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Australia is pushing G20 nations to boost economic growth by 2 per cent as it prepares to host world leaders this fall, but says G20 talks are expanding to cover issues such as the conflicts in Ukraine and Iraq.

Born at the onset of the 2008 financial crisis, the Group of 20's rotating hosts have tried to keep the focus of the global meetings on purely economic matters such as trade imbalances and fiscal improvements.

However, at last year's summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, the official agenda was largely overshadowed by discussions among leaders about the global response to the conflict in Syria.

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In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Australia's G20 Sherpa, Heather Smith, said that shows the body is evolving and there will be room for that kind of discussion in November when leaders gather for the 2014 summit in Brisbane.

"The agenda should always be focused on core economic issues, but I think as a mature institution, it should be able to handle those sorts of issues," said Dr. Smith, who is in Ottawa for meetings with Canadian officials and business leaders.

"The beauty of G20 is leaders come to talk to each other to both think about the formal agenda but also talk about other issues, so we saw Syria [discussed] under Russia's presidency. I think that started to reflect actually the maturation of the institution."

Australia is determined, however, that the 2014 summit will be more than a "talk fest." The host country has asked all members to release reports at the summit showing the new measures they are taking to boost global growth by 2 per cent. The reports are expected to show specific pledges on infrastructure spending, the removal of trade barriers and efforts to boost labour market participation.

Dr. Smith was appointed as G20 Sherpa last September, a position that involves leading the Australian government's planning of the summit.

The trained economist has held several positions in the Australian public service, working on economic and foreign affairs issues.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has faced criticism for not placing climate change high on the agenda. Dr. Smith said Australia is of the view that climate-change discussions are best focused at the United Nations.

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Finance ministers and central bank governors of the G20 will meet in September. That will be followed by a meeting of G20 leaders in mid-November in Brisbane.

The G20 member states make up about 85 per cent of global gross domestic product and are home to two-thirds of the world's population.

During a recent visit to Europe, Finance Minister Joe Oliver told reporters on a conference call that the G20 will discuss the fact than not all European states are living up to their fiscal pledges.

"Many of them are not following the rules, which is to say their deficits are higher and their debts are higher in relation to their GDP," Mr. Oliver said last week. "We don't want to be too gloomy, but there are a variety of risks and they're the subject of some considerable discussion inside the [European Union] and they'll be discussed at the G20 meetings in the fall in Australia."

As with the Toronto summit in 2010, Australia is hosting the gathering at a downtown location, which increases the cost and difficulty of managing security. Vandalism by protesters and the approach to demonstrations by police were a major side story to the Toronto G20.

The past two summits – near St. Petersburg and Los Cabos, Mexico – were in more remote locations.

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Australia has announced a holiday for workers in Brisbane in an effort to ease traffic congestion. It hosted the 2006 G20 finance ministers at a summit in Melbourne amid violent protests.

"We learned a lot from that," Ms. Smith said of the Melbourne summit. "You're wanting to showcase your city and do it in a way that strikes the right balance … It's really about communicating to the public about why it's happening and why it's important."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More


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