Workforce productivity: what does it mean in a world driven by digital technology software AI and robotics?

OPINION by John Sheridan, Digital Business insights >>

FORMER TREASURY BOSS Ken Henry said, “something is desperately wrong” with Australia’s economy, which is beset by “structural deficiencies” that cannot be fixed by interest rate cuts or government largesse.

Dr Henry argued the main reason productivity was declining was a lack of business investment in new technology and equipment that increased the efficiency of the workforce.

“Business investment today as a proportion of gross domestic product is almost as low as it was in the depths of the early-90s recession,” Dr Henry said.

“The reason why Australia celebrates a current account surplus today is because business investment is so weak. We should not be celebrating this. This is sending us a signal that there is something desperately wrong in Australia.”

Something is desperately wrong in Australia. 

Not enough investment in new technology. Software, robotics, automation, AI. The tools that extend ‘arm, eye and brain power’ to help us achieve more.

It’s not about people working harder or longer, it’s about people working smarter using the 21st century tools we now have, with them focused on our productive industries.

Our productive industries

Our productive industries are: manufacturing, agriculture, smart trades, mining, professional services, ICT, creative industries, education, media and communications.

Most of the other industry sectors are service and support industries for our productive industries. They help and catalyse the production of goods and services. But they don’t make them.

Of the 13.5 million Australian workforce, our productive industries represent roughly 4.5 million workers across eight industry sectors. These are the industries that generate wealth and exports, providing a platform for future prosperity.

The demand for more ‘productivity’ is regularly delivered by the Business Council of Australia and a variety of business spokespeople, and used to criticise the Australian workforce as a whole, claiming they need to be more productive to justify wage increases.

But statements like these do little to advance solutions to the issues Ken Henry rightly outlines.

There are two things to consider.

One is the lack of business investment in new technology. And the other more nuanced issue stems from what productivity is, how it is measured and what it means in today’s digital economy where well over half the working population is not involved in the production of wealth creating goods and services anyway.

We don’t live in the 19th century any more. We don’t all work in factories, mills, farms and building sites making things to be bought and sold.

Few of us write books, plays, films and software, paint, design and create. 

Most of us don’t dig holes in the ground or drill for oil and gas.

What the majority of us do is service and support workers in productive industries as best we can. 

Productivity shouldn’t be the only goal

In many cases, increased productivity can be viewed as counter-productive.

How do we make teachers more productive? Bigger classes?

How do we make musicians more productive? Bigger audiences?

How do we make politicians more productive? Longer speeches?

How do we make nurses more productive? More patients?

Doing more isn’t always a good thing.

According to the Productivity Commission, “Productivity is a measure of the rate at which output of goods and services are produced per unit of input (labour, capital, raw materials, etc.)

“Productivity is a measure of the efficiency of a person, machine, factory, system etc., in converting inputs into useful outputs.”

A useful definition for the industrial revolution. Not so useful now.

The ABS calculates productivity using a measure of output called gross value added, which is the value of the output produced by the firm minus the intermediate inputs used (materials, services and energy used in production).

But what factors do you include in your multivariate data analysis that make real sense today?

What is ‘labour productivity’ in the middle of a digital revolution when many tasks and even job roles are fulfilled by software and technology in its many forms.

While we continue to accept these definitions as ‘truths’ we will continue to suffer the impacts of the malaise Ken Henry rightly outlines. 

Work harder and you will get more pay

The intrusion of software into every aspect of our economy makes nonsense of the measure of input. 

Estimates of productivity are increasingly pure guesses from the ranks of ‘economists’ cloistered within a variety of government institutions. Emperor’s new clothes.

How does anybody credibly measure the impact of software on our economy, given its multi-national, interconnected and integrated role not just in single organisations but across sectors and supply chains, and its role in information exchange between organisations of all kinds?

Software increases efficiency. It also automates many activities, processes and functions that historically were performed by a person and measured by hours worked and outputs per hour.

And once you add the automation of physical tasks and the management and control of machinery through software and robotics, the issue of measurement becomes more confused. 

Inputs and outputs can be measured, but what role does a person play in that equation to be rewarded for increased productivity by employers? In fact, removing the person makes measurement easier.

Add the automation of software (artificial intelligence, AI) into the mix and we will diminish the role a person plays in outputs even further.

Where does the work take place in an increasingly interconnected and integrated world?

In the data centre? On the device? What is the input? Where is the output? Ask the tax office. They don’t know either.

Where do we deliver the increase in wages for increased productivity? To the robot? To the AI? To the software developer? To Google? To Microsoft? To Amazon?

This conundrum will become even more complicated over the next decade and beyond.

We lack the tools to measure what is happening. We lack the means to understand it. Or control and manage it. Which is a problem. Who is ‘steering the ship of state?’

It is the 21st century not the 20th any more, and our thinking needs to match the changes imposed by the digital revolution not lag light years behind.

Government always lags technological change. And the government organisations that should be serving our interests, aren’t. And can’t.

It is not their fault. That is just the way it has always been.

The Productivity Commission. Jobs and Skills Australia. The ABS. And all departments of industry and development. They follow technology developments. They don’t and can’t lead.

By default, direction for government is offered by ‘big tech’ and consultants of many flavours. It’s one of the reasons government spending on consultants has gone through the roof.

Single business productivity growth

For single businesses it is an easier proposition.

For single businesses, productivity growth is important because providing more goods and services to customers translates to higher profits. As productivity increases, an organisation can turn resources into revenues, paying stakeholders and retaining cash flows for future growth and expansion.

The result of adding more software into the business mix can be measured. But as technology is incorporated, allocating reward becomes more difficult. 

Is it the person or the software? Does it matter?

In the crudest way, we know that bringing more technology and software into a business reduces bottom line costs – wages. Organisations can be leaner and meaner. Even smarter and more strategic.

