The Australian Government's Asian Century White Paper was yesterday criticised by the Hon. Colin Barnett, Premier of Western Australia, as being flawed and incomplete.
Mr Barnett described the White Paper as "underwhelming" and lacking in analysis and objectivity, with half of the report devoted to "recycled press releases and ministerial statements from the Rudd and Gillard governments".
Mr Barnett told delegates at the In the Zone conference at The University of Western Australia that the patronising and simplistic nature of the report had been compounded by a number of significant omissions.
"Productivity was talked about but the elephant in the room was industrial relations, which was totally ignored," he said. "Structural change in Australia was largely omitted. WA's increasing dominance was not there. The report tends to downplay mining - ‘here we go again, boom and bust'. Much of what is counted as manufacturing is actually moderate transformations of raw materials."
Mr Barnett said the focus on the services sector had been overplayed. "Services growth is important but also transferable, there is open competition from anywhere in the world. We should not lose sight of the fact that services trade is still less than 20 per cent of global trade."
Mr Barnett criticised positive comments about Australia's reliability, pointing out that two "big hiccups" in recent years had been the Mining Resources Rent Tax (MRRT) and the abrupt cessation of live cattle exports to Asia, both of which had damaged Australia's international reputation.
"Why would you design a tax like the MMRT and treat state royalties as pre-paid MRRT tax rather than treat them as a cost of production?" he said.
He said it was Singapore, rather than Darwin, that had the potential to develop as a professional services hub for the Asian region despite the White Paper's identification of the Northern Territory capital as the gateway to Asia and a potential world-leading financial centre.
Mr Barnett said Western Australia's relationship with China was respectful and mature, and this would support the pursuit of opportunities such as the recently announced stage two of the Ord River project. As part of the development, Chinese company Shanghai Zhongfu will construct a major sugar mill near Kununurra and plans to produce and harvest four million tonnes of cane per annum to turn into sugar and biofuels.
He encouraged the rest of Australia to take a long-term view of China's growth. "WA understands that the ride it takes with China is onwards and upwards, but jagged," he said.
Despite his reservations, Mr Barnett said the White Paper had provided a good snapshot of Asian growth, highlighting the urbanisation of city states such as Shanghai and Singapore; food security; environment; and the increasing amount of foreign exchange reserves held by Asian countries.
Mr Nev Power, Chief Executive, Fortescue Metals Group, said his company was confident of the long-term growth of China, which takes 95 percent of Fortescue's iron ore.
"Central and western urbanisation, and associated infrastructure, will drive steel demand," Mr Power said.
He said this year's 40-year anniversary of diplomatic relations with China and the new generation of leaders in that country had provided an ideal environment in which to strengthen the depth of relationships between Australia and China.
Mr Power said tensions between the United States and China created challenges for Australia. "But it is wrong for us to think about a choice between our friends in US and friends in China. Both of these relationships are extremely important and we need to develop relationships with both," he said.
Mr Power said that while once Australia rode on the sheep's back, "today we ride on the dragon's back".
Mr Peter Robinson, Vice President Upstream, Shell, said there were numerous opportunities for companies to work with China.
He described four ways in which Shell engages with China - working with Chinese companies internationally and bringing them into opportunities around the world; investing in Chinese gas projects; research and development, and opportunities to have goods manufactured in China and deployed internationally; and collaborating with China's services sector.
In the Zone is an intensive meeting of national and international leaders from the business, government and academic sectors.
With the theme ‘The Geography of Global Prosperity', the conference provides an opportunity for discussion and debate about the increasingly complex global neighbourhood and key policy questions facing Australia and the region.
The conference follows the success of the 2009 In the Zone Conference and the 2011 Business Forum.
For more information about the In the Zone conference: www.zone.uwa.edu.au