Growth is great, but a widening rich-poor gap is in nobody's interest

With just 45 days till 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 Christmas.

With just 45 days till 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 Christmas.

"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 Prime Minister. Obviously, marketing people aren't entirely convinced that the promised growth is just around the corner.

But we believe 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 account for 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 a very short time, and its 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 United States.

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 only be about half that number.

It's 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 UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, to pursue nothing less than the future of the planet and the wellbeing of its global citizens.

So why are we there?

It's a great story for Australia that the UN has given Monash University a lead role in pulling together a regional view to influence global outcomes. Leaders of no less 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 has 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. However, other indicators show widening differences between the rich and the poor, which will threaten social cohesion, and disturbing environmental degradation that could make areas of the region unproductive, even uninhabitable.

So 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.

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

Some may think we are already doing enough to help others but the report produced by the group I'm addressing shows we're slipping behind in important areas. The wealthiest 20 per cent of Australians hold 62 two per cent of total household wealth, while the poorest 20 per cent hold just 1 per cent. Since 2004, the wealth of the first group has grown 36 per cent and that of the latter only 10 per cent. The rich are getting richer; the poor are getting poorer, and leaving the middle class squeezed.

This doesn't sound like the type of Australia any of us want. 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 the nation.