Our expert panel featured:
The substance of the discussion both challenged the audience and engendered confidence – if we have the courage to embrace the future.
I have distilled the discussion’s key insights to trigger your thinking about the impacts of the growing population; the changing global economy; and the roles business and governments could best play over the next decade.
The panel discussed the surge in population that Australia is expected to experience over the coming decades. We have always anticipated growth but have underestimated the pace of change: in 1998, the ABS projected that Australia’s population would be between 23 and 26 million by 2051. Just under two decades later, our population is already 24.5 million people and continues to grow. The new projection for 2051 is 40 million, with Melbourne and Sydney each expected to reach 8 million people.
Moreover, Melbourne and Sydney are projected to become the major engines of Australia’s economic growth which panellists agreed will stir up some political and cultural divides that will need to be addressed.
To ensure national prosperity into the future, we must manage rapid growth with care, confidence and positivity, knowing that future generations will benefit from this approach. This poses two challenges.
First, we must ensure that our major cities are successful in their own right. We should therefore learn from other major cities of the globe to leverage their successes and avoid repeating their mistakes. London, New York and Hong Kong are all cities with insights and lessons that can beneficially inform how our cities grow and evolve into major global metropolises of the future. Our major cities must act as:
Second, we must also become more successful in engendering growth and prosperity beyond the city limits. The ongoing coherence of Australian society depends on our ability to create prosperity for all, and that means thinking deeply and carefully about how to enable opportunities in both metropolitan and regional areas. To date, by global comparison, we have done this well. But the change ahead will require a new level of attention, to ensure that the prosperity we achieve is fair and equitable, and to avoid the two-tier economies that have emerged around many global cities. Responsibility for this extends beyond governments to businesses that will, now more than ever, need to be both competitively minded and socially responsible to thrive.
As we rise to meet the challenges within our borders, we should remain equally aware of the environment that lies beyond them. Historically, Australia has prospered most when we (and the world) have been most open to the flow of ideas, goods, capital and people. The spectre of rising protectionism was thus one area of concern addressed by our panel. While Australia has enjoyed 26 years of uninterrupted economic growth on the back of global trade, the recent noise around protectionism in global politics is threatening this important pillar of our economy. While we have not yet suffered directly from that shift, we will need to adapt in the future if those trends continue to take hold.
Significantly, as we progress towards a more digitally-inclined economy, trade may increasingly become the trade of data rather than the trade of physical goods. This will have major implications for businesses and countries across the globe (including Australia), and will give rise to challenges as well as opportunities to leverage the new inputs to production. Australian businesses and governments must continue to invest in their technology systems and the capabilities of their people to prosper in this digitally-enabled world.
Our panel expressed confidence in Australia’s capacity to navigate this changing future. Periods of change also represent time for substantial improvement. Over the next decade Australia has an unprecedented opportunity to flourish, if we choose to plot the right path of being bold and inclusive.
The discussion deemed that for businesses, this means having the strategic insight and leadership confidence to invest in growth, rather than cutting their way to acceptable ROIs. The former will create the foundations for a successful, adaptable economy and resilient society; the latter would mean a deteriorating cycle of efficiency, protectionism and declining living standards.
For governments, our panel agreed that there is a clear need for more policy and less politics as we face the changes ahead. There needs to be greater policy continuity across governments, and to ensure that prosperity is shared amongst our society we need to work particularly hard on the integration of spatial governance – including the planning, housing, and infrastructure portfolios – as well as a coherent, and consistent over time, economic strategy.
In short, Australia’s future prosperity will most likely be the result of our own efforts. We cannot blame others, but rather must make the choices now that create the conditions for long-term success.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Where our population is headed by 2051, 14 July 1998
 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Demographic Statistics: Sep 2016, 23 March 2017
 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Population Growth: Past, Present and Future, 30 June 2010