Australian National Outlook 2019: A Drifting or Dynamic Future For Australia?

“The only way to change the future is to disrupt the present.”

– Basically every visionary person at some point in history

The Australian National Outlook 2019 was released earlier this week by the CSIRO along with 20 partner organisations. It is a report that models Australia’s future to 2060 focusing on social, environmental and economic data. I was lucky enough to work on this project in my former job. The process was incredibly insightful and feel privileged for the opportunity to contribute to this report with leaders from various industries.

The project involved meeting every 3 months to discuss CSIRO’s modelling on social, environmental and economic data. They would present the data, show some scenarios and then we would workshop the insights as well as discuss levers for change.

The report highlights the data and discussion from this process and overall it has some interesting insights. If we continue on this growth trajectory we will end up drifting into the future with no healthy or abundant prospect for us and future generations. Here they are summed up with two helpful infographics:

Scenario 1: Slow Decline

This is what will happen if continue on our current trajectory. If our leaders in business, government and society do not create sustainable, long term change, this could be our future scenario.

Not a pretty picture for us and our future generations!

Scenario 2: Outlook Vision

If we take decisive action today, this is the prosperous future Australia could have.

We need to act today if we want to see this tomorrow.

Here are 3 points of interest:

1. Australia’s economy

Australia’s economic complexity is amongst the lowest in the developed world

The economy in Australia is a simple narrative. We have not invested in new technology and new industries so we are focused on ‘old’ trade- mining to China. This mindset is leading to decisions like Adani and if we do not act now, our country will be reeling from the ramifications for decades to come. One of the insights that stuck out to me is that Australia has some of the lowest economic complexity in the world. What does that mean? Well it focuses on export markets- who the country is trading with and what breadth of industries they are operating in. The reason that this is important is that it makes us vulnerable to global shocks. If we put all our eggs in the one basket, then we are playing a very risky game. The Policy Forum website puts it well:

If your national prosperity strategy relies on exporting sugar, you’re going to be at risk when diet soft drinks take over. Just like a worker who only has a single skillset, a country that makes just a few products takes on a lot of risk in the world economy. And while we have a welfare system to protect the worker, there’s no global social safety net for a country that puts all its eggs in the wrong basket.

Policy Forum Website 2018

I found a really interesting website that visualises the Economic Complexity Rankings (ECI) by country. Japan, Switzerland and Germany make the top 3 countries for economic complexity. I mean, talk about diversified, one of Switzerland’s main exports is human or animal blood!!! You can see the ranking here.

Below is a snapshot of Australia’s economic complexity with some data visualisation. You can see other countries and more about Australia here.

Our PISA Education Scores Are Dropping

Related to our economy is how well our country adapts its workforce to the skills of the future. For example, PISA scores and education
PISA is a test across OECD countries for reading, maths and science in year 10 students. PISA is an important indicator and in particular, mathematics scores is an indicator of how a nation is building the skills of their young people to couple strongly with technology.

Australia’s scores have been declining over the past decade (in line with the slow decline trend..!) and this has major implications on the workforce of the future as employment becomes more global.

Australia’s PISA scores

2. Australia’s Environment

According to the report, since 1950 Australia has become warmer, with less rain in the south and more in the north, accompanied by large variability from year to year. This is no surprise as climate change is directly impacting our industries and lifestyle.

Looking into energy mix, I am not going to spend too much time on this one because, one word. Adani. *Insert eye roll emoji here*.
However, understanding the role of mass tree planting and other forms to tackle climate change is important as well. The report discusses focusing environmental plantings (i.e. native–endemic mixed environmental plantings that provide the most suitable habitat for biodiversity) by
2060, will build resilience against future climate change.

Australia also has a unique environment and although sustainable agriculture is growing as a practice, there are some serious challenges facing our environment. Over the past 200 years, Australia has lost more species than any other continent, and continues to have the highest rate of species decline among OECD countries. This dramatically impacts the health of our local biodiversity which is critical for a healthy environment.

3. Australia’s Population

Australia’s population is projected to continue growing strongly, with an estimated population of 41 million by 2060. Today almost 90% of our population lives in urban environments. If we are to continue seeing the growth of our cities, we need to invest in infrastructure that can support this future change. City planning, mobility connectivity and housing structures all need to be managed with great care to ensure our liveability standards continue!
One thing that was only mentioned briefly in the report was the future of rural Australia. Cities are an important piece of the population puzzle, however it is not the puzzle. Creating strong regional hubs that are well connected to cities is a major oversight of the report as the main focus was on connectivity within urban environments. As agriculture is still an important industry and the rural communities of Australia are the true lifeblood of our country, it is remiss to think that the whole population will be attracted to a city lifestyle.

So What Do We Do?

It is not all doom and gloom. The report looks at 5 shifts we need to make today in order to ensure a healthy outlook. Here are some of the things I have seen on my travels that will help us move towards an outlook vision:

  1. Build a strong, connected startup ecosystem
    Check out the blog about Portugal’s startup economy here.
  2. Invest in education with export potential. Focusing on AI, deep tech and others will help attract startups to Australia and create new industries for export.
    Check out the blog about the Estonian Government’s leadership in the digital revolution.
  3. Develop platforms between government, business and society to rapidly test ideas for smart cities, like the SynchroniCity.
    Check out the blog about SynchroniCity here.
  4. Invest in emerging technology to solve environmental issues through strong public and private partnerships.
    Check out the blog with the Smart and Clean Foundation’s Director here.
  5. Create innovation hubs in regional centres to spark economic growth in rural communities.
    Check out the blog about Latvia’s innovative approach to a country wide incubator program.

This blog will continue to write about topics aligned to the shifts outlined in the report. Make sure you follow us on:
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When I ask local people on my travels what they think is happening in Australia right now they either say they don’t know, confuse us with Austria or that we don’t treat refugees very well. One person even said ‘Don’t you make all refugees all go to a tiny island and wait indefinitely? I mean, your country is a massive island. Surely you have room.’
Is this the reputation we want Australia to have on a global stage?

We can act now by having conversations about our future with businesses, government and each other to spark change, rather than drifting into the future.

You can read the full Australian National Outlook 2019 report here.

Note: These are my opinions and I am not speaking on behalf of the Australian National Outlook or my former employer, NAB.

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