THE BLOG
05/21/2013 03:32 pm ET Updated Jul 21, 2013

Australia: Lucky Country, or Competitive Country?

An outsider looking in could be forgiven for thinking Australia's economic competiveness is thriving. Over the last decade the country has generally economically outperformed other OECD nations while maintaining a reasonable - though debatable - fiscal and monetary stance.

But great success can breed even greater complacency, and this is the unfortunate case for Australia. Over the last few years it's felt as if Kool and the Gang's "Celebration" should be playing every time I hear members of Government discuss our economic and competitive future. The party is vastly premature; I fear lucky country complacency could be Australia's Achilles heel.

While Australia has done well to avoid the debt levels and economic hardship suffered by other countries, I fear it has lost that fire in its belly to compete with emerging economies that are driven by extraordinary ambition to improve and achieve.

It is a country at a tipping point. Its capacity to compete into the future is something that for far too long has been blinded by a relatively strong economic performance. Manifestly, significant structural issues have been overshadowed and a sense of complacency towards much needed investments and reforms dominates many mindsets.

Too often Australia finds false solace in perpetual comparisons with traditional countries such as the US and UK. This is a misguided exercise. The true competitive benchmark is the emerging nations of Asia. This is where an accurate reading of Australia's competitiveness will come to light.

For this reason, CPA Australia (the organisation I am the CEO of) commissioned a year-long study on Australia's international competitiveness, the findings of which we released in the book, Australia's Competitiveness: From Lucky Country to Competitive Country. Co-authored by renowned competitiveness experts, Professor Michael Enright and Professor Richard Petty FCPA, the book captures the thinking of 6,000 domestic and international business leaders, making it the most comprehensive study ever undertaken on the state of Australia's competitiveness. It tells us that Australia needs to better prepare itself for the opportunities and challenges of doing business in the Asian Century. Our future depends on it.

Australia is an enviable geographic position in terms of its proximity to Asia. This in itself should give us a significant advantage over other Western economies looking to do business in these regions. But what's evident is that we only enjoy a mild advantage.

If Australia is to successfully compete with other nations in the Asian century, it needs to put in place strategies that will enable it to create stronger links with Asia, harness new and emerging opportunities, and leverage key markets in the Asia Pacific region and a changing global economy. There hasn't been enough of a focus on this over the past few years and that is a major concern.

Competitiveness is everyone's job - government, business, the union movement, academics and the community at large. The book we produced provides the first steps to understanding our strengths and weaknesses in the global and Asian marketplace and will hopefully provide a foundation on which policy makers, governments and business can build a stronger, more competitive Australian nation.

Luck is fleeting. It's time Australia had the courage and foresight to acknowledge that.