Productivity is important. But it is not the key factor in most industry sectors.

Productivity in different industry sectors means different things. 

At the macro level we have 19 industry sectors divided into hundreds of individual business categories, many with unique characteristics. Cane farmers are not like high school teachers. Lawyers are not like fabricated steel manufacturers. General practitioners are not like real estate agents. They do different things, in different ways, using different tools.

And their outputs and performance are measured differently as well. Or should be.

More than half of our industry sectors are not productive industries.

In broad terms we have primary industries, secondary, tertiary and quaternary.

Primary industries include agriculture, forestry, fishing and mining.

Secondary or manufacturing industry plus energy and construction.

Tertiary includes the service industries of finance, real estate, wholesale, retail, transport, professional services, accommodation and catering, entertainment, repair, health, administration and defence.

Quaternary includes ICT, research and education.

We can group these industry sectors into those that produce a product or service and those that service and support the industries producing a product or service.

We dig up minerals and drill for oil and gas – then sell them. Automation and software have improved productivity in mining enormously and continue to do so.

We grow plants and animals and sell them as raw or processed goods. Automation and software are improving productivity in agriculture offsetting many limitations on supply of farm workers.

We manufacture a range of products and sell them domestically and overseas. Automation and software continue to drive improvements.

We sell professional services overseas. Engineering, architecture, design and other services increasingly driven by software.

We provide education for students from overseas with online learning becoming ubiquitous due to COVID, learning management software and videoconferencing.

These activities all generate wealth for Australia. We can add value and improve the outputs through innovation, design, branding and advertising to increase price and support jobs.

And many of the service industries support these activities directly or indirectly.

New technology, equipment, design, branding and advertising can help create new products and services and open up new markets through export.

Producing productively, servicing effectively

Productive industries are productive.

But our service and support industries don’t offer the same opportunities. And they should not be considered or measured in the same way.

In many service industries we don’t want workers to be more productive – nurses, firemen, police, defence personnel, aged care and childcare workers etc. We want them to be effective, which is not usually a function of efficiency, speed or output.

The value is measured in other ways, and not always in a spreadsheet – satisfaction, happiness, health, safety, smiles, understanding, reassurance, sharing of experience, legislation, regulation.

The support industries – public administration, retail, accommodation and food, administrative services, transport, wholesale, personal services, finance, rental and real estate and utilities – support productive industries.

Over a million people work in the retail sector and productivity is not the key issue. Customer acquisition is, and software has made that process more efficient, with COVID driving online sales and out of store delivery creating a retail environment where productivity is all due to software.

Same with wholesale, with Amazon leading the way in automating the role of humans in warehouses to the optimal extent, before moving totally into robotics.

Workplace health and safety, road safety and traffic rules are the only constraints to more productivity in transport operations. The ‘holy grail’ of fully automated transport delivery is still an idea, but inevitable.

And the same for the other services industries, where productivity only delivers limited benefits within the organisation and is often meaningless to the world outside.

Services are there to support productive industry. New technology and equipment can increase efficiency and profit to productive industries, and help support industries deliver more effective support to the wealth generators in the economy – the productive industry sectors. 

We need efficiency in both. But not necessarily productivity.

Increasing productivity in our productive industries offers the biggest economic benefit to Australia.

It can and will lead to greater diversification in our economy and steadily diminish our over-reliance on mining, food, education and tourism. 

These sectors are very important and will remain important for a long time. But we can’t afford to have all our eggs in one basket. We need more baskets (markets) and more eggs (products and services). Australia lacks economic complexity.

At the moment, we are too reliant on one basket (China) and two big eggs (mining and education). Diversification diminishes risk.

The support industries are there to support the productive industries.

But our productive industries need to grow. And that won’t happen on its own.

Mining is productive backbone of Australia

At the moment mining is the backbone of the Australian economy and has been for years.

Mining produces royalties. Mining encourages development of new technology. Mining leads the way in robotics development and AI.

But we now need to leverage the intellectual horsepower of CSIRO, Data61 and our 38 research-based universities and apply that creative energy of ideas and experimentation across the whole spectrum of our productive industries.

Not just to support the miners and mining related manufacturers, but to generate new productive industries of our own. OEMs. Original equipment manufacturers.

For our productive industries are where we can generate opportunity with new products and services, diversify our economy, expand our overseas markets and create a more resilient foundation for Australia’s future. For our kids and grandkids.

We have generated deep knowledge from the mining industry, which can be applied elsewhere – water, pollution control, safety, waste management, space, recycling, robotics, off road vehicle automation, energy, remote control systems, AI and drones.

Much of this knowledge is valuable in countries facing similar issues to us. Especially issues with energy, water, pollution, environment, safety and remote-control systems = Export.

And we can apply that same intellectual horsepower to other industries – assistive technology, disability services, aged care, energy, waste management, soil health, aquaculture, housing, preventative medicine, manufacturing, sport and recreation = More Export.

Universities must get down to business

However, we need to connect our universities to business in a more effective and impactful way.

The lack of synchronisation between business and academia in Australia is criminal. 

Universities are funded, measured and rewarded for teaching and publishing, but not for engagement with industry. The funding model for industry engagement is clumsy and frugal. Government has made it hard, not easy, for universities to engage. Universities should be rewarded for helping to create a more diversified economy.

Some universities have made a point of engaging with local business anyway. 

And the benefits are obvious. Students gain experience of engaging with real business problems and possible job offers. Business owners gain new insight, perspectives and ideas.

Applied systematically and universally, this approach could turbo charge the whole spectrum of productive industries in Australia. Not just in the capital cities, but in areas surrounding regional universities, and in rural and remote areas through online webinars and conferencing.

We have all the pieces to the big picture. They have just never been assembled in the right order. 

