Has sustainability become a dirty word in Australia?

 

Australians feel entitled without civic commitment or preparedness, in football terms, “to make the hard yards” to achieve the things that matter to the sustainability, competitiveness and well-being of the nation.   A lot of Australians go to extraordinary efforts to avoid paying tax, for example.   In the trades sector it is commonplace for a customer to be offered two prices: a normal commercial quotation and then the alternative “cash only” which goes straight into the black economy.  The roll-on effect means less money for State Governments through the GST for schools and hospitals.  We want a free roads, health and education system, but are happy to skip the tax part that pays for it.  The cash only black economy is a manifestation of the failure of our civic culture in some quarters.  A sustainable society requires people with aspiration who value the role of government and subscribe to the notion of the common good.  With that there cannot be sustainable development.

9. Business sustainability – innovation strategy or push-back

For 20 years we have discussed and promoted the so-called triple bottom line approach of integrating economic, social, and environmental factors into active consideration and account when making decisions – whether those decisions are in government, business or the community.    This was an attempt to “internalise” many of the factors that had been marginalised in the grand sweep of 20th century development at a cost to societies and the planet.  Instead of trade off, the triple bottom line approach was about win-win: development that was good for business, communities and the environment. 

Before the global financial crisis hit in 2008 there were more general signs of interest in government and business in promoting innovation that would help achieve sustainable development.  But with the financial meltdown proponents of business sustainability have been actively countered by a push-back from interests promoting not so much de-regulation, but self-regulation and a trust us we cannot afford this sustainability thing when jobs matter so much.  Some of you would have head a few minutes ago a representative of one of the gas companies give their version of the triple bottom line approach in the development of coal seam gas opportunities in the Surat and Bowen Basins.  Of course, the presentation revealed an imperfect approach to sustainable development, erring very much on the side of the economic ahead of the ecological and social, because commercial pressures are being acknowledged ahead of the precautionary principle in the rush to get
Queensland gas into Asian markets.

Over the past few years with a changing political cycle and the focus on commercial survival for much of the business sector, the word has been “stick to the knitting”, “get rid of anything that is not obviously making a short term payback” and defer anything optional.  For most businesses, the past few years have not been ones for innovation and new directions.  In a bearish investment setting characterised by tightening credit and poor consumer confidence, many Australian businesses have jettisoned their embryonic interest in sustainability strategies and innovation.

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