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Turnbull seeks 'fair' economic reform

AAP logoAAP 17/11/2016 Paul Osborne, AAP Senior Political Writer

Malcolm Turnbull says Australians need to accept economic reform and more open trade may create winners and losers in the short term, but deliver gains in the long term.

The prime minister delivered a broad-ranging economic speech to the Business Council annual dinner in Sydney on Thursday before flying to Peru for the APEC leaders' summit.

"After 25 years of growth, the need to undertake reforms that will deliver long-term gains - but which may create winners and losers in the near term - isn't keenly felt in many parts of Australian society," he told more than 400 business leaders.

"We risk becoming victims of our own economic success. This needs to change."

Mr Turnbull said making budget savings - rather than raising the overall tax burden - was not just a matter of economic priority but one of "fairness".

"Our young people already face the twin challenges of getting a foot in the door of the job market and saving for a housing deposit - how does it help them if we also make them face higher taxes?" he said.

The parliament has passed $12 billion in budget improvements, as well as tax cuts for middle-income earners.

He said he would take a "pragmatic" approach as the government sought the Labor opposition's support for further savings and policies to improve the business climate.

"We cannot entertain another term of parliament that features three years of political posturing by Labor, followed by a series of conveniently timed backflips when promises are put under the microscope during an election campaign," Mr Turnbull said.

Before the APEC summit, which will discuss the dangers of a protectionist resurgence in the wake of Donald Trump's election win, Mr Turnbull said it was only through open trade and investment policies that countries could lift themselves out of poverty.

Over the past year, it's been estimated an average five trade barrier policies have been imposed across the world every week.

"Retreating from policies that have delivered us prosperity and opportunity is the wrong call. We would ignore the gains from openness at our peril."

However, he said open markets and policy changes must deliver for the many and not the few.

"Fairness does not mean examining each decision in isolation, looking at a narrow set of winners and losers," he said.

"It means making sure our overall system is fair, examining the transfers of goods and services over a person's lifetime and asking ourselves: 'Does this reflect the benchmarks we set ourselves of an open, fair and just society?'"

The dinner was the final Business Council event for outgoing president Catherine Livingstone before her handover to Grant King.

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