Shaping a vision for the future

| August 31, 2011
Australian Population in Focus logo

Australians don’t seem to have any ideas about the society we would like to live in. We don’t have a vision of what is worth fighting for or fighting against. We automatically oppose any proposal for change. However, unless we take charge of our own destiny, we will be forever just hostages to the fickle wind of fortune.

Over the last 40 years I have had the opportunity to travel extensively throughout the world and have visited many countries, on four of the five continents. I recently returned from a month’s holiday in Europe and I have never felt so isolated as an Australian.

Whilst those I met on my travels were friendly and welcoming, they were also totally disinterested in what I could tell them about what was happening in Australia. They were simply too preoccupied with earning a living and too concerned about their own precarious future. Australia is just not on their radar. Too far away, too self-satisfied and too far down the new ideas generation scale.

As I was coming back on the plane I had the time to ponder my experiences. I had the uneasy feeling that whilst the rest of the world had woken up to the urgency of their situation (though perhaps not fully understanding of why or how it had all happened); we in Australia hadn’t even begun to think about the possible risks that lie ahead of us.

Close to 47% of our exports in 2010 were in the form of unprocessed merchandise (minerals and agricultural produce). We had done nothing except draw water, hew wood, dig a hole and negotiate a good price in a sellers market.

I have always been uncomfortable that we are not producing, processing and delivering intellectual property ourselves. We are not in charge of our own destiny. We rely too much on luck and circumstances. We did not plan for the mineral boom in China and we have done little to add value to the materials we do export. Saved by dumb luck, again!

Australian Population in Focus logoFurthermore, we have allowed domestic manufacturing wither on the vine. More and more we rely on what we buy from other people. But when export earnings fall, and fall they will, there will be precious little money left in the bank to buy all those “elaborately transformed manufactures” we ship in from overseas: the cars, the pharmaceuticals and medical equipment, the clothes, the shoes, handbags and flat screen TVs.

We behave like the spoilt children of rich parents. We assume the trust fund will last forever. We tend to complacency and purposelessness. And, although I always felt Australians have a very robust value system, I wonder if our values allow us to envision for our future. Do we have any ambition to shape our future? Are we even aware that we ourselves are actually responsible for our future?

These questions bothered me as I was coming back home. It is not just a question of leadership. It is a question of finding purpose. It is about individual perseverance and about taking on big ideas that we want to bring into being. It is about being bold enough to adopt concepts that are worth fighting for. It is about deciding ourselves that we wish to create a role for Australia that makes us more than just a convenient source of unprocessed minerals and agricultural goods (or a safe place for a surfing holiday).

It is about raising our profile internationally by being an example to others on ways a nation can shape its future in a positive and proactive way.

I don’t have solutions. I just have questions. However, I do think asking questions is better than doing nothing; because unless the question is asked, the answer will never be found.

I would like to open up discussions and interact with others and discuss whether what I am saying makes sense, and if it does, what are we going to do about it? We [Global Access Partners] are hosting our next Summit on 16 September and it is very much in that mould of looking back at the last year since we had our last summit. It is however, also about our current circumstance and how we see our country, the world, and ourselves today.

It is about establishing what we would like to achieve in the coming months before the next National Economic Summit in 2012.

If one doesn’t have a plan at the beginning of a journey, if one doesn’t know where one wants to get to the end of the journey, then one will certainly get somewhere; but is that where you really want to be? Looking back, wouldn’t it have been better to know where we wanted to end up and to have worked damn hard to get there?

It is no good to say what the Irishman said when he was asked how to get to London –  “first of all if I was to go to London I won’t start from here”.


Peter Fritz AM is Managing Director of Global Access Partners, and Group Managing Director of TCG – a diverse group of companies which over the last 40 years has produced many breakthrough discoveries in computer and communication technologies. He chairs a number of influential government and private enterprise boards and is active in the international arena, including having represented Australia on the OECD Small and Medium Size Enterprise Committee.




  1. Victor Perton

    Victor Perton

    September 1, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    All is not so bleak Peter

     Dear Peter,

    I disagree with your point that foreigners are "totally disinterested in … what was happening in Australia."

    As you know I have spent over two years in the Americas selling the vision of Victoria and Australia to Americans.   Despite the high Australian dollar, my team has met its KPIs in terms of exports and Foreign Direct Investment.  Sure, we have targetted the right sectors in which Victoria thrives – ICT, aerospace and defence, automotive biotech and financial services but there is a warmth towards Australians and Australians and a curiousity that allows us to put our case.  My team has a passion for the product they are selling, Melbourne, Victoria & Australia.

    A senior official at one of the ratings agencies has said to me, "I don’t know why they like Australia so much, but they do!"   Over the last year, Boeing, GE, GM, Chevron and many others have increased their investment in Australia.

    You are right to point to the challanges.  The Economist magazine this week rated Melbourne as the number one city in the world for livability yet I hear intelligent people complain about traffic congestion, public transport and other matters.   

    I see the environment for FDI and exports in our sectors becoming ever more competitive.  In my work, the competition is not Sydney, Brisbane or Perth: the competion is  Singapore, Brazil, China and India.  In my view, we need to enlist the population more generally in selling Australia’s attributes overseas.  In order for them to do so, they need to be better informed of what we are getting right.

    I see your summit as well timed!  All the best for it.