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A lot to think about beyond 2020

February already and we’re fully back into the swing of work, with the Australia Day long weekend gone and kids back to school.

Companies and employees everywhere are returning to significant challenges to the Australian economy and their industries within it, especially retail, agriculture, and tourism amongst others. My industry focus, superannuation and wealth management, has been experiencing the pain of change for some time now, and there is a high level of executive movement as the ‘war for talent’ heats up further.

This is great if you’re an executive or specialist in demand, but there’s some awful, somewhat hidden or understated, numbers for many Australians.

According to a recent article by Jack Derwin in Business Insider, there are now three unemployed Australians for every job vacancy. Based on this fact we know that the 250,000 or so job ads listed every month just don’t match up with the 725,000 Australians without jobs who want them, and the 1.15 million under-employed Australians who are working less hours than they’d like.

Reading this, I wondered whether the majority of us currently in professional employment are even aware of these numbers… three unemployed people for every single listed vacancy!

Yes, many vacancies aren’t listed, but typically they will be filled by ‘people who know people’ as they are already employed and referred through trusted conduits.

The other big associated issue is underemployment, and when combined with the unemployed, means nearly 2 million Australians cannot find as much work as they want or need.

Let’s keep this in mind before we start labelling people as ‘lifters or leaners’ or with other simplistic clichés.

Further, in an ABC Business Report published recently, Oxfam concludes, “Australia’s concentration of wealth in the hands of the super-rich is occurring, while the share of wealth of the bottom half of our community has decreased over the last decade and workers’ wages continue to stagnate.”

“The top 1 per cent of Australians have more than doubled the wealth of the entire bottom 50 per cent – or 12.5 million people.”

Read that again. It warrants an expletive or two when you think that 240,000 of our ‘mates’ hold 100x the individual wealth held by half of all Australians.

How have we, as a society, let it come to this (and seemingly, it’s getting worse)? 

Economic liberalisation has raised millions of people around the world out of abject poverty, and certainly Australia benefitted from deregulation and the encouragement of the private sector, from what was a troubled economy in the 1970s and 80s. But have we gone too far, and is the idea of a ‘fair go’ in Australia and looking after your ‘mates’ just a slogan?

This country has shown with the recent bushfires and current drought that we still believe in pitching in to help others. It seems however, with death by a thousand cuts over 30 years, that we have become numb to the unemployed, immune to the increasing homeless on the street, and resigned to the gargantuan wealth and therefore political influence of ‘the few’.

Ok, easy for me to criticise, but what do we do? 

I don’t have the answers but I don’t believe Australia (and the world) can continue down this path of the few haves and many have-nots, with a large middle ground too busy to care because they’re just getting by. The workforce is changing and unless we come up with new ideas and products, the wealth disparity will continue to grow. Add in climate change, whether exacerbated by humans or not, the year, decade and century ahead will deliver some tremendous challenges for many Australians.

There’s a lot to think about in 2020 and beyond.

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Posted in Accounting & Finance, Superannuation, The world @work

Attitude’s the biggest threat to the world economy?

Experts at the World Economic Forum release yearly updates assessing the biggest dangers facing the world economy. Environmental concerns have jumped up the list and now global warming tops economists’ concerns.

Last month I attended an Australian Credit Conference hosted by a large global credit rating agency. The event was well represented by investors and large business organisations. With a number of questions put to the audience, everyone had an opportunity to vote on the topics offered. The popular choice was along the lines of: “What do you think is the biggest threat to the Australian economy today, the cost of carbon reduction or the environmental issues associated with greenhouse gas pollution?”

At the risk of being controversial, it was shocking to me that the business community, as represented at the event, thought changing our (dirty) energy habits would be more disastrous economically than climate change. I was quite surprised that the majority of attendees felt our biggest economic threat is the effect of carbon reduction measures. Surprised, because I assumed those in attendance to be well-informed people with access to plentiful resources about current environmental concerns.

While our business leaders need a crash course in environmental awareness – I’d like them to sit through Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth or a screening of Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary, Before the Flood – I was left wondering whether the majority of Australians in the world @work can see the effects of climate change as it is happening right now? Polls show increasing support from people at grass roots level on a range of environmental issues, including a carbon tax and green energy, but change begins with positive leadership, agitation and support from the community at large.

The potential cost of doing nothing to halt the damage to our planet is incalculable. However, it seems obvious that funding for renewables and other innovative carbon reduction energy solutions is being stalled by vested interests. It took a tweet from Tesla’s Elon Musk (who has famously offered to solve South Australia’s power problems with battery technology in 100 days) to fire-up the State Government and engage the Federal Government in the conversation. It was encouraging to see expressions of interest from local competitors in the battery market, but it’s going to take more than an ex Vice President, a Hollywood actor and an entrepreneur to kick-start a (much needed) renewables boom.

The World Economic Forum says failing to mitigate climate change will likely have a bigger impact globally than the spread of weapons of mass destruction, mass involuntary migration, predicted water crises and a severe energy price shock – Australian consumers have experienced significant energy cost increases year on year, abolishing the Clean Energy Act notwithstanding. Instead of funding massive foreign owned coal mines, as the Queensland Government-Adani partnership proposes, or championing newer but less responsible energy sources, such as coal-seam gas (fracking was recently banned in Victoria), let’s invest in the industries where local businesses and communities also have a future. I’d love to see our manufacturers of solar panels, wind farms, battery cells and other alternative innovations receive most of those investment dollars.

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Posted in Professional Support