The Australian Leadership Retreat 2019, running from 31st. May to 2nd. June at the Gold Coast’s stunning Palazzo Versace Hotel, concluded after four days of inspiring talks and reflections on leadership with remarkable success. Organised by ADC Forum, which is the Australian Davos Connection Limited, the Retreat has attracted over 200 Australian and international elites from the realms of business, academia and politics. Some of the many brilliant minds who attended the event including a former Prime Minister of Australia, grand strategists, former officials of the White House, prestigious investors from the Silicon Valley, a former NASA astronaut, deans and directors of various academic and research institutes, etc. 

The Retreat’s programme consisted of a number of main and sub forums, as well as smaller group discussions/ sessions. The main forum discussions covered 11 broad topics: 

  • Resetting Australia – principles of a grand strategy

Workshop on strategic culture for Australia; 

  • Japan’s economic journey – What is really happening in Asia’s largest democratic economy; 
  • The trade war between the US and China – prospects for resolution; 
  • Is Australia’s sovereignty at risk? Digital markets and data – power, competition, rights and responsible innovation; 
  • Advanced manufacturing – becoming a technology maker not a taker; 
  • Insights into the United States of America; 
  • Riding the economic tsunami; 
  • Technological competitiveness; 
  • Australia’s future in space and what role – Australia can play in solar system exploration; 
  • A new compact for national prosperity; Leadership for existential threats – integrating grand strategy with existential strategy. 

The sub-forum and small group sessions covered topics of: 

  • Energy – pathways to sustainable productivity growth; 
  • Blockchain – distributed ledgers and building digital assets; 
  • Future defence industry – collaborating with Australia’s strategic development and export program; 
  • Investment for national development; Indigenous Australia – structural exclusion; 
  • Australia’s Education Sector; 
  • Digital markets and data – power, competition, rights and responsible innovation; Advanced manufacturing – becoming a technology maker not a taker; 
  • Climate shift and ecological breakdown – potentials for regenerative development; 
  • Democratic futures? SME’s and the Entrepreneurial glass–ceiling in Australia; 
  • How much do we care about aged care? Trends in mining and resources; 
  • Australia’s next frontier: space 2.0 and the rise of the astropreneur; Insights into the United States of America; 
  • Riding the economic tsunami; Energy and quantum leaps in development; 
  • The Future of Healthcare: Spiralling Costs or Fundamental Change; 
  • Australia’s trading place in the world – new and renewed opportunities etc. 

ADC Forum combines a strong policy capability with credibility both nationally and internationally. It has also incubated ideas and opportunities with the excellence of delivering outcomes within the framework of an integrated strategy. Some participants justify that positive changes have been made in the communities after the leaders took home with the ideas and thoughts that were brought up during the forum. Hence, ADC is beyond a think tank. Integral to its strength are its independence and openness to other institutions and organisations, reflected in a range of national and international protocols and working arrangements.

ADC is an internationally connected community, enabling a strategic architecture for businesses to intersect with governments and academia across the world. It brings a unique perspective, reflecting the changing nature of Australia and the world and strategically positioning Australia to make a major contribution in shaping the Asian Century.

Founded in 1996 by Michael Roux and other Australian members and participants of the World Economic Forum, ADC Forum is an independent, not-for-profit organisation. For over two decades, it has brought together the nation’s foremost decision makers and thought leaders across all sectors to focus on the issues that are critical to future prosperity. 

This year, Australia China Business Circle was invited to the exclusive Australian Leadership Retreat for the second consecutive year, where we listened to inspiring and remarkable ideas and stories shared by elites from all sectors and professions. As Australia marches boldly towards building an innovative economy and futuristic society, speakers at the Retreat shared their views on recent trends and developments at the economic frontier where the best concepts and ideas meet capitalism. Everyone had various modern themes in mind for the forum discussions, such as artificial intelligence, big data, space technology, energy technology, medical advancements, cutting-edge manufacturing, quantum computing, blockchain and smart cities etc. While an extensive range of topics have been covered over the four days, our report here will focus on the discussion about strategic thinking and big-picture vision, in the hope that it will inspire our readers to reflect on what it means to be a leader of the future.

The US-China trade war has been a hot topic. Participants have discussions and debates. As a matter of fact, leaders are standing on a common ground to think and talk about the challenges that the world is facing. 

Like every country, Australia is also worried about the external threats to its national sovereignty. Some participants also warned of the unbalanced dependence of the Australian economy on China. But this concern is easily relaxed by statistics. Australia’s exports account for 21% of its GDP, which is relatively low compared to many other countries. For example, South Korea is more dependent on exports in international trade, with the export-GDP ratio over 40%. Compared with the reliance on coexistence between countries caused by the globalization of goods and services, Australia may need to worry more about the hidden dangers of the cyber world to national security issues.

