The Role of Government in Addressing Non-conformance

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016
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We need a greater level of continuity in government policy so that business can compete, innovate and initiate change that will allow the people of Australia to prosper.

There is room in public discourse for both continuity and change. We need both to deliver confidence to the public and to address the emerging challenges we face.

This nation’s leadership cannot afford short-sighted vision or shallow purpose in this moment of change.

Compliance and non-conformance are not limited to products in the building industry. However, given the current focus on the industry, it provides relevance from governance, business and public perspectives.

Conformance of policy, product and people are particularly relevant as we head into an election of both houses of parliament.

We cannot take non-conforming building products in isolation and the following three examples are linked:

Firstly the last decade has seen changes in government to a large extent brought about where policy did not conform to people’s or businesses’ expectations.

Second, the double dissolution of Parliament was called to address what may be considered non-conforming behavior and actions of people and organizations in the building industry.

Finally, in dissolving Parliament, a long-running senate inquiry into non-conforming product was disbanded and many of the outcomes lost to business community struggling to compete in a market rife with non-conforming product.

How can Australian business compete globally in this environment?

The population of this nation is forecast to double in the next four decades. Imagine twice as many people as you walk about the shops, drive or hop on a train. We need new roads, train stations, schools, hospitals and offices. We need to feed, house and protect double the population by the time someone born today is 35 years old.

We need to be more productive, more efficient, more aware and more consistent to make this change happen, and it becomes more challenging when there is a lack of consistency and continuity from government.

For the most part, government does not generate jobs. It creates the circumstances for business to employ, produce and generate economic growth.

The business opportunities that result from doubling the size of the market are immense and Australia’s opportunities go well beyond our borders.

The Our Future World report by CSIRO identifies seven global trends. One is ‘The Silk Highway’ which forecasts that while Australia’s population doubles, income growth, largely in Asia, will see billions of middle class consumers demanding trade in products, services, tourism and education from this country.

To make the most of these opportunities, we need to deliver high quality consistently, we need to remove non-conformance from process and product and policy and we need to build on our reputation as a stable, reliable and clean producer.

If politically we could strive for a greater level of continuity, then business may have the confidence to imagine new products and services to meet this rapid acceleration locally and in our region for Australian made products and services.

Political parties need to define common aims and principles, beyond the cycles of elections, on which business can plan and grow and employ. In this context, we the people need to call on government to practice the innovation, collaboration, enterprise and common purpose that they call on industry to adopt. Government of any political stripe needs to practice what they preach and elevate the debate for the good of nation.

Parties need to set benchmarks of governance and expectations of business and restore trust to the public.

The last decade has seen many leaders in government. Perhaps this is the new normal in Australia, the globe’s most representative democracy. Our system of compulsory voting brings with it 100 per cent representation and adds accountability and responsibility to us all.

Australian policy makers must deliver constancy and continuity that will provide the business sector the confidence and stability to invest in innovation from which this nation may develop new services, transition technologies and well being for our maturing population and discerning global marketplace.

Our research shows a fragmented and multi-layered governance and regulatory framework within which the building industry operates. This allows deviation, misinterpretation and gaps for products and services that are supplied to us in our built environment.

Non-conformance in the built environment points at the changes in policy, layers of government, and myriad compliance regimes that business is expected to comply with.

The framework exists but is not enforced which allows non-conformance.

This situation is not unique to construction and from a governance perspective, all of our industries are impacted with current cases in dairy, supermarkets, itinerant employment contracts, convenience stores and education. These are examples of governance and market failures where policy and regulation lacks continuity, implementation or enforcement.

The OECD Better life Index provides insight into where we sit in comparison to most countries – in the top of most metrics! As an island nation, with the luxury of distance, we have a natural advantage in knowing who and what comes into and out if this country.

We of all nations should be confident that what we buy, use and consume complies with the laws and values we live under. We should use these laws and values to confidently deliver product to the world.

Another mega trend that CSIRO calls ‘Virtually here’ is the connectivity and accessibility of the individual to data, feedback and the ability to create demands on suppliers From a technology perspective, there are few boundaries to the available information and influence over supply chains which are continuous and linked from early manufacture to deliver to our door. If we extend this approach across the product life cycle, from sourcing, design and inputs and also extend it beyond ownership into consumption and waste, we begin to have clarity and so responsibility for the choices we make.

We face many challenges in the 21st century, summarized by our very own CSIRO. These trends effect us all and so government, business and individuals need to accept responsibility for the part they play and in maximizing this nation’s opportunities.

Imagination and innovation in politics might allow our political parties to define, agree and articulate some common principles and values against which policy might be developed.

Lowering deviation in policy lowers risk for business, and lowering risk for business may raise productivity. Reducing variance or the opportunity for non-conformance will also provide consistency in organisations’ behaviours. As citizens, we need confidence that what we build, buy and consume meets our standards and that what we export delivers value.

The building industry provides insights for this nation we must not ignore. If we cannot rely on government to define acceptable benchmarks of conformance, this undisciplined laissez-faire approach will see Australia’s industry, skills and productivity lost.

Global markets, international corporations and billions of emerging customers will show no mercy for our own failings.

Providing more continuity will allow business the space and confidence to imagine, innovate and develop models and products that deliver against emerging global challenges.

Longer vision and greater purpose must be higher priorities for all sides of government.

It will not matter which political party holds power if our products are weak, our skills are lost and our reputation trashed.

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