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Geoff Elliott: Australia is perfectly placed to benefit from the meteoric rise of the Chinese middle class.

There is something going on in Australia that is redefining a place that two centuries ago was an Anglo-colonial outpost in the Southern Hemisphere. Australia has long been seen as disadvantaged, culturally and economically, thanks to the tyranny of distance from the North Atlantic hegemon. It is now uniquely placed.

The economic crisis sweeping Europe and the US will, to be sure, still have its impact in Australia, although few are predicting an end to Australia's extraordinary two-decade run of uninterrupted growth - the last recession was in 1991. And taking the long view, the North Atlantic malaise only reinforces what has been predicted for some time: that this century will be the Asia Pacific's to own.

And Australia's (relatively) stable political system, sound legal and business environment makes Down Under the launch pad for many businesses to tap the extraordinary promise of growth in the region.

It's all thanks to Australia's ability to service the biggest boom we've seen in more than a century - the transformation of a billion-strong agricultural class in China to the middle class.

Some caveats: the global financial crisis mark II is still playing out and an economic slowdown will no doubt take some heat out of roaring commodity prices. And China's command economy and centralisation of political power means predictions on economic outcomes in China from one year to the next are difficult.

But doomsayers be warned. When it comes to economic crises, Asia has had its share, particularly the 1997 meltdown. That was an all too familiar debt crisis - only unlike Europe, Asia's escape hatch was to devalue their currencies. Since then Asia has gone from strength to strength and China's rapid economic growth has been nothing short of remarkable. There will be ups and downs, but the long-term trend appears obvious.

Australia's extraction industries are obviously benefiting as China's transition to a modern economy continues apace (albeit with the tension of a very dated political system). The other stereotype that Australia is a big quarry to service the manufacturing of the world's building blocks, like steel, is, in its way, true enough. And the China boom has, in the space of just ten years, made some Australians wealthy beyond anything this country has seen before.


Perth-based GinaRinehart, daughter of the legendary Lang Hancock who, when flying over the north west of Australia in the SOs correctly predicted the red rocks in Australia's north west were that colour because of rust, now has AUS$10bn to her name thanks to her iron ore holdings. If the China demand trajectory continues she could well become the richest person in the world - some predictions put her potential wealth at AUS$100 billion.

There is BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto. Anglo-Australian mining behemoths. But there are smaller firms around the servicing of China's extraordinary boom that are laying the foundations for a new century for Australia. Technology firms, legal services, accountancy, architects and banking. Some of the growth is being tapped by the multinational services firms, but there has been so much work to go around, home - grown companies are emerging.

In a recent landmark report from Australia's ANZ Bank, the scale of the biggest economic prize in Australia's history was laid out.

"On reasonable estimates, total commodity exports could reach around AUS$480bn - in real terms - per annum by 2030 from AUS$210bn in 2010," ANZ says. It meant an additional AUS$2.6trn in commodity exports over this period and AUS$1.8trn on investment required to support the growth.

Considering Australia's current annual GDP is about AUS$US1.2trn, ranking the country 13th on the world GDP league tables, expect to see Australia advancing up this list in the years ahead.

Of Australia's place in the world, geographically and economically, ANZ rightly says it is an "extraordinary gift at a time when most Western economies are seeing the end of an era of debt-fuelled consumption to drive growth".

Geoff Elliott, business editor, The Australian
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Title Annotation:Opinion
Author:Elliott, Geoff
Publication:Financial Management (UK)
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Nov 1, 2011
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