We are at risk of slow decline: CSIRO

James Riley
Editorial Director

Australia is a risk of sliding into a period of slow economic, social and environmental decline unless governments and the business community tackle specific threats head-on, a new report from the national science agency says.

The CSIRO’s Australian National Outlook 2019 measures the national trajectory on five key challenges out to 2060 tallying the difference between political and civic leaders taking bold action or not on issues ranging from looming technology disruption to climate change and cities policy.

The ANO 2019 was produced by CSIRO Futures – the agency’s strategic consulting arm and the NAB – and was co-chaired by CSIRO chairman David Thodey and NAB chair Ken Henry and draws on the expertise of 50-odd senior leaders from 23 organisations in the business, academic and non-for-profits from around the countries.

The ANO 2019 report will be formally launched on Tuesday at a conference in Sydney. It is the second CSIRO outlook, following a 2015 Australian National Outlook published in 2015.

The report is a call to arms for Australian political and business leaders to embrace bolder industrial policy. It is also a blueprint for action, mapping broad-stroke actions that could boost the economy by $1.6 trillion by 2060 by embracing industrial reform.

It found the Australian economy could grow to between $5.5 trillion and $5.6 trillion by 2060 by embracing reform, compared with $4.1 trillion if the national leadership shuns reform. The difference in real incomes between tackling challenges head-on or not is about $40,000.

The report identifies and maps two likely scenarios for the nation’s future by 2060: The “slow decline” model where GDP grows an average 2.1 per cent, or a more positive and ambitious “outlook vision” – based on action – where GDP expands 2.8 per cent annually.

It presses for active policy inclinations in five key areas – industry policy, urban policy, energy policy, land policy as well as a cultural shift toward more curious and inquisitive collaboration between players in the economy.

David Thodey and Ken Henry say some “concerning trends are emerging that mean we have to think different” as we confront the challenges and opportunities of fast emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, and to ensure we are able to develop new industries, new jobs and the skills to drive them.

“Some of the findings of the ANO 2019 report are confronting. The report shows that Australia is at risk of falling into a slow decline if no action is taken on its most significant economic, social and environmental challenges,” they said.

“However, the report also outlines the bright future we can achieve as a nation if Australia tackles these challenges head on.

“We have the opportunity right now to build a future where Australia has prosperous and globally competitive industries, inclusive and enabling communities, sustainable natural resources and strong public and civic institutions.

“Put simply, we can no longer afford to ignore what we know is coming.”

CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall said Australia had good reason to be optimistic about the future, but that action is required.

“The latest ANO research tells us that Australia is at a crossroads – stride toward a more positive outlook filled with growth, or face a slow decline,” Mr Marshall said.

“The research argues that it is possible to achieve higher GDP per capita (as much as 36 per cent) while ensuring that growth is inclusive and environmentally sustainable,” he said.

“In a global context, strong cooperation on climate change and trade can deliver a better outcome for Australia without significantly impacting economic growth, where before it may have been thought impossible.”

How well Australia manages these global and national challenges will have a significant effect on its future economic, environmental and social well-being, the report says.

“The Outlook Vision represents what is possible, but it will not be easy to achieve and will require action.”

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