Wealth or oblivion? Australia’s future – its your choice.

This post also appeared in The New Daily in January 2014, here.

Australia has a once in a millennium opportunity to reposition
itself. The country has the chance to be the centre of the global power shift,
but only if it gets the ‘brand’ right.
Most know of the emerging economies and the shift away from Europe
and the US. But have you really stopped to let the impact on Australia sink in?

Think about this. 300 years ago China was 22% of the global economy
and India was 24.5%. Both these countries catastrophically shrunk to 4.6% and
4.2% with the Age of Exploration, growth of Europe and the settlement of the

Massive shifts in global centers of power do not happen in a few
years, nor even a couple of generations. They take time. But decisions made by
one generation of leaders lay the foundation for relationships which literally
last centuries. Henry VIII’s foundation of the Church of England, the colonial
boarders in Africa set by Europeans, the decision by Teddy Roosevelt to buy Alaska from the Russians, are just
three examples.
How is Australia positioned for this shift?

The global power balance is moving away from Western/Christian
societies to the East and South Asian societies where Islam, Hinduism and
Buddhism play a larger role in setting cultural norms and critically the
ethical frameworks around business and trade.

Africa is also growing. For over a decade and a half now many parts
of the continent have emerged from basket case to hope. This has left some in
Britain to wonder if they have backed the wrong horse with Europe. Perhaps the British
should have angled for the ‘hinge’ role connecting the Anglo-Saxon world with
the largely African based Commonwealth. Would the UK be better positioned then?

A similar ‘hinge’ role is now up for grabs between Anglo-Saxon
cultures of the west and the Asian/Islamic/Buddhist/Hindu cultures of the east,
where the future economic power base will be.

So which economy will be this hinge? Where do we find a country
that is geographically well placed and has within it a mix of people and
cultures that can act as linguistic and ‘cultural translators’ from one world
to the next?

Is there a country that has within it Germans, French, British,
Americans, Chinese, Indians, Indonesians, Somalis, Kenyans and others? Imagine if
there were a country that had churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and had
found a way to have all these cultures co-exist? How powerful that country
could be.

Imagine a country with resources, regulated finance and a legal
system that endeared trust?

If such a country existed and were to see the value in its cultural
mix it could leverage that diversity to create a reputation of confidence,
trust and understanding. It would be a natural place to exchange and trade. How
wealthy the future generations of that country would be.

Australia could be such a country, but has two problems holding it

Firstly, the country itself has neither recognised nor prioritised
this future opportunity. Secondly, and perhaps flowing from the first,
Australia has not created an identity of openness and hospitality. Frighteningly
it is doing the opposite by its own choice.

My work has taken me in just the last six months to China, India,
Indonesia, Europe and the US. To many senior leaders I have met Australia has
gone backwards in image terms.
In the 1990’s Australia’s engagement with Asia was positive,
welcomed and reaped mutual benefits. But benefits were just flowing when
Australia chose to turn back.

Business leaders recognise that post-Tampa both parties have
promoted a reputation in the region due to Australia’s chosen asylum policy.
Australia choses to promote an image that the country is unwelcoming to those
seeking asylum. Only naive Australians would think that asylum seekers are the
only people who hear that message.

Australia’s choice has costs. A 2011 Access Economics report noted
that part of the reason that there was such a downturn in International
Students was because Australia had created a perception of ‘unwelcoming
particularly in its treatment of asylum seekers’.
This is not an isolated example of the new perception.

Put yourself in the shoes of a school kid in Indonesia, or India,
or China. They learn Australia is a large, rich country that actively promotes
itself as unwelcoming to Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. They learn this through
Australia’s own advertising saying Australia pushes away the religion and
cultures of Indonesia, India and China.

They learn that Australia is one of the least densely populated
countries on earth – even if you count only
the arable land. It has one of the top 20 economies, one of the richest pools
of natural resources, but says it is ‘full’ when its huge land mass of arable
land has within it fewer people that a some large global cities.
As these school children grow up, and they learn the message that
Australia itself promotes, where will those children look for the trusted
relationships of confidence to translate between one world and the next? Where
will they look to trade in the future? Will they look to your children for
help, or will they cringe at your children as the white cultural trash of Asia? 

Think again about Australia’s best interest. If Australia wants to
be the ‘hinge point’ between economies as global power shifts, then Australia
must be seen as welcoming and trustworthy by all cultures.

Australia is smart enough to fashion a policy that creates a
welcoming perception and protects its borders. It is just that Australia does
not yet choose to do so. It is the next generations that will wear the
consequences of this choice.
Andrew Macleod is a Board
member of Cornerstone Capital (New York), advisor to Gane Energy (Australia),
Critical Resource (UK), a former senior official of both the United Nations and
the International Committee of the Red Cross and past CEO of the Committee for
Melbourne. He is the author of ‘A Life Half Lived’ by New Holland Press.




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