The nation’s schools could open when they like and graduate their students based on how quickly they progress through their own syllabus under proposals from the Productivity Commission that would touch every part of the economy.
From overhauling the skilled migration system to creating a national digital identity card, the commission has used its first economy-wide report in five years to advocate changes that also include requiring all residential and commercial property sales to come with a climate change risk analysis.
Commission chairman Michael Brennan said the country had to start lifting the nation’s economic speed limit if living standards were to improve, but Treasurer Jim Chalmers warned some proposals would be ignored as they conflicted with the government’s own values.
The commission’s report, Advancing Prosperity, made 71 recommendations across more than 1000 pages of analysis. It follows a long-term decline in Australia’s productivity growth rate, which over the past decade has slipped to its lowest level since the 1950s.
The proposals cover five key areas – workforce skills, the use of data, competition across the economy, lifting productivity in non-market areas such as the care sector, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions at the cheapest possible price.
In skills, the commission said there had to be a “shake-up” of the way the nation’s schools operated, noting that the traditional 9am to 3pm day had barely changed over recent decades.
It found some teachers worked long hours of between 44 and 57 hours a week, with much of that time spent on “low-value” but necessary tasks that prevented them from carrying out their core responsibilities.
Among a range of proposals, the commission advocates giving local schools more control over their operating hours, which could include longer days or different starting times. It suggests offering online classes if a school does not have a teacher with the relevant expertise.
It also believes a trial of so-called “untimed syllabus” – where a student progresses through a set curriculum at their own pace – would help teachers and struggling students.
The commission advocates a radical overhaul of the skilled migration system, moving away from the current approach under which migrants are sought for particular occupations to one based on a wage-threshold. Prospective skilled migrants would have to be paid at least $85,000 a year.
The current business innovation and investment visa program would be axed, while a special visa aimed at potential workers in the care sector – such as aged care or childcare – would be trialled.
The commission proposes major changes around the use of information, including the sharing of public data with non-government organisations and private businesses, so they can improve products and services.
It also advocates that the federal and state governments work together on a single national digital identity that would be used for identification purposes.
In tax, it recommends axing the last remaining tariffs on imported goods, ending stamp duty on insurance premiums, and a possible change to the way debt is treated for tax purposes by businesses compared to equity funding.
In several areas, the commission’s proposals challenge the current government’s policies and those put in place by the Coalition.
It recommends a review of the government’s multi-enterprise bargaining approach in industrial relations. It backs that the needs of consumers be taken into account under workplace award negotiations.
A Northern Australia Reinsurance Pool, created by the Morrison government to reduce insurance costs for people in northern parts of the country, should not be expanded with the aim to end it within the “medium-term”.
Brennan said about 90 per cent of Australians now worked in the services sector in areas such as education, health and finance.
“It has traditionally been difficult to lift productivity in these sectors. But we are not alone. Economies around the world are grappling with the same issues. There is no easy answer, but we need to address this challenge to secure Australia’s future prosperity,” he said.
Chalmers said that of the 71 recommendations, at least 36 involved state and territory governments in part or in full.
He said he would talk to the states about recommendations that could be picked up, but he stressed Canberra would not be adopting all of the proposals.
“While we won’t be taking up every idea, or progressing those suggestions which conflict with our values and priorities, our work is aligned with the five themes,” he said.
“We are progressing, in some form, more than two-thirds of the 29 reform directives outlined in the report, and methodically working through the specific recommendations.”
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