Experts who have participated in the negotiations between Australia and many countries on the FTA once again stressed that the 21st century is the century of Asia, which represents not only the rise of China, but also the rapid development of India and other Southeast Asian states. Among the region, India is undergoing the process of urbanization at an unprecedented speed. Australia has a long way to address the potential opportunities in this context. It has been pointed out that the issue is not that Australia is overly dependent on China. As a matter of fact, Australia needs to make greater effort to understand its largest trading partner. The demand from China is beyond just coal and iron. Healthcare products, consumer goods, and food etc. are highly demanded. How to better grasp these market opportunities requires the export industry to continuously enhance its understanding of the trading partners.

In addition to Asia, the EU representative reminded the audience of some facts. EU is Australia’s second largest trading partner and the largest source of investment. Australia is also the most popular destination for EU students. In the next 20 years, the number of enrolments at tertiary education institutes worldwide would likely to double. Under the circumstances, Australian education sector should enhance the facilitation of free trade and free exchanges to achieve the full potential in this area.

Ultimately, the key to the problem is not to reduce dependence between countries, but to deepen and improve communication and cooperation between them.

To be a technology maker not a taker?

In the era of high-techs including digitalization, artificial intelligence, blockchain, biomedicine, etc., is Australia on the express train of the technology makers? The outlook may not be very optimistic.

Regarding Australia’s investment in research and development, Australia’s top academic representatives put forward a warning. R&D investments are conventionally broken down into three categories: Primary/Basic research, Applied research, and Development. Australia’s investment in basic research is in the leading squad, with the investment in development satisfactory. Investment in applied research is the weak point of the R&D area, which directly affects the commercialisation. The situation in France is similar to that in Australia. Many developers in these two countries have flocked to the United States instead to start-up businesses. The United States has a lot of friendly policies for entrepreneurs. For example, companies declaring for bankruptcy is only obliged to pay one week’s salary to the employees, and once employees leave, there are numerous start-ups out there waiting for them.

Visionary leaders are learning from the United States and leaning policy on entrepreneurs. For example, French President Macron is deepening its reform despite of pressures from all parts of the community. They foresee that new jobs would mainly come from the start-ups, not traditional big firms.

The challenges facing ‘Made in Australia’

The relative lag in applied research has a direct impact on Australian manufacturing. Representatives from the Australian business community expressed their unanimous approval. The lack of commercialization has slowed down its development and international competitiveness of Australian manufacturing. At the same time, there is still a big gap between the skills of college graduates and the skills demanded by enterprises. Companies often find it hard to recruit the right people. Incorporating overseas employees has always been the advantage of Australia as an immigrant country. However, Australia’s immigration policy is currently out of balance, making it difficult to fill the talent gap in manufacturing.

To tackle the aforesaid issues and challenges, manufacturing policy experts from Germany gave some suggestions. First of all, Australian manufacturing companies should look at the integration of the entire value chain, not limited to production and manufacturing. From front-end R&D, design, to assembly, transportation and services, companies ought to participate more, improving the efficiency of the entire value chain and thus adding more values to the end-products.

Secondly, as far as talent shortage is concerned, Germany is a role model to learn from. German ranks top on vocational and technical training compared to the rest of the world. The graduates are highly desired in the labour market. Therefore, a large number of young people in Germany go to vocational institutes for training, many of whom would end up in the universities after years of training and working.

In other sessions, participants shared their own observations and opinions of national competitiveness on an upper strategic level. Scientists, academic representatives and policy makers all end up on the common ground that the competitiveness of a nation is ultimately the competitiveness of talents. Future talents must possess deep expertise, cross-disciplinary and critical thinking capability and keep continuous learning. On top of that, technical elites should know how to use the technology, a double-edged sword, when to use it, when not to use it, how to use it, and so on. The discussion went on philosophically with humanitarian care, which was very thought-provoking.

Today is cruel, tomorrow is crueler, the day after is rosy

With the rapid change of technology, skills are constantly under the threat of elimination. The Big Four accounting firms justify the prediction with the statistics showing that repetitive work and basic data processing work have already been largely replaced. How to deal with the upcoming risk of unemployment is the question that all world leaders should put in the first place.

At the keynote dinner, Mr. Micheal Roux, sorrowfully retold the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 (the Rwandan massacre). The hatred accumulated in the colonial era since the end of 19th. Century, leading to hundreds of thousands of Tutsi victims. Mr. Roux’s speech was so touching, that the audience were absorbed in thoughts. People were encouraged to ponder over bigger questions, such as where the mankind as a whole has been through, and where we will head towards down the path. 

The results of anthropological and psychological researches show that the more diverse a community is, the more resilient it is to the external threats, and the more innovative it becomes. As a multicultural country, Australia is indeed blessed. It reaches a balance point between serious cultures (such as Germany and Japan) and relaxed and open cultures (such as Greece and Italy), without losing its spirit of innovation and leisure culture. We hope that in Australia, the grand scene of human republic will be realized.

Editor: Elaing Yang