The challenge is finding common ground on growing the economy while reducing inequality

12 June 2012

The Australian Council of Social Service said this week’s Economic Forum called by Prime Minister Julia Gillard is an opportunity to find common ground on how best to grow the economy while ensuring nobody is left behind in this period of unprecedented investment from Australia’s mining boom.

“How do we ensure all of us benefit from prosperity – that no communities are forgotten, and that we build a stronger nation, both now and into the future? This is the challenge, and all of us have a stake in it,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“What’s needed right now is a general consensus on directions of reform that includes the community. It is therefore pleasing to see community voices at the forum. After all strong social policy is a critical component of growing the economy. And, in the end, we want economic growth to lead to better outcomes for the Australian society as a whole.

“In order to take advantage of the opportunities a changing international economy presents to us, we need flexible workplaces and an adaptive and mobile workforce. To keep the labour force and economy growing when the population is ageing, we need to ensure that renew the skills of mature age workers, women returning to paid work, and unemployed people have the opportunity to renew their skills and we need workplaces that are inclusive, and flexible to diverse needs, including balancing paid work and family and caring responsibilities. Improved productivity should not be reduced to motions of working just harder and faster.

“Workers moving to places where there are labour shortages also need affordable housing and adequate public transport – for example many workers will be reluctant to move to mining towns unless they can live with or near their families.

“There is much more we need to do to include a great many people in Australia who are currently locked out of the workforce. These include:

• Low skilled workers and unemployed people need training that’s linked to job opportunities and career progression.

• Long term unemployed people need more help to regain employment than the interview every two months and average of $500 for training courses they currently receive.

• Women combining paid work and care need affordable child care and flexible working hours over which they have some control.

• Mature age workers need their skills updated and preventive health care and disability services will be increasingly important tools to maintain productivity in the workplace.

“Tax reform has a role to play but this is often exaggerated: Tax reform is not a magic wand to boost investment and productivity. The main purpose of tax reform should be to equitably raise the revenue needed to support an ageing population and productivity boosting services such as education, health care, and child care, while causing the least economic harm.

“ACOSS has long argued that the best approach to secure a sustainable revenue base is to remove the loopholes and distortions in our income tax system such as negative gearing deductions which erode public revenue and encourage speculative investment in property. The States should make greater use of their most efficient taxes such as Land tax and less of their most harmful taxes such as stamp duties.

“Workplace relations as a role also in building a flexible workplace, but this should be about cooperation between employers, unions and workers. Workplace relations laws are not the main barrier to this: in fact Australia has among the most flexible laws in the OECD. Workplace laws offer plenty of room for collaboration within enterprises to boost productivity – the parties should get on with the job. We need strong cultural change to drive inclusive flexibility that delivers a better workforce which is stable and productive.

“Hopefully tomorrow’s Economic Forum will provide the stimulus for this. It’s time for all key stakeholder groups – including business, unions, politicians, and the community – to work together and reach a consensus on directions for reform in the national interest,” Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155