G20 engagement: What is the role of social partners?
At his closing press conference for the G20 Leaders' Summit in Brisbane in November 2014, Prime Minister Tony Abbott stated that 'because of the efforts that the G20 has made this year, culminating in the last 48 hours, people right around the world are going to be better off and that's what it's all about: it is all about the people of the world being better off through the achievement of inclusive growth and jobs'.1 But how will people decide if the G20 has left them better off? This chapter assesses the effectiveness of the G20's outreach to society (particularly non-government actors) through the official engagement groups or 'social partners'. These groups comprise representatives from business (B20),civil society and non-government organisations (C20), the labour movement (L20), think tanks and academics (T20), youth (Y20), and the new group focused on issues related to women and gender equality (W20). With the exception of the B20, these interactions have often been marginal, with the groups treated as sounding · boards, not stakeholders. Other than the L20, the engagement groups mirror the G20 in having no permanent secretariat. They exist from year to year at the invitation of the G20 presidency and evolve alongside G20 official processes in a symbiotic relationship. After six years, nine summits, and in post-crisis mode, it is becoming clearer that successful outreach to its citizenry, international public opinion, and non-members is critical to the G20's ability to survive as the 'premier forum for international economic cooperation'. The social partners play an important mediating role between official processes and the general public. It is not surprising that each year's G20 chair invests time and energy in these partners, sometimes funding their activities. The Australian Sherpa in 2014, Heather Smith, put forward three reasons why G20 members support the engagement groups: dialogue, improved implementation of agreed outcomes, and public outreach. Her rationale was that the G20 is an economic forum, so it is important to listen to people on the economic frontline in order to craft good policy that addresses real issues. The '20s' provide an excellent channel for bringing together a range of non-government opinions to inform G20 priorities and leaders' decisions.2
The G20 and the future of international economic governance