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Taking care of business is crucial to ensuring Australia's development

Corporations are central to realising economic potential.

Corporations are central to realising economic potential.

Corporations are central to realising economic potential.

IT HAS been my privilege to represent the views and interests of 120 chief executives whose enterprises are central to the nation's well-being.

While our CEO members are strongly competitive in their respective sectors, they come together through the Business Council of Australia to influence public policy for the greater prosperity of all Australians.

Our members play a central role in realising Australia's economic potential. They create jobs at home and abroad, generate Australia's wealth, and connect Australia with the rest of the world, while contributing $36 billion in direct taxes, employing 1.2 million people directly, and providing the backbone of our superannuation savings.

Our vision is for Australia to be the best place in the world to live, learn, work and do business. This is an entirely realistic and achievable vision if we make the right policy choices.

Achieving this vision will depend on our sustaining a strong and competitive economy that will afford us those choices and generate the productivity and resources we need to be the world's best.

In this room tonight are people from across the Australian community with whom we have worked during the past year.

There are people from education, the arts, government at all levels, indigenous organisations, peak bodies, the union movement, policy think tanks and from businesses, large and small.

If I were to identify one impression in particular from my two years as BCA president, it is the importance of different sectors of our community coming together to find common ground if we are to make progress on essential reforms and if problems are to be addressed and disagreements resolved efficiently and intelligently.

We need to confront our challenges and our differences openly and with a common commitment to the national interest.

This is the only way to make the adjustments that will ultimately need to be made to preserve and improve our quality of life.

And I sense that most Australians know this.

Making the best choices for Australia isn't the easy option for any of us. Reform requires genuine leadership, not only on the part of our political leaders, but on the part of business and community leaders as well. First, I want to encourage business leaders in Australia to continue engaging actively in national policy debate.

I have over the past two years urged chairmen and chief executives alike to do this. It is what the public expects and deserves from its business leaders.

Second, I have called for a more collaborative and consultative compact between government and business to solve national problems. We in business are too often portrayed as the bad guys, the greedy guys, the big polluters.

While business should never be above criticism, Australia's business corporations - especially our largest business enterprises - should be natural and essential partners with government in realising Australia's potential.

My third and most heartfelt reflection is that all of us - government, business and the wider community - must avoid the easy temptation of complacency about our economic prospects. Our potential is great but success is not guaranteed.

We must do all we can to promote, not shackle, our most competitive enterprises if they are to succeed in a fast-changing global marketplace.

We must, as a nation, choose the path of productivity, not the path of complacency that is, inevitably, the road to Athens.

This is an edited extract of a speech given by Graham Bradley last night to mark the end of his term as president of the Business Council of Australia. He has been succeeded by the chairman of Transfield Services, Tony Shepherd.

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