The year 2020 will be recorded as a year of upheaval. The tragedy of a global pandemic is our history, the sacrifices of healthcare and essential workers and volunteers, the impact on the strength and structure of the global economy, the advent of Keynesian fiscal responses from governments around the world, and the dramatic consequences for employment and how we work.
History will record a US election with a nostalgic echo from the 1800s, with partisan passion and wilful fabrication now amplified in the fashion of 2020 — endlessly liked, looped, shared and repeated across social and conventional media. Media reporting from this period will be seen to emphasise the uncertain future of democracy, the loss of trust in our institutions, the loss of faith in capitalism, and the desire for a just and equitable society.
The geopolitical transformation we have experienced this year will be stark in retrospect. It marks a turning point in economic and soft power, and an experience of hard power projected in new ways. The year 1989 was seen as a similar turning point in Western historical narrative, but the economic and political momentum vanished in serial crises. The economic and political momentum driving the world in 2020 is from one perspective coherent, purposeful and stronger.
The innovation in business models and technology that sustained us through the pandemic continues to reshape our economy and society, but the implications over the medium term are poorly understood and policy leadership and coherence is missing. We lack a shared understanding of how the work of the future may evolve — and the industrial relations frameworks to respond to those changes.
These are immediate and compelling issues as we enter 2021, but some of the challenges we face are long-standing.
We have experienced a long period of partisan politics, without genuine economic reform. The AICD’s Director Sentiment Index (DSI) continues to identify the tone of policy debate as a significant concern. The spirit of collaboration in our federation that contributed to Australia’s success in fighting COVID is more subdued, precisely when the looming challenges are shared. And oversight mechanisms at federal and state levels continue to fall short of public expectations and good process.
For the past four years, the DSI also has elevated energy and climate change as policy priorities for the Commonwealth. During that period, changes in technology and the expectations of shareholders and investors have outstripped policy progress.
The growing risk of natural disasters and associated cascading effects is self-evident from the past bushfire season. Bushfires and the pandemic warn us of the need to build national resilience and planning.
Our progress in reconciliation, particularly from the perspective of economic equality and health, has fallen short.
And while we have made significant progress in gender diversity in ASX 200 boardrooms, beyond that our progress is mixed. Beyond gender diversity, the strength of the Australian community in culture, innovation and science is tremendous, but poorly represented in our boardrooms.
We are midway through a global pandemic and economic crisis, and the environment will remain challenging for a long period. To tackle these challenges requires resolve.
Firstly, we must re-establish trust in our institutions. Confidence and trust in our institutional settings and governance is fundamental to restoring the faith of the community that we seek a fair and just society. That faith is fundamental to the strength of our democracy, community support for our economic model and the resolve to tackle our long-term challenges.
We need resolve to tackle the challenges we will confront in our economy in 2021. While we may emerge from recession on the back of fiscal stimulus, the future of our economy relies on grappling with our poor productivity performance. As stimulus effects fade and temporary measures are withdrawn, we will face a difficult period of adjustment as organisations assess their viability, particularly those that rely on travel and permanent or temporary immigration. Viable organisations will continue a relentless focus on costs and innovation, including accelerating the adoption of new technologies, with implications for the structure and capabilities of our workforce.
Finally, we should approach public debate as Australians, acting as individuals with the national character we claim is uniquely Australian. We have witnessed the dissolution of political debate in the US, and we have seen the consequences when enmity is encouraged for short-term political gain. These tactics will have long-term implications for the strength and focus of US public policy and national cohesion, well beyond the Biden administration. The challenges Australia must overcome will be insurmountable if we create more barriers to resolving our way forward.
It will be a challenging year ahead. I hope this summer allows you time to rest, repair and prepare. Thank you for your ongoing support as a member and best wishes from all of us at the AICD for this holiday season and the new year.