Innovation in our productive industries is where our future should be built.

In energy, waste management, pollution control, water, automation and robotics, arts and crafts, fashion, manufacturing, ICT, education, space, mining services, defence, assistive technology and ag-tech.

These are industries that will help us manage climate change. These are the industries that will deliver high reward jobs and employment opportunities.

These are the industries that will provide products and services that can be exported to the world.

In 2023.

And 2023 is here.

Time to put the pieces together and turn the big picture into reality.



About the author

John Sheridan is the CEO at Digital Business insights, the company behind the creation of the Regional Economic Development (RED) Toolbox. The RED Toolbox has been steadily developed over the past 10 years to provide a collaboration platform for Australian economic development, including a range of showcases that promote national and international trade opportunities and connections.


Time for super funds to be more transparent on investing in unethical practices

By Patrice Pandeleos, Seven Communications >>

EVERY WORKING AUSTRALIAN invests in superannuation and has the right to understand where and how their money is being invested. Yet the default position by super funds seems to be that once the money is entrusted to them, investors lose that transparency.

Currently, research shows 66 percent of Australians have no idea where or which industries their super is invested in. Without your knowledge, your superannuation fund could potentially be investing in a range of unethical practices that don’t align with your values. 

A recent study from World Animal Protection found that 90 percent of super funds do not have a public animal welfare policy in place that prevents them from investing in live exports, factory farming or cosmetic testing on animals. The shocking data revealed that out of the top 200 superannuation funds in Australia, only 16 have current public animal welfare policies in place.  

This is the dark secret of the super industry. From intensive factory farming, to cosmetic testing on animals or live animal exports – your money could be supporting these cruel and disturbing practices. 

Superannuation sector at a glance

The Australian superannuation sector currently manages more than $3 trillion worth of assets, with the industry increasingly looking to invest in agricultural industries. The thing is, domestic equity markets can’t absorb this amount of investment, which is compelling super funds to invest in both offshore and unlisted (private) companies, and provide direct lending to private and listed entities.

To put it simply, unlisted private companies represent the majority of Australian agriculture, and are subject to much less public scrutiny than companies listed on the stock exchange.

The animal cruelty practices your super could be investing in

Without your knowledge, your super fund could be investing in live animal exports.

Millions of Australian sheep and cattle suffer unnecessarily during live export journeys every year. Thousands of animals die in transit because of the unbearable conditions on board the ships.

Many of those that survive the journey are handled roughly at their destination, killed while fully conscious and too many suffer outright brutality. 

Or perhaps it is cosmetic testing that they invest in? Thousands of terrified rabbits, mice and other animals are still being used for cosmetic testing across the world.

Cosmetic chemicals are cruelly put into their eyes or smeared onto their skin. While cosmetic companies don’t test their products on Australian animals, many brands that do test their products on animals overseas sell their products in Australia.

Industrial factory farming is also one of the leading causes of animal suffering that super funds invest in. Hundreds of millions of farmed animals are cruelly bred and raised in industrial factory farms to feed the insatiable demand for meat. 

Antibiotics are used to prevent confined and stressed animals from getting sick thanks to the poor conditions in which they are kept. Overuse of antibiotics on factory farms can and does lead to antibiotic-resistant superbugs that puts human health at risk, according to the World Health Organisation.  

Steps to being more transparent

Research by the Responsible Investment Association Australasia shows that most Australians, (66%), want a super fund that does not invest in animal cruelty.

The first step to knowing where your money is being invested, is asking your super fund about their animal welfare policy. If they don’t have one, ask why.  Also ask them what options they can provide to you if you don’t want your superannuation savings supporting cruel industries and practices.

Superannuation is something that many Australians forget about. But unless you provide your fund with guidance around industries you want to avoid, your fund can invest your money wherever they like.

They’ll listen to their customers too. With many super funds claiming to put customers at the core of what they do, Australians need to start putting pressure on them and demand transparency. 

How can I make the switch to an ethical super fund?

If you think you might need some independent advice about your investment choices, it may be a good idea to consult a certified financial adviser or you can contact the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) to switch your super to another fund via the ATO.

The ATO makes it easy to switch your super to another fund.

It is time for the superannuation sector to be more transparent about where they are investing your hard-earned money. Your superannuation savings are not only shaping your personal future, but the future of animals and our planet.

About the author

Patrice Pandeleos is the founder of Seven Communications and has more than 21 years experience working in some of Australia’s highest profile media organisations including Channel 7, SCA, ARN and News Digital. Ms Padelos also has a solid understanding of the Australian political landscape, having campaigned to win the seats of Sydney and Heffron in two state elections for the Liberal Party.  www.sevencommunications.com.au


Solving the national construction crisis begins with data says Autodesk analysis

OPINION:  Authored by Praveen Tomy >>

THE CONSTRUCTION sector has been getting bad press lately.

With high-profile insolvencies, project delays, and supply chain issues blowing budgets out, the past two years have brought incredible and unprecedented challenges to the sector.

The July Australian Constructors Association report says that double digit inflation in a single digit margin industry raises new issues for constructors. Fixed prices set several years in advance leave little room for manoeuvre in unpredictable markets.

If you can capture the right information and build on it, you can make the future far more predictable.

For example, insolvencies are often the product of underbidding, as a firm will struggle to accurately quote their work without long-term certainty on project costs. In the absence of accurate data, underbidding will continue to be a risk.

Maybe you can’t see exactly where a bushfire will start, or how long the damages of a flood will last, but you can build up a comprehensive plan that is resilient to these factors, and will bring you as close to predicting the future as possible. 

A good project plan counters risk head on, and shares information between design and strategy, supply chain acquisitions, engineering, labour hire, training, construction management and more.

Data for pre-empting crises

According to the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), the sector is facing rising prices, supply chain constraints, and skilled labour shortages. The sector is looking for new ways to build predictability and counter these risks.

