Australia at a crossroads — future prosperity or slow decline: report

CSIRO Head Office

Tuesday, 18 June, 2019

Australia at a crossroads — future prosperity or slow decline: report

Australian National Outlook 2019 (ANO), a new report from the CSIRO, NAB and more than 20 partners which looks out to 2060, signals Australia may face a slow decline if it takes no action on the most significant economic, social and environmental challenges.

But if these challenges are tackled head on, Australia could look forward to a positive outlook vision, with strong economic growth, ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, affordable energy and more livable major cities.

ANO 2019 draws on the latest scientific data and modelling from leading experts at CSIRO and input from more than 50 senior leaders from across industry, non-profit and university sectors.

"The ANO is a unique way of uniting the power of science with the lived and hoped-for experiences of Australia's industry leaders and chart a path to prosperity that gives all Australians a better quality of life," said CSIRO Chief Executive Larry Marshall. "To put Australia on the path to the most prosperous future though requires a new way of thinking and a new type of leadership which cuts across all walks of life in our great country."

NAB Chief Customer Officer Business and Private Banking Anthony Healy said Australia's largest businesses have a responsibility to make decisions that create a better and stronger nation, to take a long-term view and invest now for a better future.

The report states the key challenges facing Australia are:

  • The rise of Asia and the associated shift in the geopolitical and economic landscape
  • Technological change in areas such as AI, automation and biotechnology that are challenging Australia's recent decline in education performance
  • Climate change posing a significant economic and social threat
  • Changing demographics, with an ageing population and dropping workforce participation
  • Reduced trust in governments, businesses and the media
  • Decline in social cohesion, related to issues such as slow wage growth and poor housing affordability.

"A key outcome of the ANO 2019 must be leadership and action," said Healy. "NAB will be making commitments to drive positive change that helps customers take advantage of new opportunities and encourages growth in Australia."

The report states that if the positive Outlook Vision future is achieved, then by 2060 Australia will have achieved the following goals:

  • Our living standards in 2060 — as measured by GDP per capita — could be as much as 36% higher in the Outlook Vision compared with the Slow Decline scenario.
  • Average real wages (adjusted for inflation) could be 90% higher than today.
  • Passenger vehicle travel per capita could decline by up to 45% in our major cities, with more people living closer to work, school, services and recreation.
  • Household spending on electricity — relative to incomes — could decrease by up to 64%.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced to ‘net zero’ by 2050.

In the case of the Slow Decline future, the report states that "Australia drifts into the future" without reaching its full potential, with "economic growth, investment and education outcomes all relatively weak" and the economy "increasingly vulnerable to external shocks".

The report identifies five key shifts needed to achieve the Outlook Vision:

  • Industry shift: Boost productivity in established industries, prepare our workforce for jobs of the future and invest in innovative, high-growth industries.
  • Urban shift: Increase the density of our major cities, create a wider mix of housing options and improve our transportation infrastructure.
  • Energy shift: Adopt low-emissions technologies in electricity and transport, triple energy productivity and pursue opportunities for low-emissions energy export.
  • Land shift: Invest in food and fibre industries, find new and profitable ways to use our land, and build resilience to climate change.
  • Culture shift: Restore the trust in institutions, companies and politics.

To help solve the challenges raised in the report, ANO participants will shortly announce commitments to support the Outlook Vision.

The report was led by the CSIRO Futures team and included over 20 researchers from across nearly every part of CSIRO.

"We hope the ANO 2019 serves as a clarion call for Australia," said CSIRO Futures Director James Deverell. "We believe the positive outcomes in this report are all achievable, but they will require bold, concerted action and long-term thinking.

"Emerging technologies will play a key role and Australian companies need to be aware of both the opportunities and challenges they will create."

This is the second Australian National Outlook report. The first report in 2015 focused on the water–energy–food nexus, and prospects for Australia's energy, agriculture and other material-intensive industries. The report was nominated for a Eureka Science Award and published in the journal Nature.

The Australian National Outlook 2019 and the Technical Report can be downloaded at

Member organisations participating in the Australian National Outlook 2019 include Australian Ethical, Australian National University, Australia Post, Australian Red Cross, ASX, Australian Unity, Baker McKenzie, Birchip Cropping Group, ClimateWorks Australia, Cochlear, CSIRO, Gilbert+Tobin, Global Access Partners, GrainCorp, Lendlease, Monash University, National Australia Bank, PwC, Shared Value Project, Shell Australia, UnitingCare Australia and University of Technology Sydney.

Image credit: ©amidala/Dollar Photo Club

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