THE BLOG

What Has the G20 Meant for Australia?

21/11/2014 11:18 GMT | Updated 20/01/2015 10:59 GMT

As they clear up the convention centre in downtown Brisbane, Australia and take down the banners and start returning the city to normal, this is the ideal time to reflect on what exactly hosting the G20 leaders meeting has meant for Australia, and moreover for the global community.

As the President and host of the G20 forum in 2014, Australia set an agenda that focused on economic growth driven by the private sector, building resilience to future financial shocks and strengthening international institutions. These are all sensible policy initiatives and worthy aspirations. Let's look at the reality of what the G20 can do to deliver them.

Following the high profile gathering of the presidents of the United States, China, Russia and Indonesia and prime ministers from the UK, India, Japan, New Zealand and Singapore, among others, a number of outcomes were announced in the official five-page communique. They ranged from a commitment to add 2.1 per cent to existing global economic growth projections, establishing the Global Infrastructure Initiative that will establish a Global Infrastructure Hub in Sydney to drive investment and knowledge sharing, actions to reduce the equality gap between men and women, actions to address international profit shifting and developing a two year plan to combat corruption.

The world's media and commentators have now filed their reports. We note that the official communique was typically dense, long on ambition and short on specifics. Not surprising then that a lot of the commentary around the meeting focused instead on four Russian navy ships which appeared off the northern Australian coast, the hasty departure of President Putin from Queensland, an awkward interlocked handshake photo opportunity and the emergence of Jimbelung the koala as the G20 star.

This is not new or unexpected. Global policy making is a big ask when you're trying to get consensus from the world's largest economic powers on what is the best course of action. It is one thing to sign on for global tax reform in the safe, legally non-binding world of the G20, quite another to get back home and sell it to your constituents. President Obama for instance now controls neither the House of Representatives nor the Senate and only has two years left in office. Self-interest is a strong incentive, and it must be remembered that all politics is local, even when it's a global meeting.

There are positives. Having the opportunity to host the event has shown the world that Australia is truly 'open for business' - to coin a phrase from Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott. The world's leaders, and their business delegations, now have no reason not to know where Australia is, what we stand for and, in part, what Australia, and Australian business, believes in. The long-term value of this is difficult to quantify but it would be a very large number indeed.

Despite the copious number of announcements, press conferences and meetings that were held during the G20 Leader's Summit, it is hard not to see this as yet another in a long list of world leaders meetings. Which, if we are honest, is exactly what it was. Remember, just a week earlier the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting was held just up the road in Beijing where many of the same world leaders were in attendance with an agenda very similar to what was on offer in Brisbane.

The tangible benefits of hosting a G20 are not, nor should they be, for the host nation. The G20 is about global aspirations for free trade and economic growth - empowering emerging economies and lifting more people out of poverty.

To that end, and the day following the closing of the G20 Leaders' Summit, Prime Minister Abbott and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the conclusion of a Free Trade Agreement that has been a decade in the making. This agreement will have a profound impact on Australian business and society. As an outcome, when compared to being the President of the G20 for a shining but brief moment in time, there really is no comparison.

What hosting the G20 has hopefully shown is that it is a mistake to see Australia as simply an exporter of minerals, a good place to holiday or a country that grows things. I hope that the world's Leaders leave Australia with a much broader view of an established, prosperous and advanced country that is increasingly well positioned within the emerging heart of Asia.

Alex Malley is the chief executive of CPA Australia