Predictability is a requirement for a cost and time-effective project. This requires visibility across the entire lifecycle, from design to implementation. Few builders, designers, or subcontractors have implemented the kind of tech needed to get this. This has knock-on effects to how these parties quote their bids.

If a firm needs to undercut a competitor to win work, and doesn’t have accurate costings, the risks are astronomical.

Adapting is much easier than many believe. The future of work depends on constantly improving productivity, which sounds hard. But the technology already exists to side-step these issues.

Data science has become as crucial to construction as engineering. In fact, it makes for better engineering.

Starting a project without full data visualisation is like building a skyscraper from the top down – it’s expensive and probably won’t work.

Bidding for projects

Data is underused in the construction sector, with firms following dated methods to calculate costs. It could be argued that insolvencies from underbidding often come down to calculation errors.

Calculating a bid price involves assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the entire supply chain, including subcontractors and skilled labour availability. Firms also need to manage safety concerns across the entire business. This is usually based on an assessment of subcontractor past performance, using data silos or Excel spreadsheets.

But these spreadsheets fail to capture the whole scale of interconnectedness between supply chains, business units and staff. Every element has a price, and unless you can get a visualisation over the lifespan of a project, you’re not basing quotes on enough information.

Variables span safety compliance, emissions released in construction, the cost of sponsoring visas for expert qualified staff, and even impacts of weather disruptions and climate change.

Without good insight into these factors, builders attempting to win work by lowering costs wind up seriously undervaluing themselves. Cutting profit margins and aggressively pricing work leaves a very slim gap for error.

There’s no cookie-cutter approach to bidding on projects. Every piece of work is different.

Even within a single company, a truly accurate price for similar projects is going to vary wildly – but the costs will impact the whole business. It is dangerous to rely on old habits, or old underperforming supply chains.

Value for money does not equal lowest cost

Ultimately, a company that can clearly demonstrate value for money is going to be the best placed to lead a project to completion. This involves showing exactly what costs are involved and providing full transparency. It also means gaining visibility over unnecessary costs and liabilities.

Data helps. Once a firm has established high-quality data analytics for its costings, proving their value will be simple.

Effective project visualisation provides clever insights into what is holding a firm back. It could be an unproductive supply chain partner, or even funding poor fuel efficiency vehicles – every litre of diesel counts.

A plan involving data is more responsive and resilient, and massively reduces business risk. This value proposition can help ease hesitations from consumers.

Builders could use artificial intelligence (AI) to demonstrate a build scenario. This allows firms to fully visualise a project from start to finish, and quickly identify any quirks or errors that might exist.

Meanwhile, remote communications enables teams to collaborate across the business, creating a fully transparent workspace – one where no hidden cost goes undiscovered.

Once a project is off the ground, having access to up-to-date data informs better and faster decision making. If you’ve got a water leak on one floor, knowing exactly what was done could help mitigate the problem for the rest of the building before it becomes unsalvageable.

This quick thinking could be the difference between project failure and success.

Operating in extreme circumstances is a challenge for any business, and predicting these circumstances is even harder. Building in resilience throughout the entire project lifecycle is more than just guessing at the future, it’s about understanding how the whole business – and its projects – click together and operate.

If the construction sector continues to operate on pre-pandemic mindsets, we may see these issues continue to plague the industry.

For the sector to weather black swan events, an internal transformation is imperative. Habits need to be broken, and firms need to understand – not assume – risks and rewards. Firms can no longer neglect the role of data in this context.

As they say, the data poor pay twice. 


Based in Sydney, Praveen Tomy is the regional director for the Asia-Pacific region (APAC) at Autodesk Construction.



'Here's what I want to see in tonight's Federal Budget' – Scott Phillips

OPINION by Scott Phillips>>

MERRY CHRISTMAS. Oh, I know it’s not actually Christmas. It’s better – it’s Federal Budget day!

No, I’m not even being facetious. You can send sympathy cards to my wife, if you feel the need, but I really, really like Budget day. For a few reasons.

First, I’m an economics nerd. And it doesn’t get more economically nerdy than our country’s profit and loss statement being announced live on television.

Second, I’m a politics nerd. It’s frustrating as hell most of the time, but I love the workings of democracy. 

And last – and perhaps most importantly – it’s the combination of the two. Despite my regular exasperation at the way politics is played, we are bloody lucky to live in a country where the democratic processes of government are not only followed, but are played out (largely) in front of us.

It is the embodiment of a lot of what our system is, and means, and while I don’t expect everyone to love it as much as I do, I hope most people at least appreciate that many people around the world aren’t this fortunate.

It is something to be acknowledged and treasured, I think, even if not actually celebrated.

Now, back to Christm… I mean the Budget.


There’s no point in me writing a wishlist. I’m not naive enough to think Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is waiting with baited breath to find out what I think he should put in the budget! And, of course, the ink is dry on the budget papers anyway.

But I’m going to have a stab at what the Budget perhaps should look like. Here are some things I’d like to see in tonight’s announcement.

First, I want to see a plan from the government on how we get the budget back into structural balance. Not actual balance, every year, but ‘structural balance’. See, it’s important that the government borrows money when the economy is stuttering, to provide a backstop and to stoke demand. Doing so means recessions should be shorter and less severe than otherwise might be the case.

But ‘structural balance’ means that in the really good times, the government has a surplus, taking some heat out of the economy, and offsetting previous deficits with surpluses. These two sides of the same coin mean a less volatile economy and society, with less extreme economic shocks.

We are – and I know this won’t come as a shock – a loooong way from a structural budget balance.

Frankly, I don’t think that will get addressed tonight, despite the rhetoric. And that’s a shame. I really don’t want to leave a messed-up national balance sheet to our kids.

