugger you Jack” was easy to see when people voted agains the carbon tax because will cost them 3 or 4 cups of coffee a week in their favorite shop.
    IMO it will take long time before this change starting by educating the new generations of economists and people that study politics and then we will see the trickle down to the electorate.

  9. Klaus

    This is the direct result of a neocon Government which has at it’s central tenet the concentration of power and money by an elite few. This is what everything is driving toward. I don’t want to be disrespectful to the average Australian, who continues to support the LNP blindly, not understanding or wanting to understand what their actual agenda is. Because ultimately, that group of LNP supporters do not even figure amongst the LNP elite. They are just taken for granted in the so called safe seats.

    I wish they would open their bloody eyes. If they did, the LNP would be consigned to the dust bin of history for many generations to come.

  10. diannaart

    Bleeding obvious to the rest of the world, yet our pollies persist in telling us it is just raining….

    Fed Up.

  11. diannaart

    Riiiight. The LNP will immediately cancel building subs and use the $50 billion FOR Australians.


    If we don’t act on climate/pollution – nothing else is going to matter.

  12. Klaus

    Try and combat climate change with subs. What an idiotic idea but if anything, it helps the yanks. Same as the F35 junk fighters. How rapidly can a country descend into poverty (fiscal, social and morally).

    Sad, sad. Not 1 leader has said that we could perhaps look for more beneficial investment than subs and fighters.

    Also, the LNP are using the Orlando massacre to further strengthen the fight on terrorism in Australia.

    WAKE UP AUSTRALIA. This isn’t funny anymore. It also isn’t just a nany state. They (LNP) will bring the deterioration of the country so far, that elections stand in the way. Give it 2 more LNP wins.

  13. Phil

    Good post thanks Kaye – the facts speak volumes about the sad reality of a nation beholden to neoliberalism. Are you familiar with the Good Country Index?


    The index ranks countries according to their positive contributions to the global good – it does not factor internal politics or policies so it purely about our global footprint across 7 parameters.

    Overall Australia has dropped from 15 to 17 since the Libs got in
    In the Planet and Climate contributions we have dropped from 6 to 54!!
    In Science and Technology dropped from 16 to 17
    In Prosperity and Equality dropped from 36 to 66

  14. Max Gross

    Agile! Innovative! Exciting! Screwed!

  15. mark

    a fair society,so hard won by generations before,so easily lost.mark

  16. jimhaz

    SMH article – I have thought for a few years now that we over-invest in Uni’s. Were I in government I would cut Uni funds to force them to take in fewer students. I’d shift the funds to TAFE and not fund private colleges at all. We simply do not need the high percentage of uni graduates – big service businesses just wants them to decrease the costs of their own on the job training.

    “Young Australians are more educated than previous generations, but they are struggling to turn higher qualifications into paid work.
    And they are paying considerably more for an education that is not properly equipping them with the skills needed in a rapidly changing workforce, according to a new report that paints a grim picture of intergenerational inequity

    “On the one hand, you’ve got young people studying harder, managing more debt, and working harder, with much higher skills required at entry level in a really casualised, unstable world of work with little return on their investment in sight; and on the other hand you’ve got the government not prioritising investment in education that’s fit for purpose.

    “It’s a massive disconnect of priorities, almost intergenerational inequity.”

  17. Freethinker

    Quote: “skills needed in a rapidly changing workforce, according to a new report”
    Large percentage of the courses in TAFE are to become a tradesman or work in the manufacturing industry.
    With our manufacturing base reduced at an alarming rate the skills in demand will be forklift drivers and storeman jobs.

  18. jimhaz

    TAFE are suffering a 1000 cuts, so are regressing rather than adapting course offerings to the new demand areas as well as they could have been. All part of the neo-traitor desire to see all governments services susceptible to profit making.

  19. Random

    @Klaus (and everyone else) on your point regarding the “average Australian”, I found this interesting: “Mr Turnbull was slammed on social media over asylum seekers, but supported on talkback radio”, as it gave a hint to the demographic of ‘blind LNP voters’. There is a glimmer of hope there as well, that the younger generations are not being so easily duped.


    @Diannaart Perhaps the subs are actually nothing to do with war but instead part of a Climate Change end game? As waters rise, the elite will ‘evacuate’ to the subs for self preservation! Either way, as you point out, chances of the idea being recalled and funds spent elsewhere is nil.

  20. diannaart


    Well spotted! Ben Elton should write a book about it – the rich fleeing by subs is all too plausible. Who would be the first to say:

    “Stop The Subs”?

  21. Basa

    Australia backwards classic understatement coming from someone who has spent 40 years in countries as an expat. Education, Environment, hell what about infrastructure including Internet, roads, rail etc. What has this country done with the 25 years of non-recession income NOTHING. The country gets away with slogans like Fair Go when honestly for a 21st C westernised democratic society it lags on so many fronts full of racism, ageism, and neptoism, and chronyism it’s laughable. Let’s consider the workers minimum wage (F/T) and casual rates all abused by employers then again, agesim exists within the minimum pay rates such that an employer finds it an advantage to employ a younger casual worker due to lower costs thereby excluding older workers how the feck is that a fair go. Overrated country by miles.

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