The view from Billinudgel

Business as usual
Industry groups call for a “complete reset” regarding the nation’s finances. But are they serious about reform?

As the outline of the budget develops, ministers are vying with each other to reduce expectations: there will be little, if anything, to inspire. No more than token cuts to spending – if that. Nothing on tax or superannuation; no serious changes to industrial relations. Not much of anything, in fact. It is clear that the government has given up on “budget repair”.

As a result, the business community is now giving up on the government. A loose coalition of stakeholders, the so-called Group of Nine, is asking for what it calls a “complete reset” in Australia’s approach to economic reform.

This clarion call is being trumpeted by the Murdoch press as an exclusive, thus giving rise to suspicions that it might not be a totally disinterested proposal. 

The crusade is being headed by Catherine Livingstone, Business Council of Australia president, and Kate Carnell, CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, but any hope of a less macho approach has already been dashed. Instead, we are back to the same old neoliberal agenda: less tax, fewer regulations, pared back working conditions.

The mantra remains that what is good for business is good for Australia, end of story. There is no real attempt at creating bipartisanship; the Australian Council of Social Service has been included in the mix, but the ALP is expected, indeed required, to give up its own platform in the interests of national harmony.

As for the voters – well, they know that something needs to be done, so business will bloody well do it for them or, if necessary, to them. And that, it appears, is the beginning and end of the complete reset.

This is a pity because business has a real role to play in brokering co-operation. For a start, how about pushing for a rethink of our climate change policy? A return to the brief bipartisanship of an emissions trading system is surely the essence of a business approach to the long-term threat of global warming.

Or better still, the business community might demand a change of leadership – that Tony Abbott be replaced by the far more acceptable Malcolm Turnbull. No threat to free enterprise, but a moderate, sensible social agenda that would delight the electorate and galvanise the desire for a new, revitalised approach to reform: a program that stretches across the board, beyond the narrow and self-interested one envisaged by the business community and its confederates.

That would send a real signal that Livingstone, Carnell et al. were serious about reform. And that is precisely what it why it won’t happen. Business, like politics, is essentially adversarial: there will always be winners and losers. And for the moment, most of us will continue to be among the losers. Business as usual.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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