Four years ago, the election of President Donald Trump announced a period of pronounced American disunity, driven in some measure by a divergence in economic fortunes within America and prompting a re-examination of the effects of trade and globalisation on particular regions and demographics.

It has been a tumultuous four years since. The US-China trade war, investigations into Russian election interference, the Black Lives Matter movement, COVID-19 and the resulting economic downturn have had far-reaching effects.

The 2020 US election will have consequences beyond America’s borders. The US, though challenged by the emergence of China, remains the world’s largest economy and it continues to set the tone for international relations even as it has drawn away from multilateralism.

This is a challenging time for international cooperation, the global economy and models of global governance. While some communities have been left behind by globalisation and economic progress is not equally distributed, closer economic ties have delivered growing prosperity across much of the world since the end of the Cold War. In March, as the pandemic spread, Yuval Noah Harari wrote in The Financial Times that we are now faced with a choice between “nationalist isolation and global solidarity”.

For a country in Australia’s position, that choice has always been clear. Our economic record has relied on openness to trade and migration and on deft diplomacy from leaders in government and in business. Last month’s federal budget assumes that continuing depressed numbers of international students, tourists and migrants will slow our recovery in the coming 18 months. Mining exports are forecast to grow but that depends on our key trading partners, and the fiscal stimulus that will set us back on the path to prosperity relies on foreign investment.

It is plainly in Australia’s interest that COVID-19 is not remembered as a turning point in the same way as World War I, which choked off decades of growing globalisation preceding the conflict. As Harari writes, “If we choose disunity, this will not only prolong the crisis, but will probably result in even worse catastrophes in the future.”

Strong governance within Australia and a heightened sense of national unity has served us well through this crisis, but retaining our sense of national unity and purpose until this pandemic is defeated will be a challenge. Our performance — particularly relative to the US — is a platform to argue that strong domestic and global governance frameworks are essential to defeating this pandemic and other challenges, including restoring global trade and addressing climate change.

It is plainly in Australia’s interest that COVID-19 is not remembered as a turning point in the same way as World War I, which choked off decades of growing globalisation preceding the conflict.

2019-20 Annual Review

This month’s Company Director includes an extract from the AICD’s 2019-20 Annual Review. As with all organisations, the AICD was impacted by COVID-19 in the latter part of the year as our traditional face-to-face education ceased. While we quickly ramped up online education and webinars, many resources were made available for free to support our members and the community. Consequently, operating revenue decreased by 13 per cent in FY20, despite having been up 3 per cent year-on-year through the first 8 months. Membership growth across the year was 1.2 per cent nonetheless.

Our focus since the onset of the pandemic has been to safeguard the health and safety of our staff, faculty and members, while supporting members as they navigated their own organisations’ crisis and recovery. We are especially grateful to our staff for their resilience and sacrifice during this period.

We will continue to be challenged by the pandemic and an economy in recession. In the past month, we announced changes in our organisation and operating model focused on investing in the digital capabilities we need to continuously improve member experience of our education and content, and to deliver exceptional member service across Australia. These changes regrettably include a reduction in our staffing levels to keep the AICD on a sustainable path.

The outcomes the AICD achieved in FY20 in setting the benchmark in governance insight and education, advocating on behalf of members and supporting them through the crisis clearly indicate our capacity to meet new challenges and opportunities that are yet to come.

On behalf of the AICD’s Board, I look forward to meeting members and answering your questions at our Annual General Meeting to be held online on 13 November.