From our vantage point on this continent, we cannot be an island

With just 46 days until Christmas, advertising people are already planning holidays with modestly rising expectations for next year in the knowledge that the growth forecast is pretty flat between now and December 25.

With just 46 days until Christmas, advertising people are already planning holidays with modestly rising expectations for next year in the knowledge that the growth forecast is pretty flat between now and December 25.

"Advertising trends have always been able to predict where we're going," says our oraculo infallibili Charlie.

But it is only moderate and this is a warning sign to Joe Hockey and the PM. Marketing people aren't entirely convinced the promised growth is around the corner.

But we think that with the right policy settings Australia could be heading for an extraordinary century.

Many times we return to the theme of the importance of Asia, soon to be 50 per cent of the world's economy and, more importantly, 50 per cent of the world's middle class. China has now lifted a staggering 500 million of its citizens out of poverty in short order and China's middle class is in the process of changing the world. There are more than 300 million middle class consumers in China, equal to almost the entire population of the US. By 2030 China is expected to have 1.4 billion middle class consumers. To put this into perspective, it is forecast that the middle class of the US and Europe combined will be about half that number.

It is critically important that we understand the strength of Asia. And as I can't do much to push advertising dollars up between now and Christmas, this week found me in Kuala Lumpur giving a speech to a group inspired by the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, to pursue nothing less than the future of the planet and the well-being of its global citizens.

Why were we there? It's a great story for Australia that the UN has given Melbourne's Monash University a lead role in pulling together a regional view to influence global outcomes. Leaders of no fewer than eight Asian nations were attending.

Our region is important because it is the most populous region on earth and it has achieved a lot recently under the Millennium Development Goals.

Poverty levels have fallen from 52 per cent to 18 per cent and the percentage of people without safe drinking water has fallen from 28 per cent to 9 per cent. But other indicators show widening differences between rich and poor that threaten social cohesion and disturbing environmental degradation that could make areas of the region unproductive, even uninhabitable.

There is much more to be done if we want a stable, prosperous and sustainable neighbourhood. And why are business people interested in a sustainable world? Because business leaders want certainty and a sustainable world is one of the fundamentals of that need and aspiration.

Australia can't be an island, even though our geography can trick us into thinking like that. So it's very good news for Australia that Monash University has taken up this appointment that is earning us real regional respect.

Some may think that we are already doing enough to help others, but the report produced by the group that I'm addressing shows that we're slipping behind in important areas.

The wealthiest 20 per cent of Australians hold 62 per cent of total household wealth, while the poorest 20 per cent have just 1 per cent. And since 2004, the wealth of the first group has grown by 36 per cent and the latter just 10 per cent. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the middle class is getting squeezed.

Doesn't sound like the type of Australia any of us want, and in many parts of the wider region the problem is worse.

We all know that life is so much better for our family when we have good neighbours and a great neighbourhood. What's true for our family, home and street is also true for our nation.