Accountants hit out at reform pace

Australia's strong economic growth and low debt should be "the envy of many other nations", but the world's 12th-biggest economy is distracted by an "odd mix of complacency and concern", a year-long study finds.

Australia's strong economic growth and low debt should be "the envy of many other nations", but the world's 12th-biggest economy is distracted by an "odd mix of complacency and concern", a year-long study finds.

Said to be the largest survey yet of Australia's competitiveness, the views of almost 6000 people find a country "in the upper echelon" of nations, but not on par with the world's best.

"In broad terms, Australia does well in assessments of quality of life, political and social stability, ease of starting a business, education and some measures of capabilities," the report by accounting body CPA Australia said.

But it did not compare well in terms of "links to the global economy, infrastructure, complexity of taxes and regulations, brain drain, supply chains and industry clusters, and business sophistication".

The survey of 5947 managers and professionals across dozens of sectors, including agriculture, mining, retail, transport, education and healthcare, measured 76 drivers of competitiveness.

In a foreword to the 263-page report, CPA Australia's chief executive, Alex Malley, said the discussion about how to make Australia more competitive had been unfocused, fruitless and "politically charged in an unhelpful way".

"The results appear to be an environment where good suggestions for change and reform to policies are not implemented, and where business often view government as the source of both problems and answers, rather than focusing on what business itself can do to push the economy forward," Mr Malley wrote.

The report, titled Australia's Competitiveness From Lucky Country to Competitive Country, said Australia would not be able to reach its potential until important groups such as government officials, management and employees put aside "short-term posturing" for the benefit of the country.

It listed Australia's advantages as its natural resources, quality of life, political stability and education. But, said the authors, Michael Enright, of the University of Hong Kong, and Richard Petty, of the Macquarie Graduate School of Management, its challenges included its distance from markets, not being a member of significant free-trade zones, and its agricultural exports limited by protection elsewhere.

The report also said Australia had far fewer successful international companies than many smaller nations and "insular" business people who tended to overrate their own abilities.

The report follows the release of the Business Council of Australia's "wish-list", which included nuclear power being put on the agenda.

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