If we were to be holding a Convention now to draw up a Constitution
for Australia in the twenty-first century one thing, would certainly
distinguish it from those responsible in the 1890’s for creating the
present document. Women would be represented. While we have had the good
sense to draw to an infinitely greater extent upon the resources of that
half of our population previously excluded from a meaningful
participation in national affairs, more remains to be done.
The impact of that participation in economic terms is indicated by the statistics. In 1901 women constituted 21% of those employed – by July 2001 that figure had more than doubled to 44%. The figures show the broad lateral extension of women across the work force and a less marked but significant permeation of management positions. The further facilitation of this process will be one of the most important issues in shaping our approach to the twenty-first century.
In operating as we will, in an increasingly competitive globalised economy we will need to shape our institutions and our attitudes in a way which optimises the opportunities for women to contribute their talents to the national enterprise. Some of my unreconstructed male colleagues may see this as a peripheral matter. It is not. In that competitive globalised economy which, whether you like it or not, will constitute the environment for the twenty-first century Australia, those nations which do not best harness the capacities of half their populations will be at a serious disadvantage.
This will require more than the elimination of any remaining explicit or practical discrimination. In a very positive sense, flexible arrangements will have to become the norm, for both women and men, to balance the demands and obligations of employment with those of child rearing.
I turn now to the critical issues raised by this fact that the Federation of Australia in the twenty-first century will be operating in an international environment unrecognisably different from that which characterised the relations between nation-states a hundred years ago.
The revolutions occurring in the fields of computers, telecommunications and bio-technology are transforming the processes of production, the provision of services, communication and transportation. Professor Geoffrey Blainey wrote of “The Tyranny of Distance” – an appropriate title now would be “The Death of Distance.”
This technological revolution has stimulated the growth of the multinational corporation and the emergence of globalisation. The rise of the multinational corporation with the capacity to evade the jurisdiction of national governments – including that of the countries in which they are incorporated – has involved a distinct shift in emphasis from political to economic decision-making. More and more, decisions are being made by market forces.
Corporations can jump over what they regard as objectionable regulations and pit government against government. In fact one of the major results of globalisation has been the extension of competition from the level of companies to the level of governments.
The sheer comparative size of corporations – as measured by their annual sales or capitalisation – compared with government budgets dramatises this power shift. The OECD has pointed out that if the top 100 economic entities were assembled in a new OECD, with both private and public participation, 52 of the major players would be corporations and 48 national governments.
The process of globalisation is accelerating. The volume of world trade is growing twice as fast as the volume of world output – which means, simply, that the international division of labour is deepening and the world economy is becoming increasingly integrated.
In this respect the impact of the technological revolution is being reinforced by another factor, the dimension of which, I believe, is not sufficiently appreciated. Consider these facts:
All of this has meant that an additional 40% of the world’s
population is becoming increasingly integrated into a globalised world
One of the most profound implications of what I have said is that the capacity of many national governments to sustain the revenue base necessary to undertake the services expected of them by their citizens is being increasingly put at risk. Remember that this risk occurs after a century which has witnessed an extraordinary expansion in the scope of national governance. At the beginning of the twentieth century, governments of European States taxed and spent somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of GNP ? at the end of the last century between one third and one half of the GNP of industrialised countries passed through the public exchequer.
The distribution of capital assets is more skewed and concentrated so that the income tax base is more unequally distributed nationally and globally. And the tax rates that can be applied may be lowered because of competition between governments and the capacity of those with wealth to organise their affairs to minimise tax.
As a practical matter the threat of the loss or serious erosion of the tax base is as difficult as it gets in terms of providing good governance. This is not just a question of the capacity to provide services but goes to the very stability and workable cohesion of society. How to handle this problem in an equitable and efficient manner will be one of the more important issues in the new century.
Many proposals have been advanced from time to time which go to or impinge upon these questions including the Tobin tax on short-term movements of capital. I am not arguing here for any particular proposal. But I do argue in this forum that it will not be good enough simply to throw up our hands collectively and say that loopholes would make any scheme unworkable. I do say that what is required is more effective international co-operation – global governance – covering sufficient of the major economic players to make the regulation and contribution of capital effective.
If this is not done, good governance in the widest sense – the capacity of governments to consider best choices will be severely constrained.
Australia will have to speak with a more cohesive and united voice if it is to contribute meaningfully to such global co-operation and if it is to optimise decisions both in regard to domestic resource allocation and in regard to attracting, on the right terms, foreign investment into Australia. This will require a strengthening of consultative mechanisms between the Commonwealth, States and Territories.
Like capital, pollution is mobile across borders. The facts about the threat of global warming are becoming increasingly indisputable. It is global in its impact and therefore requires constraints upon the exercise by individual nation/States of their sovereign powers. There have been some tentative steps – Kyoto, for instance – but the measure of our collective maturity will be how quickly we transform these steps into effective supra-national mechanisms.
One point underlies all the issues I have addressed to this stage. Society no longer has boundaries that coincide with the nation/State. The actual and potential well-being of our people is increasingly affected by what happens in other countries. In one sense the horrific events of September 11th were a dramatic manifestation of this truth.
Our capacity to influence issues that will impact on us depends more and more on building constructive relationships extending beyond our own borders. The OECD pointed out last year that in the seven year period 1992-98 following the end of the Cold War, official aid to developing countries fell by US$88.7 billion – and the OECD estimates that those developing countries will have 90% of the world’s population by 2056.
The overwhelmingly important issue for the new Australian federation of the twenty-first century will be to strengthen a tolerant society at home which will not countenance discrimination in any form on the basis of race, colour, creed or gender: and, on that solid basis, and from considerations of morality and enlightened self-interest, to invest more of our time, energy and resources together with other developed nations – in providing help and hope to those billions on Earth who still exist in poverty and despair.