Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has reprised a summit of business, union and community leaders co-sponsored by The Australian and The Australian Financial Review in a meeting yesterday to help formulate the government’s economic reform proposals.
The National Reform Summit in August produced a series of statements and recommendations that both newspapers believed the government should act upon, underlining the influence of newspaper media on the national agenda.
A Liberal Party leadership spill three weeks ago in which Mr Turnbull deposed Tony Abbott as Prime Minister brought with it a need to refine the Coalition’s economic direction.
As a result Mr Turnbull decided this week to reconvene a meeting of the summit’s main participants. Tax reform was one of the key discussion points.
“I want to build on the key priorities of the summit and work towards a practical set of reforms that will help to create jobs, drive innovation and stimulate growth,” he said.
The Australian Financial Review editor-in-chief Michael Stutchbury believes the August summit’s key message on the need for urgent reform had resonated with Mr Turnbull.
“I think Turnbull’s political message for why he should take over from Abbott was that he would create a more compelling economic narrative that would make sense to voters,” he said.
He said the summit outcomes could also help justify controversial or difficult decisions necessary to secure Australia’s prosperity.
Helen Trinca, managing editor of The Australian and member of the summit steering committee, said the summit held in Sydney in August challenged politicians, and indeed the political system.
“It showed just how far various groups could shift their positions and find some common ground in policy areas,” she said.
Ms Trinca believed the message from the summit was powerful because of the various groups backing the summit.
“In the end, I think, the government could not afford to ignore the summit because the key groups were determined to turn that consensus into reform,” she said.
Mr Stutchbury said he did not necessarily want The Australian Financial Review to be a player in the political process. “But to the extent that we can fill a role that needs to be filled in getting the Australian community’s head around the changes that need to be made, I think we’ll keep that going, and we’ve had a pretty critical role up to date,” he said.
Ms Trinca said the government’s response demonstrated its understanding of the public’s frustration with the current economic situation in Australia.
“This is a very valuable response from the Prime Minister – to recognise the consensus that was established at the National Reform Summit and then build on it,” she said.
“It’s extremely heartening for those of us who were involved in pulling the summit together to find that Mr Turnbull sees this as a serious and real attempt at pushing reform in this country.
“The summit grew out of frustration from many people, and a sense that reform was gridlocked, and that urgent action was needed to show politicians that deep structural changes are needed to the system. The Prime Minister gets that.”
Mr Stutchbury said the next step should be the groups concerned taking action, and moving the issue forward.
“I think really now that the Prime Minister has called all these big groups together, that’s really a signal that he’s wanting to really dial down the partisanship in public policy making,” he said.
“So that now puts the onus on these groups themselves, business, unions, welfare, seniors to make some concessions to move the debate forward again, because some of them were a bit hesitant because of the very adversarial political climate we’re in.
“Now that Turnbull’s dialled back on that, this provides room, and should provide encouragement for them, and they really need to take another big step forward.”