Australia- The Impact of Change in 2018

Two years ago I published an essay about the ongoing changes we are experiencing here in Australia. I have decided to update my thoughts in order to paint a more current picture of how I believe we have adapted to what has become an increasingly complex world.

I stress that these are solely my personal opinions derived from my observations working and living in Australia. No other parties have been involved in writing this essay.

May I remind readers of the key issues raised in my previous essay (see attached).

Change and its impact

Change is one of the life’s inevitable truths, it comes to us personally and as a society as a whole. It can come in small increments or a massive departure from what has gone before. The reality being there are those who embrace it and others find it daunting, the disruption it can cause greatly affects their lives.


Economics

Australia truly deserves a tick when comparing global economic performance in the last twenty-five years. We have maintained a positive Gross Domestic Product which currently stands at 3.1%** which a number of its global industrial competitors have failed to achieve following the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis. There can be no doubt we are still adapting to a new economy with the export of commodities still dominating our major source of revenue although innovation and new technology growing in scale which will no doubt continue to contribute to our national economy.

In the latest financial reporting season 78% of companies recorded profits, the best results since the G.F.C. over ten years ago * Unfortunately, wage growth has been stagnant which has resulted in planned changes of the tax policy being blocked due to concern by the Senate and the minor parties.

Interest rates have remained stable although movement upwards in the USA by the reduction of “Quantitative Easing” and rebounding of their economy may have implications for Australia and in particular the housing market if the Reserve Bank is forced to allow rates to rise.

The very high levels of indebtedness in our households would then present a major problem in terms of the future of interst rate increases.

Two issues could be of concern to us are the current trade war being initiated by the US Administration which will have an impact on the global economy although we seem to be excluded from the main tariffs being put in place. The other it is yet to be seen if the UK’s “Brexit” decision may further destabilise world economies including our own.

On the tenth anniversary of the Global Financial Crisis, many countries around the world are still coming to terms how to break its shackles and repair the damage caused to their respective economies.


Politics
(Please Note: my comments below were penned on the 1st August when I commenced this essay).

To be honest it is rather difficult to describe the current parlous state of our parliamentary democracy but here is a flavour of what is going on.

In response to increasing claims by the public of disenchantment with our main parties a couple of years ago, they pledged to improve behaviour and work together in providing outcomes for the nation.

You can judge if that declaration given has lived up its promise?

The reality is of course confidence and trust have further been eroded as respect for their efforts have almost totally disappeared. Behaviour has descended to appalling levels not only on both sides of the “house” but amongst their own ranks, especially within their own factions. This has allowed more extreme individuals and parties to fill the void left by the main players, the population seem determined to deliver the traditional parties a “black eye” at the next election.

What we have witnessed over the last ten years when unseating a leader through dark shadowy means, eventually you will pay the price, politicians are no different to any other human beings, they tend to hold grudges when things don’t go their way, retribution is a priority.

Quite remarkably as I write this essay yet another leadership “spill” has occurred, more faceless men doing their worse, although it would not be too difficult to identify the perpetrators. It is almost laughable if it was not so tragic, one can predict an own goal coming up any time soon.

The result of all of this we now have an environment which is ineffectual, filled with bile, bitterness, self- interest and our country is much the poorer.

Major issues such as future infrastructure needs, climate change, the cost of living and the levels of immigration are marginalised at the expense of personal feuds. Quality policy debate has suffered at the hands of ideological beliefs which do not match how we live today.

Friday 24th August

The dramatic and some may say farcical events of the last week, where the Prime Minister was unseated gives credence to the argument that this reflects behaviour which is grounded in ideologies.

It one surveys the recent behaviours of two other overseas key political allies namely the United Kingdom and The United States of America, one can see a developing trend in attempts to rebuff and accept change.

In the case of the U.K. right-wing Conservatives forced the issue of Brexit within the country citing a return to tradition nationalist values as distinct from more liberal views being canvassed by populist sources.

In the U.S.A., a similar tactic by Republicans and the President has been to use the clarion call of “Making America great again”, lamenting the loss of that country’s standing in the world today and a return to traditional American values aimed at older members of their community.

And so to our country where a determined group of dedicated right-wing politicians championed within their own government to alter course and return to more conservative policies more fitting to past ideologies. Open divisive strategies utilised including threatening to block legislation that is desperately needed by the population.

