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Munk School of Global Affairs

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Reaching out to Business and Beyond to Make the Brisbane G20 Summit a Success

Dr. John Kirton, Co-Director, G20 Research Group, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto;
Non-Resident Senior Fellow, Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China
Co-editor, G20 Australia Summit: Brisbane (forthcoming from Newsdesk Media)
July 17, 2014

Australian prime minister Tony Abbott was at his best when he addressed the almost 400 delegates at the Business 20 Summit in Sydney, to launch their deliberations to finalize their recommendations for G20 governors to act upon at the Brisbane Summit later this year on November 15-16.

To the many global CEOs in the audience, assembled in what Abbott termed "the world's most influential business group," he declared, "The G20 matters and it will matter more if it does more." He challenged them to make it do just that, to help deliver the private sector–led growth that he has made the centrepiece of the G20 summit this year.

To assist business leaders in meeting this challenge, he reiterated the key components of his approach to this year's summit that he has followed from the start. The agenda will focus on just a few key things, beginning with private sector–led growth and jobs. Its results will be recorded in a communiqué of only three pages. And those results will aim at "putting good intentions into practice," to make the Brisbane Summit "much more than a talkfest," and a summit about "action not words." So decision making and delivery, not deliberation and direction setting, will be the dimensions of performance by which Tony Abbott wants his Brisbane Summit to be judged. On policy substance, Abbott got the basics right. Macroeconomic policy can no longer be counted on, as monetary policy must return to normal and fiscal balances must be restored. Thus, bold but politically difficult moves must be made for trade and investment liberalization, right regulation, labour productivity and participation, infrastructure investment, and integrity in business, labour and government. His call came with the enhanced credibility that comes with preaching abroad what he is practising at home, notably by giving Australia new free trade deals with a growing Korea, with a reviving Japan and, prospectively, with a booming China too.

More importantly were the solid signs that Abbott is becoming a G20 and global governor of the first rank, by reaching out to ask business to bear a bigger share of the burden, and by reaching out beyond business to have G20 governance work for the benefit of all.

He placed the onus firmly on business to get the job done, declaring that the "B20 knows more about creating wealth than the G20 does, because you do it every day." He added, "Business big and small is the engine room of job creation," and business must finance the infrastructure investment that governments cannot on their own. He further called on business not just to lobby governments privately to do the difficult reforms but to explain and support those reforms publicly, so that in doing them democratically elected political leaders can secure the support of all the citizens they serve.

Reaching out beyond business, Abbott affirmed that the goal of his Brisbane Summit was to "make everyone on this planet better off," words that resonate with the G20's foundational mission to make globalization work for the benefit of all. He showed that his emphasis on growth as the solution to most problems was not simply based on a belief that a rising tide lifts all yachts, as distinct from the boats that the poorer people have. He invoked the authority and priority of the International Labour Organization, led by Guy Ryder, to highlight the need for 30 million more jobs rights now to get the world back to where it was before the 2008 great financial crisis struck. His reform agenda includes lifting workforce participation, making fuller use of people's potential in an era of aging populations and declining workforces, ensuring that young people are "learning or earning" and breaking the barriers that keep millions of women from the paid work that they want. Enriched by his experience as a former health minister, he noted the need for affordable child care and workplace safety, suggesting that Brisbane could become a successful social policy summit as well as one for economic growth alone.

To be sure, elements remain to be added to give Abbott's Brisbane program and its potential greater strength. One is to recognize how young entrepreneurship can be a source of innovation, productivity, jobs and growth. Another is to add accountability mechanisms to G20 governance, to close the implementation gap and ensure that promises made by G20 governments and B20 business leaders become both promises kept and ones that actually produce the desired results.

With four months to go before the Brisbane Summit, there is still time to build such critical components in. And this may well happen. At Sydney Tony Abbot took off as a G20 leader to meet the task of making his summit work for all.

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