Australian enterprises need to overtake coal and iron as our top exports. In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, smart-based services, products and solutions need to accelerate to the top. Australia lacks a clear long-term vision about its future smart state. Political in-fighting has not helped matters. Our history shows long term planning has never been a national forte. Currently the lucky country rides on the back of property, resources and immigration. None of these provide certainty into the future. We have escaped the technical definition of a recession. However, Australia’s GDP, when divided by population, contracted the last two quarters of 2018.
Australia relies on free market forces to steer, by default. Smart entrepreneurs taking risks. They build value by finding gaps in the market. Supporters point to America’s innovative successes. The reality is, about 2% of Australian businesses employ twenty or more people. The current state is not growing business success, despite us generating many innovations. Conversely, Japan’s Meiji period, China’s central government steerage of a market economy, or Germany’s focus on manufacturing post-war, showcase the value of clear national direction supported by robust planning and entrepreneurship.
Many nations benefit from national strategic planning. Singapore employs rolling long-term development plans and shorter-term revisional or tactical actions in unison with a vibrant free market economy. Japan operates similarly. Both nations lack resources and I speculate that this, in large part, drove them to plan. We need to look at and learn from what they are doing and give it a go.
Our other saviours, like compulsory voting and independent electoral boundary settings, leave our political parties fighting for the political centre. However, when margins are slim, the fight to hold power drives divisive behaviour. If Australia was a car, we are being driven by bickering parents fighting over the steering wheel – all high-risk. The reality is, we are not planning ahead.
If space is the future, our forefathers gave us a flying start, testing guided rockets at the Woomera Range. In 1949 we launched 705 missiles. By 1967 we launched one missile, a Redstone rocket left-over and donated by America. The rocket put our first satellite in space. We became the third nation, behind America and the USSR, to achieve this feat. Smart Australians, like Perth’s Enrico Palermo, now lead Virgin Galactic’s spaceship construction. Without a vision and plan, Australia lost its way. We under-performed and now try to catch up.
If computing is the future, Australia’s CSIRAC was the fourth stored memory digital electronic computer in the world. Now we import computer hardware. If technology is the future, the CSIRO patented WiFi in 1996 and in 2013 the patents expired. We have been unable to replicate this global success, let alone prepare the nation for LiFi. If smart manufacturing is the future, Australia is last in OECD rankings. If quality education of our youth is the future, the United Nation’s ranked us 39 out of 41 countries (2017).
Maybe we are doing better with critical infrastructure, the force-multipliers of industry.
We were promised fibre-to-the-door, the first major far-sighted nation-building initiative since the Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme. However, to secure political support, the NBN was rolled out first to the least profitable and most expensive parts of the nation. During the roll-out, to further appease vested interests, the vision was diluted to a multi-technology muddle. All the noise and justifications for the current state of the NBN is just waffle and media food.
Ignoring Quantum Entanglement, the ultimate destination of global networks is light-based. Nothing is faster than light and nothing but light will provide the spectrum and capacity to manage the Internet of Everything. The NBN is a symptom and warning – we must change.
Look at the management of our nation’s energy supply. For an energy rich nation, it has been a debacle and an unnecessary burden on industry and consumers. How confident are you with our strategies for future mass transportation, cityscapes, food and water security and protection of natural assets? Singapore has no space. The nation plans its critical infrastructure thoroughly.
Meanwhile, Melbourne sprawls towards Geelong with treeless, heartless, featureless, caféless suburban monocultures. Sydney’s sprawl has at least been arrested thirteen kilometres short of the Blue Mountains. South East Queensland fuses eight cities and five million people together. Synonyms for conglomerate include: mishmash, hodgepodge and mixed bag.
Back to our industries - each have heroes and world-leading contributors. However, the nation’s overall performance is unguided and our innovation goes under-leveraged.
Remember John F. Kennedy’s nation-inspiring moon speech? It was clear, measurable, funded, uplifting and delivered. The vision did not need lower taxes, free-trade agreements or tariffs. Put simply, our ability to connect education, innovation, funding and markets together to achieve bold things is absent. Where is our Alfred Deakin to galvanise rival forces into constructive action? Where is our Ben Chifley inspiring his party with his Light on the Hill tribute and post-war nation building vision? These were men from either end of the political divide.
If we have not prepared well for what currently bedevils us, how are we going to deal with, to name a few: autonomous electric transport (air and land), hyperloops, Quantum Computing, nation-state cyber-espionage, Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Everything? Moreover, the speed of change is accelerating. New ways must be found for us to operate in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. If you believe in the inevitability of the technological singularity, our time to adapt is evaporating.
Rather than our politicians pulling the steering wheel left and right, could they develop a bipartisan, fact based, consensus driven, ideology-free, measurable, long-term vision for Australia? Should we force political hands and demand the equivalent of Japan’s METI (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) - a bureaucracy devoted to long-term planning, reconciling competing needs and providing ‘impartial’ advice? Can we vote decisively at this election and trust that the ensuing stability gives the winning party the confidence to deliver a national direction?
Could we update our Constitution to allow Federal Governments to run longer terms, lose a tier of government, or force diversity? (I doubt Deakin thought we would be Constitutionally idle for over a hundred years). Should we wait for an inspiring political leader (or dictator) with a compelling vision and charisma or brute-force to keep Australia great? Should industry copy America and fund tens of thousands of political lobbyists to encamp in Canberra for favour and resources? Or do we only change when we are on our knees?
Our future is a dog’s breakfast. We need discipline, collaboration and clear direction and goals. I call upon our political parties, Australians at large and the association I represent, to share their vision about our future. I share a simple measure of success: coal and iron are overtaken as our nation’s primary exports before 2029.
What we cannot do – is business as usual.