In all three examples, the main theme is returned to days gone by, retaining the status quo and appeal to the more mature sector of their respective societies ( mainly Baby Boomers) who yearn for a more simple life lived in previous years.

This strategy is probably going to be effective in the short term as the older sections of communities struggle to adapt to the disruption that is occurring in their lives, nevertheless, we are approaching a time when other generations will take the reins with a more progressive outlook.

On the other side of the political divide, it is clear the population still has reservations about handing power to Labour whose reputation proceeds them regards their ability to manage the economy for a prolonged period. Together with its links to trade unions and their potential influence.

My final word on politics is the population is now mired in the cross-fire of a firefight where the Australian people are likely to repel overtures from the major parties. Their future looks bleak for unless they can embrace a more modern policy platform which lends itself more to the views and needs of the electorate.

Technology

Technology’s burgeoning progress goes on with Australia playing an impressive increasing role in new developments with some spectacular successes. Although I personally might have some reservations about educationists focusing solely on the subjects Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (S.T.E.M.) in so much as we are tending to spend less time advancing other social skills in our education system which are so vitally needed.

The continued advances in many sectors such as health, transport and energy are of a world class standard and are equal to other world players. Ahead of this we still have challenges how to handle the disruption caused by these advances, as do many industrialised nations.

Media
The continued demise of print media and the meteoric introduction of technology has hastened its role in our society as the “Fourth Estate”, wielding huge influence in Australia’s daily dialogue. The rationalisation that is currently taking place indicates the changing fields. The recent merger of Fairfax and Channel Nine reflects the ongoing struggle for market share in the digital economy.

The truth we could all be criticised for this situation, our insatiable thirst for the minute by minute news continues to “feed the beast”, and has created the opportunities for powerful forces to influence our thinking even though some of the material is totally spurious in terms of content and has no basis in fact.

Whilst the growth in online media has given the ordinary person in the street more avenues to express themselves it has unfortunately brought with it contributions which are capable of damaging to our social fabric.

It would be extremely naive to express a view that this had affected only Australia, this is a global shift which has had an effect on all our lives. We have to accept the fact that every aspect of our lives is scrutinised, leading to a massive polarisation of views which appears to be creating an environment of deep division whether is in political circles or everyday life of Australians. It is hard to see any reversal of this situation any time soon.

Communication

As more and more ways to communicate and exchange data are being developed; what is emerging sections of the population are feeling uncomfortable regarding their own personal data being exposed and used for nefarious purposes, scandals involving one of the biggest global platforms Facebook have been shown to have breached confidentiality with its customers by using the services of the now defunct Cambridge Analytica to capture data. This is likely to be a continuing issue as more platforms are developed.

Australia has always had a strong reputation for people to express their respective views even if that view is contrary to the mainstream view.

We are seeing the emergence of intolerance to any differing view which is expressed. This is particularly prelavent in online communication. My view this is one of most worrying aspects of online behaviour that is such a comment on the level of social standards which we seem to now happy to accept. It should be of great concern to all Australians.

Generational Change

We have now commenced the final countdown on the next change of generations, in less than five years (2023) the Baby Boomers will retire and a new generation will take over the reins. Equipped with a much higher level of technological competence and perhaps a different set of priorities and values such as e.g. the environment and social justice. We can expect a rather different landscape, shaped by the dramatic changes that are occurring in our world.

The conflict we may be currently observing between the generations will eventually subside as we move to a new era although there has always existed differences of opinion between generations over time.

My opinion it is incumbent for our generation to pass on wisdom without the tendency of dictatorial overtures. The truth is more need to be done in breaking down that resistance which is being encountered.

Living Standards.

During our long periods of growth, living standards for a good portion of the population have continued to rise although in the last few years we have seen the gap between the “haves” and “have not” has widened with specific issues connected with household expenses and the cost of living.

As mentioned earlier a burning issue for parts of the population is the fact there has been wage stagnation in the country which has begun to seriously erode living standards. The strong performance of corporate profits has fueled this debate.

Society & Corporate Compliance
History is littered with corporate scandals around the world, we have not been exempt by any means from such revelations.

Since the GFC, organisations have been attempting to regain some credibility and trust with the general public alas their efforts have been hampered by certain events including the period under examination.

Efforts to avoid taxes in Australia by global entities has been exposed and has caused a huge amount of ongoing consternation among the population creating problems for our own organisations who have always followed the rules.

Unfortunately, their actions have tainted everyone, a modern phenomenon which exists in today’s society.

