Letter to Alan Kohler

Alan Kohler's final column for the year was an open letter to Robert Gottliebsen. This is Robert's reply.

Alan Kohler's final column for the year was an open letter to Robert Gottliebsen. This is Robert's reply.

Dear Alan,

Some six years ago you repaid an old favour by inviting me to join you as a partner in the launch of Business Spectator. Some 34 years earlier I chose you to become the second Chanticleer so I could go on and start BRW magazine.

For both of us those events were life changing. I had basically retired at 65 not knowing that I had the potential to continue to participate to the full in this exciting world. Many others in my generation retired not realising they had skills with application in this modern world.

This weekend you sent me a draft of your letter while I was with our three Australian-based grandchildren. And we are in regular touch with our Canadian-based grandchildren who are enjoying the snow. As a result, my first thoughts were “just what sort of world are we handing to them? What skills will they need to prosper?”

If they have special skills they can go into the ‘discovery’ business but for most of our grandchildren’s generation it will be about cleverly using these amazing tools that will do or create things we never thought possible.

In Australia we have built our wealth on property development, mining, agriculture and manufacturing – helped in recent times by tourism and education. All will undergo fundamental change.

In the world we are handing to our grand children mining will decline because, over time, we are going to develop materials that are better than steel, gas, and coal. BHP and Rio Tinto are totally unprepared for this and indeed have reduced their research.

We will develop new foods but we will also transform the productivity of existing agriculture. We will build buildings far more cheaply. The mad morning rush to capital cities every day will end because communication will be so much better. These are exciting changes.

In Australia we will look at SPC as a watershed. We are efficient fruit growers but can’t process our fruit for market economically because of demarcation and shift arrangements that mean we can justify new modern plant (SPC can survive without handouts, December 27). Australia will need to rid itself of that sort of thinking which boosts the costs of so many of our activities including medicine. That’s a relatively easy change. Just imagine the changes the society will require to adjust to the world opening up for us Alan.

We are going to need to teach our teachers to teach our grandchildren’s generation how to adapt to this world. Given that too many teachers are having trouble coping with past changes (and they are not alone, journalists are in the same situation) it is going to be hard for teachers to prepare the next generation for the greater level of change that is ahead.

And I guess that’s where grandparents can come in. Barbara and I have seen change on a scale that is much greater than our parents and watched our children cope with this accelerating change.

The problem most grandparents face is that they arranged their finances on a life expectancy that was akin to the previous generation. And, of course statistically Alan might be right about longer life expectancies, but increasingly those in their 70s are attending the funerals of their friends who are the supposed “exceptions”. There are no certainties in this world.

God is providing us with a new world of possibilities – including a reduction in carbon without a loss of living standards. But that world is also a higher risk place. We only have to see the motivation of the terrorists who want to take us back to a world of centuries ago to get a glimpse of the hazards. If people cannot cope with these changes, violence will not subside.

I hope and pray that all our grandchildren’s generation will enjoy the potential this new world opens up.

And thanks Alan for the letter and the personal forecast.



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