Hostilities boil over into world war spree

by | May 18, 2013 | Business

Illustration: Michael Mucci.

Here we are sitting pretty at the tail end of the biggest boom in history. With interest rates at a 50-year low, unemployment at just 5.5 per cent, economic growth about 3 per cent and little debt … you could be forgiven for thinking things were not too bad.


A casual observer from overseas might even be deluded into thinking that with these sorts of numbers, not to mention the climate, and things like free health and education, Australians might be among the most prosperous people in the world.

Wrong again.

Things are horrendous. The nation is in tatters. Worse, we are at war. Australians have fought in the Boer War, the Great War, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. And now we share the bloody sacrifice of war once again, for the government has declared war on … wait for it … business.

The war has raged in the headlines for some time. Yet this week tensions rose when there came a daring, four-pronged counter-offensive by the forces of public relations. No less than four peak business lobby groups – the BCA, MCA, ACCI and the AIG – laid siege to the government in a ”rare united front”.

But wait! Was not a key acronym missing in the ranks? Why had the Australian Bankers Association not reported for duty? Surely those low-down banks had not secured their $380 billion bailout fund from the Reserve Bank and no sooner dodged the draft, deserting their gallant business comrades in this darkest of hours?

Still, even without the ABA, here was as audacious an expeditionary force of acronyms as had ever assembled to take up arms. And they confronted their adversaries, government forces in disarray, with the full might of an ultimatum; a list of ultimatums actually. What derring-do.

Hostilities had been bubbling between government and business since the government shut down the loopholes on executive share schemes in the 2009 budget.

To be sure, this was a vile act of provocation. Up until then, execs could pay just 20¢ in the dollar in tax under the scheme. Suddenly – with nary so much as a consultation process, let alone a call for industry feedback over a two-year time frame before a discussion paper and a Senate inquiry – they just took away that ESS lurk.

The die had been cast. The class warfare was in swing. Persistently, bloody-mindedly, the socialist Gillard regime has rejected calls from the business lobby to cut penalty rates for the lowest-income earners while it has been thinking the unthinkable: lifting the tax on superannuation for the wealthy.

What about productivity? Does this feckless government not give a hoot about productivity? Look at the performance of business. Let’s take … well let’s take BCA president Tony Shepherd for instance and rack his performance up against the regime.

Right, what do we have here then? Umm, let’s see … Since the Rudd/Gillard regime was installed in the September quarter of 2007, GDP per head has risen 4.3 per cent. Shepherd has been chairman of Transfield Services since then. How has Transfield fared over the same period? Fancy that, its share price is down 85 per cent.

We had better not use that as an example of performance and productivity because, if the government had overseen that kind of decline, we wouldn’t have a police force or an army – even an Institute of Sport. We’d be hapless in the face of an invasion by Tonga, or even New Zealand.

To be fair to Shepherd, he has not been greedy on the board fee front at all – and September 2007 was the height of the boom.

Alas, we have digressed again from the war – or the tranche of wars perhaps.

If you look up ”Australia war and business” you will find the media have concocted a few wars. It is a bit confusing. There is the government’s ”class war” and the ”Why-aren’t-you-listening-to-us” war waged by business.

Anyway, that this was budget week made things a good deal worse. Budget week is a nasty business. A lot of whingeing goes on. Best to ignore it, especially those irritating little surprises like the $463 million tucked away in the budget papers that seem to have been earmarked for nothing. When something is earmarked for nothing you know that’s the bribe money.

So, as was the case with the Howard government in its twilight, we can look forward to the unconscionable spree of almost half a billion in taxpayer dollars as the politicians strive for the affections of voters in marginal seats.

Amid the pork barrelling we will hear the gruesome sounds of the business lobby as it bayonets its dying adversaries on the battlefield. The outcome is now all but assured. The target is almost lifeless.


Michael West

Michael West

Michael West established to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. Formerly a journalist and editor at Fairfax newspapers and a columnist at News Corp, West was appointed Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Social and Political Sciences. You can follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelWestBiz.

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