It is hardly surprising that Australian’s are asking themselves what the age of drones, robots and artificial intelligence herald for them and their families? Why wages are stagnating? And whether we should be trying to hold back the tides of change?

It sometimes feels as though we are living in an era of unprecedented change – whether or not this is true, it certainly feels that way to many in the community. It is hardly surprising that Australian’s are asking themselves what the age of drones, robots and artificial intelligence herald for them and their families? Why wages are stagnating? And whether we should be trying to hold back the tides of change?

These core issues, our need for wages growth and the changing nature of work, have always been intertwined. Understandably these changes to the nature of work provoke a fearful reaction to some in the community, disruption inevitably brings with it uncertainty. Looking back through rose tinted glasses, it's easy to see why we why calls to “protect” ourselves might be heeded. But in truth, trying to isolate Australians from new technologies will only transform our country into a global backwater and ultimately impose much worse social upheaval.

Instead of focusing on protecting the jobs of the past, we need to enhance the skills and capabilities of our workers, and build the competitiveness of our industries. Our education and training system should be improved so young people are trained in the kinds of roles that machines can’t do as well – lateral thinking, creativity and emotional skills. At the same time workers, whose jobs are eroded by the winds of change will need the ability to duck in and out of training as required without leaving the labour force.

This should be supplemented by a robust and targeted welfare safety net that ensures displaced workers don’t fall into poverty while finding their feet. Mass education, universal healthcare and aspects of the tax and transfer system will assist this transition. High personal taxes diminish reward for Australians who expend more time, energy and resources to boost their personal productivity.

When both Labor and the Coalition support marginal tax rates around 50 per cent, don’t be surprised to see upwardly mobile young Australians moving to thriving commercial centres like Hong Kong and Singapore, where personal tax rates are closer to 20 per cent. The twin issues of wages growth and the changing nature of work must become the key consideration of every piece of social and economic policy that parliament considers.

However, this transition in the economy can’t be left to government to manage through regulation and spending programs. Business, government and unions must work cooperatively together to decide what each of them can do to support the conditions for productivity and higher incomes.

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