Second, I’d love to see a focus on economic growth, including wages growth and unemployment. Even as a finance guy, I know GDP isn’t the only (or even the most important) indicator of national prosperity. But in a financial budget, it’s the headline number. I’d like to see our governments actually turning their hands to creating the right conditions for that prosperity. 

And the wages growth and employment has to come with it, otherwise the ‘prosperity’ is concentrated in too few hands, and too many of the profits might actually end up overseas. I have no issue with foreign ownership (that’s a whole other debate) but it’s reasonable to want prosperity to make it into the hands of all of us, not just some.

Third, I’d like to see governments really tackle infrastructure. But not in a ‘lots of bridges and tunnels’ kinda way. It’s easy to throw billions around (and hard to resist the temptation to direct those billions into politically sensitive seats), but the money needs to be invested thoughtfully, in projects that actually remove blockages in the most efficient way possible.

(I read a tweet yesterday suggesting you could put water tanks on every house in one rural town for a fraction of the cost of upgrading the local dam. Sure, the machinery would be smaller and the photo opportunities would be fewer, but that sounds like smarter spending to me!)

Next, I’d like to see the government properly fund action on climate change. It’s true that Australia can’t offset the rest of the world’s emissions, but the least we can do – in our own interest – is be responsible for our own mess, and then use that example to cajole other countries into doing their bit. And frankly, depending on who you listen to, it might actually be a positive economic return on investment. At the very least, we can feel good about the country we’re leaving to our kids.


You’ll notice nothing about taxes in the summary above. Of course we all want to pay less tax – it’s just natural. But I don’t think we, as a country, need to collect less tax.

How’s that for controversial? 

The problem is that we see every single dollar of tax taken out of our pay packets, but we don’t value the services we get for that money in the same way.

We expect the roads to be sealed and smooth. We want to know that the coppers, fireys and ambos will come when we call them. We want to know the schools, unis, hospitals and national parks are there when we want to use them. And that pensions will be paid, in full and on time.

But we don’t see the value in the same way, dollar for dollar, as we do our taxes that come out of our pay.

That doesn’t make those things any less important. It just means we need to consciously remember them.

Not only that, but with the budget deep in the red, it would be irresponsible to cut taxes right now.

(Yes, I know they’ll probably throw cash at us, tonight. And probably cut fuel excise. Both wrong and irresponsible, in my view. How’s that for an unpopular view?)

In fact, the one tax I would increase is on the extraction and sale of Australia’s national resources. A former government levied a ‘super profits tax’ on miners, but I think that was the wrong way to think about the target. They relied on people thinking ‘hey, they make too much money’, but Australians have never really worried about that, per se. What we have always focussed on is fairness. Which is where my take is different.

Resources companies dig or drill for resources that have been formed over millions of years, and that were the property of our forebears and their forebears. If a company is going to take them out of the ground, forever, then sell them, it strikes me that fairness suggests the country should be very well compensated for their sale. Not because the miner is making a ‘super profit’, but because if you’re going to dig up and sell off part of our country, the country should get a fair price for that asset.

So, I wouldn’t levy an extra or higher tax on profits. I’d charge more, per tonne, ounce and barrel, for those assets themselves. I’d also put the proceeds into a sovereign wealth fund, or similar, so those natural resources can have a perpetual benefit, rather than being simply taxed and spent once. Taking an ounce of gold that’s been in the ground for millenia and spending the tax proceeds in one year, leaving nothing for future generations seems, to me, the epitome of (unintended) selfishness.


I do think, by the way, that our Federal Government (and it’s been the same under the administration of both major parties) collects way too little tax from the wealthy and the major corporations, particularly the multinationals (Australian-based, as well as foreign).

These groups can afford the best accountants and lawyers, and the poor old taxpayer is being played for a mug. For all of the effort that goes into cracking down on ‘welfare cheats’, for precious little result (and hot tip: $5 says the government announces a program to do just that, tonight), bugger all effort, in any relative sense, is being spent on either improving legislation and/or enforcement of collection from the big end of town.

And I’m no anti-capitalist. I think our system of democratic capitalism, though inevitably flawed, is one of the best around. The profit motive is one of the primary drivers of growth and progress.

But it needs to be well-managed and appropriately legislated.

I haven’t done the numbers, but I dare say if the law was improved to actually ensure the government captures the tax revenue those laws were originally intended to collect, we might be able to fund much or all of my wishlist, above. And maybe get the budget closer to structural balance.

I’ve joked on Twitter that I’d only need 12 months as Treasurer to significantly fix our system -- tax collection in particular. And then? Well, let’s just say I would annoy enough people that any chance of re-election would be out of the question.

Which probably means I’ve got it just about right.

It also probably means I’ve offended or upset a small minority of my readers, today. I would simply ask one thing: rather than being upset or offended, please be motivated to add your voice – even in stark opposition to mine, if you are so motivated – to the national debate.

Politics is at its best when it’s a contest of ideas among engaged, informed citizens. It’s at its worst when people simply don’t bother forming or expressing a view.

So here’s to our very Australian form of representative democracy.

And Merry Budget! 

About the author

Scott Phillips is the chief investment officer at The Motley Fool Australia financial investment advisory group. He is a regular commentator on radio, television and in national newspapers on economics and private investment . www.fool.com.au


Disturbing healthcare leadership bias against women

OPINION: By Sarah Boorman >>

FOR ALL THE PROGRESS that has been made, women continue to remain underrepresented in leadership positions – and healthcare sector leadership is no different.

According to a recent survey by the Advancing Women in Healthcare Leadership (AWHL) project, despite making up 75 percent of the healthcare workforce, women are only 45 percent of public hospital board chairs, 39 percent of private hospital CEOs and 38 percent of state and federal chief medical or health officers.

