Argentina and Australia are alphabetical neighbours within the G20 but there are at least two reasons beyond the numerous South-South empathies of the two immigrant and strongly agricultural countries to make the world’s biggest island a touchstone, says departing Australian Ambassador Noel Campbell – recent experience hosting the G220 Leaders’ Summit (Brisbane, 2014) and the success of the Australian model (the subject of a recent The Economist cover offering it as an example for other G20 countries).
Campbell has little to add on the first point – he feels that in its meticulous preparations for the upcoming summit Argentina has already consulted the Brisbane experience about as fully and conscientiously as possible. But drawing from a ‘kangaroo model’ resulting in 27 straight years of economic growth is considerably more complex – it can never be “cut and paste,” the envoy insists.
Instead he favours identifying specific sectors most meeting Argentine needs and much of his diplomatic work in the last four years has been on that basis – from his own experience he would like to pinpoint at least three areas beyond urging free-trade agreements which account for two-thirds of Australian exports.
Firstly, PPPs (public private partnerships), an infant system here but highly evolved in Australia – this can be a win-win situation offering profitable private input while maintaining state control over public works although foreign direct investment in infrastructure needs a confidence in the fundamentals which Australia now enjoys.
Secondly, education with a special focus on vocational and technical training and retraining – one of the three main priorities of this summit and already big in Hamburg last year. Campbell feels that this is crucial for a brighter future here since Argentina could play to its strengths in sectors such as mining and software by training more youngsters in such skills instead of professional careers and outdated industries. Productivity is the key word – and here he notes that the Mauricio Macri administration in particular has taken an intelligent interest in Australia’s Productivity Commission, a prime ingredient in its success story.
Thirdly, streamlining social services toward a “one stop shop” – the ANSES social security administration recently sent out a delegation to examine Australian progress in that direction. Australia earlier had a multitude of social agencies (thus single mothers had their own, for example) but these have been largely merged, thus saving not only money but also bureaucratic confusion for beneficiaries.
On the summit itself, Campbell takes a broadly positive view of the G20 as more diverse than the largely Western G7 and proving its worth in the 2008 global crisis (tripling the International Monetary Fund’s lending capacity etc.).
This diversity also leads to differences (most notoriously over trade and climate change) but it is better that these differences should be talked rather than fought out and better that the World Trade Organisation should be reformed from within (as resolved at September’s Mar del Plata ministerial summit in contrast with the lack of consensus at the recent APEC conclave).
But the envoy also thinks that any G20 summit should look beyond current differences to problems likely to grow in the future – such as the gender gap, digital taxation and changing health issues (obesity and resistance to antibiotics).
The Times then asked a pointed question when enquiring about Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the summit’s new boy on the block with just three months on the job – 27 straight years of economic growth is pretty unique but for such success to be accompanied by the same governing party having three different leaders in five years even more so.
Like all trained diplomats, Campbell shies away from delving into domestic politics but he did underline that only the party leader changed, not the government or the continuity of the process as a whole. In this connection he pointed out that while the social service streamlining, for example, might be the work of the Liberals (in power since 2013), Australia’s turnaround had begun under Labor as from 1983 with cuts in tariffs and subsidies, deregulation and privatisation. But he did observe that all the Cabinet changes permitted a ministerial presence in only four of the seven summits (although always represented).
Finally, since Campbell is ending his mission here just before Christmas, it seems only appropriate to close with some farewell reflections. This is his second posting to Argentina (the boomerang stereotype, he jokes) and this time he came here by choice, he underlines.
Asked for highlights, he names a few – unabashedly hailing the 2015 change of government as boosting relations and the first visit of an Australian Governor-General (Sir Peter Cosgrove) in 2016 while he is definitely ending on a high note with his prime minister here for the G20 summit – but above all he wishes to stress the continuity of a work in progress and optimism for the future with “unlimited opportunities for trade and investment.”