Business leaders were treated to key insights into the economy and leadership during this week’s ANZ & CCIWA Economic Breakfast.
Special guest Rabia Siddique, who survived a hostage crisis in Iraq in 2005, spoke of resilience and how to build, maintain and harness it during “great change and uncertainty”.
Siddique, a former British Army senior officer and a war crimes and terrorism prosecutor, described how she migrated to Perth in the 1970s “when White Australia Policy was still very much alive”.
She said her childhood experiences, good and bad, helped build her resilience early on and drove her purpose and choices in life.
Siddique said after working as a lawyer in Perth, she moved to the UK to realise her life’s calling to become a humanitarian lawyer before eventually joining the British Army as a legal officer.
After being deployed to Iraq in 2005 to provide military international legal advice and work with Iraqi authorities to help them reestablish law and order in the country, she said the situation became “dangerous and volatile”.
After being asked by her Major to lead negotiations to free two British soldiers taken hostage, Siddique said was “petrified” but forced to step out of her comfort zone “for the greater good”.
“There was no choice because the lives of my two mates now rested on my shoulders, so I had to step up, and I had to step in to the uncomfortable situation and the discomfort,” she recalled.
The mission took a turn, and she was taken hostage and tortured, but eventually rescued. In the UK, she endured several personal and career setbacks before eventually being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She later successfully sued the British Government for discrimination.
“When we speak about resilience, we speak about the ability to see the opportunity for change and growth in situations of hardship and uncertainty,” she said.
She said her four calls to action, or mantras, included:
- Be willing to confront our realities, the beautiful and the ugly.
- Be willing to challenge and if necessary, change our perspectives.
- Be willing to protect and preserve hope at all costs, especially when it’s the most difficult to do so.
- Be prepared to do the uncomfortable
Economy tracking better
ANZ Senior Economist Adelaide Timbrell followed these thoughts with analysis that offered both room for optimism and caution in an engaging 2022 Economic Update.
She said despite current global volatility, “we’re actually in a much better point now in the economy than we were before COVID”.
She said prior to 2020 wage growth had been sluggish over many years, the Reserve Bank had been cutting interest rates to try and stimulate economic activity and unemployment was drifting up.
“Our problem was not enough economic growth, not enough wage growth, not enough inflation, and now we have the exact opposite problem,” she said.
“COVID has kicked us into gear in a really transformative way.”
Timbrell said Australians were paid 5.2 per cent more per hour on average than last year, and she predicted this “employee bargaining power” would continue to spur wage growth, and, in turn, higher inflation and interest rate rises.
She said the stimulus response during the pandemic meant “we pushed so much money into the economy that … people have money and they’re trying to spend it all at the same time on the same stuff,” she said.
Timbrell said WA’s resources sector and lower-than-national unemployment rate meant “there’s extra opportunity on the West Coast compared to the rest of Australia that are facing a little bit more sensitivity to those interest rate increases”.
Skilled labour shortages continue to bite
According to CCIWA’s latest Business Confidence Survey report, WA business confidence levels have taken a hit both in the short and the long term.
CCIWA Chief Economist Aaron Morey said skilled labour shortages continued to be one of the biggest challenges for local businesses and reiterated CCIWA’s calls to raise migration caps.
However, he said net interstate migration had started to turn positive and he believed WA would continue to attract more workers, particularly in the mining sector.
Morey said Members appreciated that the RBA didn’t raise interest rates “too hard, too early” given that many businesses are experiencing a profitless boom at the moment.
“Revenue is really strong in Western Australia, but profits are not, so the cost of doing business — operating costs, those supply chain disruptions — are actually stripping away a lot of the profit.”
CCIWA CEO Chris Rodwell said a change of government always presented “a great vantage point for looking into the future”.
“How will the international rules-based order evolve? How can we resolve fragility in global supply chains? How will the global energy crisis affect commitments to climate change policy? Will technology continue to fuel productivity in the same way? How will inflation run?
“As we look into that future, as we look to the VISTA, there’s obviously plenty of uncertainty, but there is reason for optimism.”
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