12 Mar 2014

Australians can feel confident about the future

Right now, one of the biggest stories you will read about in relation to the Australian economy is the demise of Australia’s manufacturing industry.

We’re right to tell this story because it is an important one. We’re right to consider the impact of the loss of jobs at companies like Holden, Qantas, Shell and Alcoa because the impact is significant.

And we’re right to ask what this means for the people employed there – many of whom are NAB’s customers – and the effect on their families, their communities.

Despite this, I believe Australia will remain the economic envy of the world. We will produce some of most innovative and successful businesses of the next decade – but I can understand why it would be easy to believe otherwise.

We never hear about the 500,000 jobs in the health industry and the 300,000 jobs in education created since 2000, compared with the 100,000 lost in manufacturing over the same period.

No one is reminding us that the Australian economy is 10 per cent bigger than it was in 2008.

We are in transition. We have a fundamentally strong economy. And we should not talk ourselves into a recession.

Some industries are in decline, others are on the rise – and it has been this way since Federation.

In 1900, 23 per cent of Australians worked in agriculture, by 1960 it was eight per cent, it is now less than three per cent. If we look back even 20 years, the superannuation industry and the digital economy were in their infancy.

Now, that doesn’t mean change is easy and this is a tough time for many people. It is unlikely that anyone will finish up as an automotive worker on a Friday and start work in the health industry the following Monday. We must have policies that ease the transition.

But if we look at the Australian economy as a whole, it is resilient enough to handle this sort of structural change. It has done so in the past and it will do so in the future – and there will be jobs for Australian men and women.

So, as a society, why are we scared? Fans of US drama, The Newsroom, will recall the first episode where Will McAvoy gives a soliloquy, bemoaning that America is no longer the greatest country in the world. He finishes off by saying that in the past, America “didn’t scare so easily”.

That scene, for me, captured the mindset of Australia too. We need to start looking at the glass as half-full, not half-empty.

Let’s change the perception that people aren’t spending anymore, when we are simply seeing a change in spending habits. Fundamentally, the services part of the economy is growing quite strongly, with more money and more jobs in entertainment, eating out and travel and on essential services such as education and health.

Let’s recognise the opportunities for exporting these services. Huge opportunities exist for the Australian tourism industry, as the Asian middle class continues to grow. Just as there is opportunity to broaden our export base of professional services, as regional leaders in legal, accounting, health services, infrastructure construction and technical agribusiness services.

Let’s talk about the production phase of the mining industry and the outputs of it, rather than fearing the end of the construction phase.

Let’s start reminding all Australians of what we have to offer. There’s always an emphasis on our high wages, but not enough on our high skill level.

We need to have the guts to take advantage of the opportunities in front of us. We need to start looking at the opportunities rather than just the problems. We need to drive the solutions, not wait for someone to deal with the problem.

I am talking to business people every day – and there are plenty out there dealing with the prevailing conditions, that are seizing opportunities to adapt their business models.

They will be our future. They are the agile businesses. The nimble businesses. The ones that don’t scare so easily.

These will be the businesses creating new jobs for Australian men and women – the next stage in our nation’s history.

We’re the economic envy of the world, we just need to see it. Let’s put our shoulder to the wheel and get on with creating our own future.

By Cameron Clyne, NAB CEO

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