What is competitiveness anyway?
Last week, the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd used his address at the National Press Club to urge Australians to “embrace a new national competitiveness agenda” creating, like most buzzwords, a new term to get thrown around a lot, but understood very little.
So, what exactly does it mean to be competitive? In a nutshell, it’s about how well we develop the fundamentals that enable Australian businesses and industries to compete in international markets, driving the nation’s long term success.
Access to essential services, the health, education and engagement of the working age population, the availability and adoption of new technologies and the innovative ways in which we use them: these are all aspects that drive a nation’s ability to grow positively and respond to changes in markets over time.
Many aspects of competitiveness are driven by local factors, reflecting the unique strengths and weaknesses of Australia’s many regions. The demography and dispersion of the population, the level and quality of public expenditure, the differences in natural resource endowments – these are just some of the ways in which Australia is extremely diverse.
This diversity is one of Australia’s greatest strengths, because it provides us with economic options when we need new sources of growth. The challenge lies in understanding this diversity, and creating regionally-tailored solutions to make the most of it in the international economy.
This is where [In]Sight: Australia’s regional competitiveness index, has proved such a timely project. Launched last month, [In]Sight maps Australia’s 560 Local Government Areas (LGAs) and Regional Development Australia regions (RDAs) across ten themes and 59 indicators of sustainable growth.
[In]Sight allows us to see and compare how each region in Australia is performing, from the levels of education within the working age population, to how many households are connected to the internet, or how long the average building approval takes.
The results highlight just how much work we have to do if we want to make Australia as competitive as it can be. For example, [In]Sight shows that in some areas, up to 93% of the potential workforce is either in a job or looking for one. In other regions, only 27.9% of potential workers are participating in the economy.
Clearly, thinking in terms of national averages does not tell the full story, nor does it best offer solutions to targeting these disparities.
Regions are the backbone of the nation’s economy; they provide the majority of our exports, drive tourism, and are home to a third of our people. If we want to move toward a ‘national competitiveness agenda’, then responding to the needs and potentials of Australia’s regions is absolutely critical.