Women are the majority of the workforce but do not hold an equitable share of healthcare leadership positions. 

Additionally, the fact that women in leadership positions continue to be paid less than their male counterparts is a big problem. And women in leadership rarely have the luxury of stepping back from work commitments which makes it extremely difficult to balance the demands of parental commitments – which increased a hundredfold since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The sad reality is that until the pay gap is equitable, women will need to continually overcome unreasonable demands on their time to step up into leadership roles.


Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard also warns of the effects of working from home for women, stating that when given hybrid work locations as an option most men are choosing to return to the office while most women are choosing to work from home so that they continue to balance domestic commitments.

Ms Gillard says the potential effects of this choice for women is that they will be seen as less committed than their male counterparts by their employers and also miss out on those ‘water cooler’ conversations that can lead to opportunities like taking the lead on a big project.

I truly believe that so much of what holds women back in the workplace is founded in society’s belief in a woman’s position. When I look around school at pick up time, 80 percent of the parents are women; Mother’s Day stall gifts continue to include items like oven mitts and decorative pegs; correspondence that comes home from school is almost always addressed to me. Honestly, we have not come as far as we think we have!


The Australian healthcare system is a mess of fragmented and inefficient systems that are poorly integrated. Women in healthcare leadership have the opportunity to shape the healthcare system for the better.

Melinda Gates writes in her book The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World: “You have to understand human needs in order to effectively deliver services and solutions to people. Delivery systems matter. Getting tools to people who need them in ways that encourage people to use them. It requires getting around barriers of poverty, distance, ignorance, doubt, stigma, and religious and gender bias. It means listening to people, learning what they want, what they’re doing, what they believe and what barriers they face.”

I think that because women have been charged for so long in meeting everybody else’s needs we are so uniquely placed to do this work and actually deliver a system that works.


My personal journey in healthcare leadership has involved long hours and a lot of sacrifice – prioritising work over any kind of social life or hobbies. But all along, having the courage and privilege to speak my mind and #BreakTheBias has been important to me.

I say ‘privilege’ because I think it’s important. Fortunately, I come from a wealthy-enough family and so I've always had the backup I needed to call out sexism or any form of discrimination from those in-charge.

The need to do so arises a lot, particularly in corporate environments. But what I’ve learnt from those encounters is that perpetrators/people like that more often than not respect your honest opinion.

I know a lot of smart women who don’t speak up or change the way they show up in key moments. My advice to them would be to be authentic and courageous. Don’t dumb yourself down, don’t hold back your opinions – even if you think they’ll upset someone; in fact, especially if you think they’ll upset someone. 

If you have something to say then say it. Don’t tolerate people, call them out if you can. Show up for women with less power than you. The more women that have the courage to take this path, the more we pave the way for future generations so that they hopefully won’t need to overcome the same struggles we did. This is how we break the bias.


It is so important for us to empower each other as women. And I’m privileged to be surrounded by some of the strongest women leaders I know and look up to.

My role models are people I know rather than public figures because I feel closer to their journeys.

I’ve been fortunate to work with some amazing women in Scale My Clinic’s Project X community, all of whom are leaders in their field.

Julie Thompson is a general manager of a group of medical practices in Yeppoon, Queensland. I’m in awe of her positivity and dedication.

Emily Carroll is the co-owner of Pear Tree Family Practice and a business coach at Scale My Clinic. Dr Carroll’s  ability to balance ownership, management, consulting and parenting commitments is a constant source of inspiration.

So many other talented female owners, managers and nurses whom I work with each day remind me that the cause we are fighting for is worth the effort. And I can’t stress enough the importance of surrounding yourself with strong women and lifting each other up.

It really is true that when women support each other, incredible things happen. So, to all my fellow colleagues in healthcare and leadership, let us take a pledge to support one another and collectively #BreakTheBias today and every day. 



ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sarah Boorman is the operations manager for M3 Health, a group of medical centers in metropolitan Melbourne. She has 15 years experience in healthcare and began her career as a registered nurse where she developed a passion for inspiring human behavior and cultivating transformative change. Her journey began with patients and through leadership opportunities advanced into leading change initiatives with healthcare teams. Most recently, Sarah Boorman  participated as a panelist at the Successful General Practice Owner (SGPO) 2022 Digital Conference organised by Scale My Clinic. Scale My Clinic is an Australian business coaching service exclusively dedicated to helping private GP owners improve their businesses, overcome challenges, enjoy higher returns and strike a better work-life balance as they continue to make a difference in their patients’ lives.



If you can't measure it, you can't manage it

By John Sheridan >>

BUSINESS EDUCATOR and author, Peter Crucker famously said, “If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it."  And we in Australia have an economy that is out of control.

We are the hair on the tail of the world economy dog, influenced by decisions made elsewhere – in the USA, EU, China, Russia, Japan, Korea and so on. And it shows.

How fast are we going? Should we brake? Should we speed up? 

The RBA doesn’t know. The Federal Government doesn’t know.

In a car, we use the speedometer to indicate speed. To let us know how fast we are traveling, so that we can make decisions about acceleration and braking. We look at the road ahead so we can steer the vehicle in the direction we want to travel.

The information we receive through our eyes is translated into decisions by our brain. Are we traveling too fast? Slow down. Are we over the speed limit? Slow down. Destination sign ahead, slow down and prepare to turn in the direction we want to travel.

Feedback. Evaluation. Decision. 

We accept the information we receive from the gauges in the vehicle – speed, revs, fuel, temperature and oil.

Does it matter?

Well yes, it does. Unless you know how fast you are travelling you can make mistaken decisions about braking, cornering, overtaking and end up in a ditch or worse.

So real feedback influences driving decisions. And we take this seriously to the extent of punishing people who break speed limits. Having people and vehicles pass tests. If you can’t trust your speedometer then you can land in serious trouble.

