THE ONLY CERTAINTY IS CHANGE
By the time this column lands in print we are going to have a fair idea, if not certainty, about whether we are heading to the polls in July for a federal election involving a double dissolution of parliament. This is based on the proroguing of both houses of Parliament to deal with legislation supporting the reinstatement of the Australian Building and Construction Commission and changes relating to the conduct of Registered Organisations.
It’s clear that the Turnbull government has felt high levels of frustration in pursuit of its economic agenda and this has particularly played out in the Senate. The frustration could not be manifested any more strongly than changes made to how Senators are elected in the future, and the threat of a double dissolution.
This latest situation brings into the spotlight once more the continuing political instability which has engulfed Australia over the last half a dozen years or so. Since December 2007 we’ve had Howard, Rudd, Gillard, Rudd, Abbott and Turnbull as our Prime Ministers. Who knows what else 2016 might bring! Quite simply however, we have just got to get much more certainty facing us before we can move forward.
There are just too many political sideshows steering us away from what is needed by business in order to create the employment and economic strength that is capable of being delivered to the benefit of all. Witness the release of Infrastructure Australia’s 15-year Infrastructure Plan that I covered in last month’s column. It goes into great detail on all of the things that are needed to make this country revitalise and cash in on its great advantages.
At a time when we have much of our industry struggling to find work, figures of around half a billion dollars are being wheeled out as the cost of possibly conducting a plebiscite over gay marriage. As a wise colleague put it to me, “Why not let the gay community see if they can make a better job of marriage than the heterosexual community with a strike rate of around 50% success. We don’t need to waste hundreds of millions of dollars to make this decision.”
This isn’t the only sideshow in town. Another looms as we will invariably see the Australian Republican movement ride the coat tails of the gay community to have their debate elevated once again at more cost to the community. Let’s not forget that other big distraction slash sideshow that comes to the fore all too frequently these days – internal political cannibalism egged on by a salivating media preying like hyenas on a vulnerable feast in waiting.
When we are deep in conversation about productivity in this country, it is both frustrating and irritating for business to be stymied by a lack of confidence caused by political instability and a focus that appears way off the mark in terms of creating the right environment for economic growth. There has to be a much sharper concentration on the current issues confronting business.
On the topic of issues confronting business, two recent sessions I have attended have highlighted just why business needs to stay focussed on the big picture and not get waylaid by meaningless distractions. We are living in a fast-paced world being confronted by rapid change. The new terminology is disruption, and the disruption requires long-term thinking and adjustment.
There are many iconic (in some cases, former iconic) brands that have lost their relevance because they failed to adjust in the face of change or, if you like, disruption. Significant advancement in prefabrication has already impacted on many industries, including building and construction. We just can’t be sure what else might be possible in the future that will shape our businesses. Needless to say, it is a constant watching brief to stay up-to-date with the impact of new technologies that can impact on the way projects are delivered.
One of the more controversial sessions I attended involved a presentation and discussion about the impact of driverless or autonomous vehicles. It was put to the audience that all vehicles on the road should be autonomous by 2030. That is just 14 years away and, whilst ambitious and not a likely outcome, it has potential enormous implications for the civil construction industry.
Based on modelling done in examining a world of driverless vehicles, that scenario would see a lot less demand for roads and associated infrastructure. In time there will be a lot less emphasis on vehicle ownership, and roads will take on a different shape to deal with a more organised and orderly movement of vehicles.
The automotive industry is already dealing with this future transition and clearly other industries will need to follow. Whilst in the short term the changes won’t be pronounced, it is the mid- to long-term where the impacts will be felt. Again, technologies have had a habit of changing things much more quickly than we have anticipated, and there is no point in blocking out the possibilities.
In a dynamic and fast moving world, it is critical that political thinking is in sync with business thinking; and right at the moment in this country it appears that the two are well out of sync. The challenge for our politicians is to get the instability and distractions well behind us so that we can all deal with the complexities of doing business in such a rapidly changing but exciting environment.