Here we are sitting pretty at the tail end of the biggest boom in history. What with interest rates at a 50-year low, unemployment at just 5.5 per cent, economic growth about 3 per cent and very 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.
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 very 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? Had the ABA not heard the call-up? Or had this peak body gone AWOL? 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.
We fight them in the brasseries. We fight them on the golf course. We fight them in the Qantas Lounge!
Hostilities had been bubbling up between government and business for some time, since the government shut down the loopholes on Executive Share Schemes in the 2009 budget in fact. You can trace the rise in warlike rhetoric back to that point.
To be sure, this was a vile act of provocation from the government. Up until that time, execs could pay just 20¢ in the dollar in tax, thanks to your Executive Share Scheme. Suddenly, without even a word of warning – with nary so much as a consultation process, let alone a call for industry feedback over a two-year timeframe before a discussion paper and a senate inquiry – they just took away that ESS lurk.
Oaths were sworn in blood around the BCA board table. Okay, we got carried away there … oaths were sworn in truffle oil. The die had been cast. The class warfare was in swing. Persistently, bloody-mindedly, the socialist Gillard regime has rejected the calls from the business lobby to cut penalty rates for the country’s lowest income earners while it has been thinking the unthinkable; lifting the tax on superannuation for the wealthy.
”The Gillard regime” … come to think of it, it even sounds French!
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 himself 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 capita has risen 4.3 per cent. Tony 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 Tony, 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 which 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 the 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.
The war, it would seem, is won.