Australia needs to focus on improving its competitive position if it is to capitalise on the benefits of the Asian Century, the closing session at The University of Western Australia's In the Zone conference heard yesterday.
Earlier, delegates were told how the expression "riding on the sheep's back" had been replaced by "riding on the dragon's back", in reference to the Chinese growth story and Australia's place in the Asian zone.
Mr Christian Porter, Former State Treasurer and Attorney-General, and federal candidate for Pearce, said the focus of debate should not be China's pace of growth, but on the competition for engagement with China.
"What is interesting is how crowded it will be on the dragon's back," Mr Porter said. "We have many competitors for the Chinese market. That our non-resource exports to China have diminished over the past decade is a serious issue."
"I am bullish about Chinese growth but somewhat bearish about our ability to make the most of the opportunities that are there."
Mr Porter said the core concern arising from the Australian Government's Asian Century White Paper was that its distribution would "tick a box" but critical issues such as productivity reform, microeconomic reform and strategic infrastructure spend would not be addressed.
The final panel session of the conference discussed a general lack of understanding in Australia about how the Western Australian economy operated and its national and global relevance. A level of romanticism about traditional industries such as manufacturing influenced views on the east coast.
Mr Vinay Venkataraman, Co-founder of the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design, said Western Australia had the opportunity to be a launching pad for Asian region economic and social solutions, however the State needed to ensure it created the right environment to attract talented people.
"That might mean creating an ecosystem that puts more emphasis on design or cultural aspects of Perth, and urban development," Mr Venkataraman said.
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
Photo: Vinay Venkataraman, Elena Douglas, Christian Porter, Professor Paul Johnson, Geoff Elliott