Likewise with an economy.

How many people are employed? How many are underemployed? How many are unemployed?

These questions raise constant debate. Because the answers influence government decisions about investment, the economy, education, exports, infrastructure, political claims, PR releases and even where Australia is heading.

If we think that employment is fine, then we can carry on business as usual. If we believe that unemployment and underemployment are a problem, then we may have to do something to address the problem.

In Australia, the government relies on the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). But the ABS measures employment and unemployment in a manner that is open to question. Producing figures that are misleading. 

Figures that continually underestimate real employment, unemployment and underemployment by significant amounts.

Accept ABS figures, as current Government Ministers do, and it is possible to claim economic success. 

Accept the figures produced by Roy Morgan Research and it is not possible to claim success at all. 

In fact, the unemployment and underemployment figures produced by Roy Morgan research of 18.2 percent, suggest that we should be concerned.

And acting with vision and commitment to do something about them.

Feedback. Evaluation. Decision.

To decide one way or the other requires a basic understanding of how employment figures are compiled and Roy Morgan explains this very clearly.

"Roy Morgan’s unemployment figure of 8.5% for December is over 4% points higher than the ABS estimate for December 2021 of 4.2%

"However, the ABS figure for December counts as employed an additional 38,700 Australians who were working zero hours for ‘economic reasons’ and 46,300 Australians who were working zero hours for ‘other reasons’ – such as being forced out of work by mandatory lockdowns or forced isolation due to catching COVID-19 or being a close contact of a confirmed case."

"If these 85,000 non-workers are added back the ABS unemployment estimate for December increases to 659,000 (4.8%). The ABS also claims there are 918,000 Australians (6.6%) under-employed for a total of over 1.5 million unemployed or under-employed (11.4% of the workforce) – an estimate which is still way under the latest Roy Morgan unemployment and under-employment estimate of 18.2%.

"This Roy Morgan survey on Australia’s unemployment and ‘under-employed’* is based on weekly interviews of 784,153 Australians aged 14 and over between January 2007 and September 2021 and includes 6,031 telephone and online interviews in September 2021. *The ‘under-employed’ are those people who are in part-time work or freelancers who are looking for more work.

"The Roy Morgan Unemployment estimate is obtained by surveying an Australia-wide cross section of people aged 14+. A person is classified as unemployed if they are looking for work, no matter when. The results are not seasonally adjusted and provide an accurate measure of monthly unemployment estimates in Australia.

"Households selected for the ABS Survey are interviewed each month for eight months, with one-eighth of the sample being replaced each month. The first interview is conducted face-to-face. Subsequent interviews are then conducted by telephone.

"The ABS classifies a person as unemployed if, when surveyed, they have been actively looking for work in the four weeks up to the end of the reference week and if they were available for work in the reference week.

"The ABS classifies a person as employed if, when surveyed, a person worked for one hour or more during the reference week for pay, profit, commission or payment in kind, or even if a person worked for one hour or more without pay in a family business or on a farm.

"The Australian Bureau of Statistics Unemployment estimates are also seasonally adjusted.

"For these reasons the Australian Bureau of Statistics Unemployment estimates are different from the Roy Morgan Unemployment estimate. Gary Morgan's concerns regarding the ABS Unemployment estimate is clearly outlined in a 2012 letter to the Australian Financial Review, which was not published."

And a lot of people will of course be saying….”So what?”

Well, as Peter Drucker said, “If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it."

If you don’t understand fully the current state of the economy, then you can do nothing to fix it. 

Which is what the current Federal Government is doing. And isn’t doing.

The government tends to fall back on Business As Usual with reliance on iron ore and coal to fix the economy. 

Which it has been doing nicely for decades.

Mining, agriculture, education and tourism have been reliable generators of income for many years. 

But no longer. 

Things have become more complicated.

COVID has shaken things up. Chinese ambition and interference has shaken things up. The digital revolution has shaken things up. And Russia is now threatening to shake things up as well.

Our central bank has yet to understand the impacts of digital disruption on the economy. 

Things have changed. Roughly 50 percent of Australians are now employed on contracts, freelance, part-time, and in the gig economy, not in traditional full time work.

So it is easy to understand why they have little or no leverage on wages, in the way they used to. 

Job uncertainty does not offer strength in wage negotiations. 

Many full time jobs have evaporated. Unions have lost bargaining power. 

And software has also diminished bargaining power for most of the workforce. 

Low wages = job. 

Demand for higher wages encourages employers to shift to software, automation, robotics and AI, where the workforce is not fickle, doesn’t need holidays and sick pay, and can deliver 24x7.

The RBA needs to wake up to the new paradigm of a digital 21st century, which is disconnected from the traditional control levers of interest rates. 

“If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it”.

Luckily, we are not just a country of mineral resources, we are also a country of smart thinkers. 

Creating new industries from innovative businesses in robotics, health, space, agritech, defence, mining and ICT. 

But many of those businesses do not fit comfortably into another government measurement system – ANZSIC. 

All Australian and New Zealand businesses are nominated to categories and sectors in ANZSIC. Yet, so far we do not have categories for many of our new businesses and industries in the current structure. Which makes it difficult to measure the impact of new innovative businesses by government and its agencies.

“If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it."

So ABS gets it wrong. And ANZSIC gets it wrong.

You would think in the 21st century that we would stay up to date with the operational environment. 

So we can measure it and manage it.

But we don’t.

Like many of our most important agencies, the ABS is under funded. With more money, it could do a lot more. Even measure employment and underemployment properly.

CSIRO, our leading research agency is hugely under funded. With more money it could do a whole lot more. 

Let off the leash, it could be the engine room for the creation of new business in Australia.

That would allow us to mitigate the challenge of China. Shrink our supply chains. Even onshore mission critical manufacturing.

