Recently I had the opportunity to hear renowned demographer, Bernard Salt speak on a range of topics. His talk certainly left me with some lasting thoughts on where the Australian economy was heading.

In light of our ageing population, as well as the ethnicity composition, Australia in the next five years will look very different from the Australia of the past five to ten years. Bernard described the shifting of our tribal composition from an Anglo base to an Asian fusion as witnessed by the large influx of Chinese (54%) and Indian (101%) immigrants between 2006 and 2011.

While the past 30 years have seen us increasingly emulate Mediterranean values, the future will no doubt see greater expression of the aspirational values of the Chinese middle class. However, Bernard asks ‘Will we see more Arabic cultural influences over the longer term?’

What about the phrase coined by Bernard as the ‘Dubai effect’? Will the practice of middle-eastern entrepreneurs making their money in the likes of Saudi Arabia or Kuwait and then parking their family, money and lifestyle in the safe haven of Dubai, also become true of Asian entrepreneurs in Australian cities? If the likes of Sydney and Melbourne offer a lifestyle choice for middle class Asians who generate wealth in their native countries, then could this be a commercial opportunity for businesses in Australia?

Bernard summed up both the corporate and community themes that reflect our ever changing world that he deems to be consistent throughout the globe:

Corporate Themes

  • More for Less – customers want you to deliver more but pay you less
  • Expect the competition from left field – often a result of new technology (eg Coles insurance offering)
  • Globalisation – new players discovering Australia

Community Themes

  • Celebration of the individual – rights, entitlements, minorities
  • Loss of faith in institutions – church, unions, big business, politicians, not sure about public sector
  • Consequential rise of the need for transparency, accountability, apology and regulation

One of the final observations from the day was that as income per capita rises in India and China so will their demand for better quality food ‘moving from a starch to protein diet’.

Australia is well positioned to benefit from increased demand for high quality commodities such as aluminium instead of iron ore and cleaner energy with natural gas instead of coal.

In summary, it appears clear that the demographic and economic changes taking place in Asia will have a significant impact on Australia over the next decade. And as a nation, we appear to be well positioned to capitalise on some of these trends.