The seismic revelations emerging from the Royal Commission into the Banking and Financial Industry threatens to be one of the biggest scandals in modern Australian history. The damage that been created will reverberate through our society for a very long time indeed. Public confidence in our institutions, one of the pillars of our society will be incredibly difficult to repair.

25 the August Update:

This policy was scrapped by the Turnbull government this week due to pressure from the Senate and the general public.

The only upside of this debacle is maybe we have finally realised that avaricious and greedy behaviour is not acceptable to our values as a nation.

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Leadership

My personal experiences have been predicated on the basis that leadership can only successfully be achieved when there is a presence of several key factors:

• Respect for the leader
• Confidence in the leader
• Trust in the leader

Over the last few years, much debate has occurred in the examination of the subject with new opinions and platforms regularly canvassed without arriving at a definitive conclusion.

Changes in our society have probably meant a new unfortunate view, that people, groups of people only believe in leadership if it meets their particular needs otherwise they are critical of outcomes. For leaders, his or her resolve will be tested in making correct decisions which are appropriate for the organisation and not swayed by pressure from the self-interested individual.

I surmise that these views have been altered by the severe erosion of the above all three elements in the last few years either at a political level or a business level.

A leader today must still embrace the above but also ensure a workable strong culture in whatever area they are engaged in.
The days of aggressive cultures and behaviours are well and truly over, whatever generation is in charge it is a question of collaboration and fairness from both sides.

This is a major task for Australian companies in developing future structures.

Managers- Management

The role and attitude of managers have taken a big shift. The once aspiration of working to become a manager in an organisation has dimmed with respondents citing reduced resources, increased compliance and stress. The necessity to have a balance of both technical and increased people skills places managers under great pressure and many have elected to find alternative careers without the burden of responsibility.

Expectation

Every generation has aspired to live improved lives as one that has gone before it which is not unreasonable except our expectations may have exceeded what we can be reasonably delivered.

The culture of our society based on personal saving for assets is diminishing, we want it now, not prepared to wait, and our intolerance is also mirrored in our demand for public services which we believe are our “right”, the truth is we are not prepared to pay for them.

Where does Australia sit at September 2018

If one was to create a scorecard for our country in terms of its performance economically in the past ten years we would rate quite highly amongst other industrialised nations. It cannot be underestimated what a colossal achievement it has been to come through the Global Financial Crisis relatively unscathed.

The modernisation and birth of new industries have not been without its problems nevertheless we continue to have success in developing technologies at a very healthy rate.

Given these successes, it is difficult to fathom how we have arrived at our current state where our national dialogue has been so severely damaged and deep fissures are appearing in our once cherished character.

What we are seeing being played out before our eyes in our national arena is probably one of this country’s most challenging periods in history, centred around change.

Without focusing on the political dramas of which I dealt with earlier, it is a much wider problem with the great division between the generations as they all come to terms how change is affecting their respective lives and futures.

The ideologies on all sides being championed are extreme, to say the least, on one hand we have my generation frantically trying to retain life as we once knew it using political means to achieve its objectives, over time I feel this has no realistic prospect of being achieved as the population of Australia moves into a different direction.

On the other hand, the progressives seek immediate action to change matters in a society, which may have some merit but are totally unrealistic in terms of implementation and a disturbing trend of the absence of any balanced dialogue under any contentious issue.

The influence of the many strands of media has had a profound influence in debate both involving the whole spectrum of views and has had increased intolerance, division and conflict. Self-interested parties whoever they may have a hugh opportunity to distribute their views whatever polarisation it may engender. It appears there are no boundaries in place to moderate such communications.

The final factor being the great section of our population who have benefited over a quarter of a century of prosperous economic times, It seems one of Australia’s greatest achievements is now our greatest achiclles heel, that being Expectation.

You may wonder why I should single out our country for examination and criticism when the others around the world are faring much worse than us in this period of turmoil and radical change. More than ever Australia will be exposed to events and changes out of our control, created beyond our borders.

The reason is Australia has been seen as a bastion of a great tolerant society for many decades with many admirers across the globe.

What we are witnessing today goes some way to dismantling that treasured status, unless we are prepared to press a reset button and find a new national identity which can accommodate life in a modern world.

Ken Wood
People Specialist

*https://www.commsec.com.au/reportingseason
**https://www.rba.gov.au/publications/smp/2018/feb/economic-outlook.html