Create new jobs and exports. 

And allow us to manage the challenges from digital disruption = because software destroys jobs. 

Yes, it creates jobs as well, but a lot fewer than it eliminates. So this needs managing.

The ABC, our leading communication and news agency is under funded. With more money it could become the knowledge and information sharing platform for the new economy. Minimising the 'fake news' generated by News Ltd with its 'back to the 1950s' commentary.

The ABC does a good job with what it has, but could do a whole lot more.

Federal Government is not investing in the future of Australia. It is not supporting an economy that could provide jobs and work for our high school and university students.

These issues are not invisible. These issues confront us all every day. 

We can and should use measurement and digital tools to manage our way forwards.

It has always intrigued me that we manage our 'creative resources' and 'capital' = crops and animals -- well, when we apply farm management techniques in agriculture.

We have been doing this for 12,000 years now.

We allow freedom to our 'creative resources' - seeds and animals to do their thing - grow - and we support that creative principle with the power of analysis, managing inputs - water, fertiliser, sun, weeding, pest control etc so that we maximise the outputs = crops and food.

We allow the 'market'- crops and animals - to flourish but we apply management to the process to optimise outcomes.

There would be nothing wrong with capitalism today if it was managed with vision in the same way farmers manage farms - with an eye to outputs - but also with an eye to the future = managing soil health, water, animals in a sustainable manner.

Allowing our 'creative resources' - innovative businesses - to do their thing - grow - but use the power of analytics and inputs - investment, collaboration, fair competition and governance to manage business development in a sustainable manner - supporting innovation, investment, export, climate action and the future of work and jobs.

Most farmers manage their properties, looking to improve the land steadily and sustainably to be passed on to children and grandchildren.

We should do the same with our economies - passing viable, healthy, future proof economies onto our children without damage. 

Manage the 'farm' ruthlessly and you get North Korea. Let the farm go wild and you get the 1% at the expense of the 99%.

I am not sure that our current crop of economists and the central banks that rely on them really understand this principle. Farmers do.

The fact that the RBA can ignore the impact of low interest rates on property prices would be like a farmer ignoring a crop disease that is steadily destroying the crop.

For the first time ever, we have the technology to do more than just manage farms = Farm Management System, we actually have the technology to manage regions, economies and even countries.

What we don't have is 'intelligent farmers' (politicians and economists) with a real interest in the 'farm' and passing a 'better farm' onto the future.

"If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it."

Well, we can measure it, and with the right leadership we could manage it as well.


About the author 

John Sheridan is CEO of Digital Business insights (DBi), an organisation based in Brisbane, Australia, which focuses on helping businesses and communities adapt to, and flourish in, the new digital world. He is the author of Connecting the Dots and getting more out of the digital revolution. DBi has been researching and analysing the digital revolution for more than 15 years and has surveyed more than 50,000 businesses, conducting in-depth case study analysis on more than 350 organisations and digital entrepreneurs. Now DBi is turning that research into action through a series of digital business development platforms, the first of which launched in 2016, the Manufacturing Toolbox. DBi has also launched a series of international online trade showcases, promoting Australian goods and services to specific countries and promoting use of those showcases in those countries. Australia's Regional Economic Development (RED) Toolbox was launched three years ago. The latest in the toolbox series is the ED Toolbox, which helps high school students, parents and educators navigate the future of work and jobs.






National Small Business Commissioners forum communique

Australia's Small Business Commissioners issued a communique to mark National Family Business Day on September 17. Here is the text of that message:


ON THIS NATIONAL Family Business Day, the State Small Business Commissioners and the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman have met to further our collaborative efforts within our jurisdictions, to support our nation’s vital small business community.

In recognising the outstanding contributions of health professionals and clinicians throughout this pandemic, we also seek to raise awareness and highlight the circumstances of enterprising people who drive and lead our small business economy.

These are challenging times for our community, and particularly so for our small and family business operators.

Some have found new solutions to address the challenges the pandemic and containment responses have produced, to form new businesses, or to adapt their business-models to secure new opportunities and find ways of sustaining their businesses and the livelihoods that depend on them.

Others have had to contend with insurmountable challenges and have sought to simply survive.

Government, private sector and community support has and continues to be vital for many small and family businesses. As Australia considers the pathways out of COVID and beyond, we urge policy makers, the private sector and customers to continue their support for small businesses as so many have been doing.

In particular, we urge policy makers and the private sector to consider:

  • The dependable implementation of recovery plans is crucial to providing some predictability and certainty for the small business community, at this time of many unavoidable unknowns. Small businesses needs clarity and to have a seat at the table as recovery plans are implemented.
  • Ensuring payment times remain as short as possible, to support small businesses doing it tough. We congratulate governments, financial and essential business services providers, landlords and suppliers who have supported smaller businesses throughout the pandemic. Now is not the time to be extending payment times to small business suppliers.
  • Ensure that the valuable support policies and programs prioritise timely delivery and recognise the resource constraints of small business by simplifying how they access those supports.
  • We urge that rules and advice be considerate of small business capability and resources. Clear and dependable instructions that can be put into action without in-house regulatory and compliance expertise are most helpful and needed.
  • These actions acknowledge that small businesses and family enterprise have borne a disproportionate share of economic hardship arising from COVID-19. This has and continues to impact not just on business survival and the employment that depends on it, but on the personal finances of business owners that so often are the ‘back up’ liquidity in a smaller business.

Throughout this pandemic, our community has grown in its appreciation of how small businesses and family enterprise contribute so much to our communities and our economy.

They are owned and led by real people who have embraced the responsibilities of business ownership to create opportunities for themselves, those around them, and the communities they actively contribute to.

To the small businesses of Australia, we see you, and value and respect your enterprise, passion, commitment and vital contribution.



Contact Us


PO Box 2144