Business seeks urgent action to lift productivity

Concerted effort is needed by government to resolve a series of issues spanning from slow project approvals through to lifting infrastructure spending to avoid a slowdown in the economy as the resources boom winds down.

Concerted effort is needed by government to resolve a series of issues spanning from slow project approvals through to lifting infrastructure spending to avoid a slowdown in the economy as the resources boom winds down.

The pipeline of new investment projects had fallen to $877 billion from $921 billion, the Business Council of Australia said. Perhaps more importantly, projects under consideration stood at an estimated $159 billion - down 30 per cent over the past year and 43 per cent over the past two years.

As a result, a variety of measures to cut project costs are necessary to ensure existing projects are completed on budget and work starts on a new round of projects to help sustain the economy.

"The most immediate challenge in continuing economic growth is how we manage the transition from the peak of the resources boom, and pulling out all stops to deliver on the investment pipeline is critical," the president of the council, Tony Shepherd, said.

"Those [countries] who had the GFC have shed their fat," Peter Coleman, the chief executive of Woodside Petroleum, said at the release of the BCA report. "[Australia] didn't make the structural changes others were forced to make."

As a result other countries would rebound strongly, which underscored the need for ongoing reform in Australia, he said.

The Productivity Commission this week called for government approval processes to be streamlined, including establishing a single project assessment and decision process across federal and state governments to remove duplication as well as to clarify often competing compliance demands.

As part of this, the commission advocated statutory time limits be imposed on the assessment process for projects, as well as making the process more transparent.

The decline in productivity has been most marked in the mining sector, which reflects the difficulty of managing costs in a high demand environment. "No one is advocating changes to wages and the wage structure," Mr Shepherd said.

Rather, the issue is labour productivity, which ranges from rostering and work practices, through to government planning and approval processes. "We have no option but to address these issues," Leighton chief executive Hamish Tyrwhitt said.