One of the country’s peak professional services bodies has warned that Australia risks of being a peripheral player in the Asian century if business remains complacent about engagement in the Asia Pacific region.
CPA Australia, which has more than 140,000 members in Australia and the region, says Australian business overestimates its integration with Asia and places low premium on access to Asian markets and bilingual staff, according to CPA’s Australia’s competitiveness survey.
“This discord should act as a wake-up call for Australia to realise that it may not be as closely integrated with Asia as it believes,” says CPA Australia chief executive Alex Malley. “Furthermore, Australia’s apparent disengagement from Asia and the lack of Asian literacy in the broader population is a distinct competitive disadvantage.”
The professional body warns reliance on the Asian-Australian community to provide regional expertise is not the best approach and the broader community must also develop a strong understanding of the region.
While Australia generally regards its geographical proximity to Asia as one of the great competitive advantages, Dr Ken Henry, the head of government’s Asian Century White Paper, speaks of Australia’s ‘‘fortuitous geographic location’’.
But non-Australian survey respondents view Australia to be an isolated economy that is not integrated with Asia.
Labour costs are regarded as one of the most significant barriers to doing business in Australia, says the survey of 6,000 business decision makers in Australia and overseas.
However, this competitive disadvantage could be addressed by ‘‘building the capabilities of the workforce and management and investing in innovation.’’
The survey also identified Australia’s industrial relations and taxation systems as two areas that need improvement.
Australia’s good governance, transparency and ethical standards are counted as competitive advantages. Non-Australia business leaders also regard Australia’s economic, social and political stability highly.
CPA Australia has urged Canberra to make the studying of Chinese language a top priority and should look into making it compulsory in all Australian primary and secondary schools.
It also called for a dedicated cabinet minister to coordinate and oversee the implementation of the recommendations of the Asian Century white paper, which is to be released imminently.