HON. WAYNE SWAN MP
FEDERAL MEMBER FOR LILLEY
ADDRESS TO UNITED NATIONS ESCAP
"Making it Happen: Transitioning from MDGs to SDGs In The Asia Pacific"
THURSDAY, 30 SEPTEMBER 2015
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Rightly we are all proud that the 17 goals have been adopted and that support for them is broad.
But if we are to be successful we need a realistic plan to make inclusive prosperity a reality, and there is a very long and difficult road between our aspiration and the execution into practical policy.
So we need a "To Do" list, and a "How To Do" list.
I am an optimist about our region which has supplied an increasing percentage of global growth over the last 30 years. With strong population growth in the region the world has come to look to us as one of the great engines of the global economy.
But how do we, country by country, legislate and implement the reforms that lift living standards and job creation, and how do we get the taxes to pay for quality and affordable health and education?
First we need a mix of policies to lift growth - credible fiscal and monetary policy, with incentives for investment, in both physical and human capital. Most particularly in health and education.
It requires a strong effective government that sets domestic priorities and has a plan to secure its political and economic objectives. The public need to believe there are policies where the benefits of economic growth are spread widely.
We must have an inclusion imperative in everything we do.
It's important that the growing inequality that has characterized growth in the developed world during this period is not repeated in our region after we have eliminated unacceptable levels of poverty.
We are now armed with new research from the IMF that shows when the benefits of growth are concentrated, overall growth is weaker. When growth is more fairly shared, overall growth is stronger.
This repudiation of "trickle down " economics from the IMF - the notion that if you give more money to the wealthy everyone will be better off - is powerful support for robust implementation of Goal 10. This work has important implications for domestic resource mobilization, or put another way it points to the importance of progressive taxation systems.
The technical design and the implementation of policy in many ways is just the beginning of the policy journey. The difficult part can be how you get it done. How you secure support to legislate the approval for your reforms.
How do we manage to tame or defeat the diverse vested interests who seek to secure their existing economic rents at the expense of the majority, or to stop any change altogether so they can keep their privileged position?
In short, significant structural reforms which secure inclusive growth always collide with powerful vested interests.
A classic example is tax. Central to the capacity of nations to fund their own growth is a progressive tax system for corporates and for individuals.
If rich countries like mine have not been able to effectively tax large multinational corporates and very wealthy private interests, it's going to be even more difficult for emerging nations to put in place progressive tax systems. And if they can't get progressive tax systems in place, their capacity to fund affordable quality health and education is minimal.
Getting a progressive tax system does mean challenging power elites. Whether you are dealing with the issue of progressive taxation or seeking to reduce carbon emissions - or for that matter seeking to provide universal health and education - there is deep institutional resistance to more inclusive forms of growth over and above the elimination of unacceptable levels of poverty.
It comes from multinational mining companies profit shifting out of resource rich countries, or the IT companies paying tax nowhere, or tobacco companies trying to buy licenses for their poisonous trade. The list is long and deep.
Frequently official institutions are afraid to take these vested interests on. So what becomes important is not just the technical design of the policy but how you secure the public's support to legislate and implement such reforms.
You need a roadmap of who will stand in the way and a plan to win public support in the face of entrenched opposition.
But whatever you do you should never underestimate the power wielded by those who are the economic beneficiaries of politically inspired inequality.
This task is made all the more difficult if it is implement in a period of lower growth and declining revenues as we see now. It's even harder in this environment to purchase good reform.
So this is a difficult political battle, but it is one that must be won if our goals are to be realized by 2030.