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Financial heavyweights arrive for G20

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Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey is determined that Australia’s presidency of the Group of 20 in 2014 will result in tangible outcomes to boost global growth.

The group’s first major conference for the year kicks off this weekend when finance ministers and central bankers from the world’s major developed and developing countries gather in Sydney.

The list of attendees is a who’s who of world finance.

“It is a remarkably strong attendance,” Hockey boasts.

They include the world’s most powerful central banker, Janet Yellen – who’s making her first official overseas trip since becoming US Federal Reserve Chair – and US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.

The head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Christine Lagarde will also be present, alongside the president of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi.

Reserve Bank of Australia governor Glenn Stevens is co-hosting the event.

New Zealand’s finance minister Bill English will make the trip across the Tasman as a guest of the federal coalition government.

New Zealand isn’t a member of the G20, but Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott extended the invitation as an opportunity to “showcase Australasia”.

“Effectively it will be a G21 this year,” Abbott says.

Security will be tight in Sydney’s CBD when the behind-closed-door meeting gets underway on Saturday.

In 2006, when former treasurer Peter Costello hosted the G20 in Melbourne, nine police officers were injured and nine people were arrested during mass protests.

That was before the G20 became the key international forum for financial minds during the 2008-2009 global financial crisis and took on a leadership status, superseding the G7 which was limited to the world’s largest industrialised economies.

But since then, there have been complaints the G20’s lost its way and has become just another talkfest.

Former Labor treasurer Wayne Swan, who’s attended more G20 meetings than any other Australian treasurer, agrees there have been some disappointing outcomes in recent years.

“There are high expectations that Australia has the clout and the credibility to lift the G20 at this meeting and to come out of the meeting with an action agenda rather than a series of platitudes,” Swan says.

Day one of the two-day event will the focus on the global economy.

Hockey wants an agreement on a global growth target that is faster than the annual 3.7 per cent to four per cent pace currently forecast by the IMF.

At a working dinner on Saturday night, he will also push for a ramp-up in new infrastructure projects to stimulate growth, alongside greater private sector development investment.

He will hold up his home state of NSW as an example of how to sell government-owned assets, such as ports, and use the proceeds to invest in new productive schemes, such as roads.

Hockey anticipates there will be a “robust discussion” over the US Fed’s decision to start winding back stimulatory measures under its bond buying program – known as “tapering” – and its impact on currencies across the world as the US dollar strengthens.

The meeting will also discuss IMF reforms to give developing countries a greater voice in global economic affairs, as well as financial regulation and taxation.

Hockey has conceded there’s “reform fatigue” in many G20 countries after six years of challenging economic circumstances.

“That is why Australia’s focus will be on improving the environment for private sector investment and growth,” he says.

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