One of the hallmarks of any Wharton Global Forum is the auspicious nature of the conversations. Through keynotes, panels, and fireside chats at the 51st Forum, held in Sydney, Australia March 7-9, speakers seized the moment and took on the timeliest issues and headlines in business, geopolitics, and economics. Here is a snapshot of some of the key takeaways and perspectives from the Forum.
A Prime Minister’s Perspective on Power and Politics
- The Hon. Paul Keating
Chair of the International Advisory Council, 24th Prime Minister of Australia (1991-1996)
Paul Keating’s keynote address at the Wharton Global Forum attracted headlines for his surprising affirmation on President Donald Trump’s policy on U.S. and China diplomatic relations.
But the former Australian Prime Minister gave the Forum audience a master class in geopolitics, describing a visit to East Germany in 1987, his time in Tiananmen Square three days before tanks rolled in to quash protests, and his visit to Russia with the USSR State Symphony Orchestra not long before the Berlin Wall fell.
“I always think that a country is a bit like the earth and the moon. The moon provides gravitational tension with the earth, and that determines the tide. It’s the same with a country,” Keating said. “One has to have a feeling for the vector forces as they affect you and change you from time to time.”
Presently, the unique and predominant global force is the simultaneous growth of North America, Europe, and China. Figuring Russia into the balance, Keating said that stability depends on three things: “It depends upon restraint, it depends upon force, and it depends upon legitimacy…finding that balance and the ability to ensure that the competition remains political and diplomatic is the great challenge for the U.S. and China.”
Listen to full audio of the Hon. Paul Keating’s speech at the Wharton Global Forum.
From Retail to Tariffs: It’s All About Adapting to Change
Legendary global shopping center developer Sir Frank Lowy, who is retiring following the acquisition of his Australian-based Westfield Corporation by France’s Unibail in a $32.8 billion deal, believes the future for retailing remains bright.
“Retail is a very old business,” Sir Frank said. “It has gone through many challenges and many innovations. It is a wonderful business to be in and I have no fear for the future of retail. He added that businesses need to take risks and that business has to adapt to the conditions of the time. “The world is changing. Not all change is good but, generally, change creates opportunities.”
Raising the possibility of the United States introducing tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, David Gonski asked Lowy if Australia should be welcoming this change.
“Growth comes from competition and competition is based on free trade,” Lowy said. “I think it [tariffs] would be a negative step for the world…Any growth would be limited. Paul Keating released Australia from protectionism so I don’t think this would be productive.”
Australia Feels the Heat as Temperature between United States and China Rises
- Geoffrey Garrett
Dean and Reliance Professor of Management and Private Enterprise, Professor of Management, The Wharton School
- Simon Jackman
Chief Executive Officer, The United States Studies Centre
- Honourable Kristina Keneally
Senator for New South Wales, 42nd Premier of New South Wales (2009-2011)
Given the history of Australia relying on its central, grand strategy of maintaining a rock-solid relationship with the United States while benefiting from a China on the rise, Garrett said this balancing act is becoming harder to maintain. “This…is becoming more of a high wire act and it’s putting Australia in a really difficult position,” Garrett said, with Sen. Keneally saying it would be “disastrous” if Australia had to make a choice between China and America.
Two developments—the appointment of “straight talker” Admiral Harry Harris as the U.S. ambassador to Australia and President Donald J. Trump’s unexpected announcement for sweeping steel and aluminum tariffs are appearing to rattle this long-standing relationship between allies.
“America is sending one of its most senior military leaders here,” said Jackman. Yet he does not believe the arrival of Admiral Harris is signaling the start of a new Cold War. “This is a very different sort of environment.”
“We know Harry Harris is coming to Australia, and we know he is seeming to say that Australia needs to pick a side almost militarily,” Sen. Keneally said. She also said the “truth about tariffs is that this is a big change.”
Dean Garrett offered what he called a 21st century perspective. “Let’s focus on big, multinational firms doing complex investment deals, he said. “And let’s focus much less on trade. That’s a 20th century notion.”
Digital Disruption and the Future Role of Media
- Michelle Guthrie, BA, LLB
Managing Director, Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)
“Incremental change in the way we operate is no longer enough. Every corner of the media industry is facing a battle for relevance,” said Michelle Guthrie, managing director of the ABC since 2016. Guthrie is leading Australia’s national broadcaster in new strategic directions better equipped to meet the challenges of the digital era.
“Never have audiences been so empowered by media consumers and we are reaching people in ways we thought unimaginable even just five years ago,” Guthrie said. “Disruption has irrefutably changed the way we think about content and delivery.”
Guthrie said in today’s hyper-competitive media landscape it is critical that media organizations, like the ABC, play to their strengths. While the market is saturated with national stories, she said the ABC is growing its regional coverage. “We are telling the stories from Tasmania and Queensland,” she said. “There is a crying need for depth, independence, and critical analysis. Our challenge is to make changes that go in the direction of our audience to stand out from the noise.”