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Structural reform and a more modern economy.

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This morning I officially opened the first APEC Ministerial Meeting wholly dedicated to structural reform.

The emphasis that APEC and the Australian Government are placing on structural reform reflects our shared view that reforms have an important role in helping economies to manage the current challenges facing the global economy.

Importantly, structural reform can work to stimulate economic growth where it is needed and improve living standards in Australia and the Asia-Pacific.

Structural reform also helps create stronger and more efficient markets that boost productivity and, in turn, lead to greater economic prosperity.

Australia is well-placed to host this important meeting on structural reform, having benefitted from a series of key reforms implemented during the 1980s and early 1990s. These include the floating of the dollar and deregulation of the financial sector, compulsory superannuation and the move from centralised wage fixation to enterprise bargaining.

The Rudd Government is now embarking on a new era of reform, including the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme to help us move to a low-pollution economy; the Australia’s Future Tax System Review to modernise the tax system; and our efforts at the Council of Australian Governments to create a seamless national economy.

These reforms, together with disciplined fiscal management and ongoing investment in economic capacity, help underpin future growth and put downward pressure on inflation.

The APEC Ministerial Meeting on Structural Reform provides an opportunity not only to discuss the benefits of reform, but also to understand the challenges that all APEC member economies face in undertaking behind-the-border structural reform.

In today’s sessions, Ministers discussed some of the determinants of successful reform and how different institutional frameworks, strategies and processes can be used to achieve reform.

The Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs, the Hon Chris Bowen MP, spoke on Australia’s experiences, including the role the Productivity Commission and the Council of Australian Governments play in building consensus for reform in Australia.

The meeting also provided an opportunity for Ministers to meet with high-level business representatives from across the Asia-Pacific region, recognising the important role the business community plays in facilitating structural reform.

As part of a working lunch with business we heard from the Australian Trade Minister, the Hon Simon Crean MP, on the important link between structural reform and strengthening trade and investment flows.

With Australia’s economic future increasingly linked to that of our region, we have a clear shared interest in working together to strengthen and modernise our respective economies.

MELBOURNE 4 August 2008