Media Release: Securing Australia’s comparative advantage

Reforms across Australian institutions and investments for the future could add more than 20 per cent to living standards by 2030, according to a new report from the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA).

Professor John Hewson AM will speak at the Canberra launch of the report today at the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, preceding the Academy’s annual symposium and general meeting. The President of ACOLA and Chancellor of Monash University, Dr Alan Finkel, will preside and introduce Dr Hewson.

(access report here)

The report Australia’s Comparative Advantage highlights the opportunities for reform given the emerging social, political, economic and technological trends facing Australia.

The report sees Australia’s comparative advantage as national capabilities that need to be developed and enhanced. It recognises our natural advantages in traditional sectors like mining and agriculture, and looks to increased creation of advantage in advanced manufacturing and service industries. It highlights the opportunities from capitalising on a well-skilled and effective workforce and Australia’s strong and respected research capability.

Professor Glenn Withers, who is the report’s lead author and President-elect of the Academy, said: “Australia has achieved much over recent decades, but there are substantial challenges ahead, including the risk of economic slowdown with the ending of the mining investment boom.”

Enhancing our institutions will help. While federalism, intellectual property laws and competition policy have been sources of strength in the past, they need to be flexible and adaptable in a rapidly changing environment.

“Our research shows strategic reforms could ensure Australia’s strengths are aligned to the new century’s imperatives to keep serving the national interest,” Professor Withers said.

Economic modelling for the report showed that, without reform, living standards are still likely to rise, taking real annual consumption per person from $36,000 today to $45,000 in 2030.

“But we also found that with a major reform package, annual consumption per person can be projected instead to rise to a greater $55,000, implying a reform dividend to living standards of $10,000 per person,” Professor Withers said.

Over 700 Australians were polled for the report, with the results showing widespread support and commitment to advancing Australia’s long-term interests. More than half were even willing to pay at least some more tax per year to advance Australia’s prospects.

“Overwhelmingly, the poll also showed the public wants reinvigorated leadership and partnerships across government, community and industry,” Professor Withers said.

Separate surveys of business and government officials conducted for the project indicated that they too supported this conclusion.

“If we want the country to be the best it can, reform is now needed to build that future,” Professor Withers said.

The report is available at


ACOLA is an independent, not-for-profit organisation that supports evidence-based interdisciplinary research. ACOLA combines the strengths of the four Australian Learned Academies: Australian Academy of Science, Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, Australian Academy of the Humanities and Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering.


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The ACOLA group that produced the report comprised:

Professor Glenn Withers AO, FASSA (Chair)
Peter Laver AM, FTSE, HonFIEAust, FAusIMM (Deputy)
Professor Graham Farquhar AO, FAA, FRS , NAS
Professor Chris Gibson
Associate Professor Sally Gras
Professor Joseph Lo Bianco AM, FAHA
Professor Rodney Maddock
Dr John Prescott AC, FTSE