Innovation, entrepreneurial spirit key to future
Australia should encourage more investment in advanced manufacturing and innovation as the huge wave of mining investment goes into decline, one of the country's most senior bankers says.
Amid signs mining investment is near its peak, the chief executive of Westpac's Australian Financial Services division, Brian Hartzer, said public debate had failed to consider what would fill the gap.
Despite the woes facing many manufacturers, Mr Hartzer said the sector had a viable future. But he said the nation needed to focus on encouraging business owners to use technology - such as the $37 billion national broadband network - to become more productive.
He also called for greater public debate on how to support entrepreneurial activity among business people, as opposed to calls for government to prop up struggling industries.
"We spend an awful lot of time talking about the mining boom. It's been a great ride and Australia is now wealthier than ever before. But are we thinking hard enough about what happens next? I don't think so," Mr Hartzer said.
Mining accounted for only 7 per cent of the economy, Mr Hartzer said, arguing the nation should encourage sectors such as advanced manufacturing, medical devices, and information technology.
"The bottom line is that we should not give up on manufacturing here in Australia, but we do need to look hard at where we can use technology and our natural advantages to compete in new ways."
Mr Hartzer's comments came as official figures showed business investment fell 4.7 per cent in March, bucking market expectations of a rise. At the same time, the numbers showed a small lift in mining companies' spending expectations over the year, which economists said suggested the investment peak was near.
While Mr Hartzer said there was a valid policy debate over what could be done to support growth, he said the "bigger picture" was Australia needed to encourage "energy and entrepreneurialism" in the business community. "I think we need to turn our attention more to how we support those people, rather than always looking for government to solve the issue."