CEOs speak out on Coalition's agenda

06 Jan, 2015 04:35 AM
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ANZ CEO Mike Smith believes there are too many levels of government in Australia. Photo: Josh Robenstone
We just need our politicians to be prepared to debate policy more than politics
ANZ CEO Mike Smith believes there are too many levels of government in Australia. Photo: Josh Robenstone

CHIEF executives are worried about the long-term damage on democracy from the political paralysis that has seized up major parts of the federal Coalition's policy agenda.

"The risk of this is that our parliament will become increasingly ­irrelevant to the Australian public – this is what seems to be occurring in the US, on my observation of many visits a year to the US," Incitec Pivot CEO James Fazzino said.

"We have in Incitec Pivot a working code called 'Stop & Think'. This is what our parliamentarians need to do to focus the values and vision which took them into politics."

Mike Smith, the chief executive of ANZ Banking Group, said too many ­levels of government in Australia were leading to "huge expense and ­inefficiency".

"As for the minor parties specifically, I hope they recognise they need to act in the country's interest and respect the fact that the electorate have given the government a clear mandate to rule. That mandate should be respected."

Seven West Media CEO Tim Worner said the delay in getting policy ­initiatives through the Senate – for whatever reason in each case – is ­creating business uncertainty.

"Any reform that would enable issues to be considered in a more timely manner would be welcome," he said.

Fairfax Media chief executive Greg Hywood ­provided a reality check on calls for reform. "There is no silver bullet ­solution," he said.

"Nor is it worthwhile dreaming about constitutional changes that are notoriously difficult to achieve. Given the fragmentation of representation is a continuing reality of our system?,? governments need to rapidly develop the skills of negotiation."

Another business leader who wants politicians to make the current system work is Commonwealth Bank of Australia CEO, Ian Narev.

"We don't need a change in the system," he said.

"We just need our politicians to be prepared to debate policy more than politics and to recognise that the country's success requires a bridging of the political divide."

Mining sector weighs in

CEOs from the world's biggest miners called for greater policy consensus. Andrew Mackenzie from BHP Billiton and Sam Walsh from Rio Tinto said co-operation was essential.

"Federal and State governments and minor parties all need to work co-operatively to maintain a competitive and stable policy framework which supports the competitiveness of Australia," he said.

"Australia has experienced 23 years of consistent economic growth, with trade and an enabling policy environment at the heart of the ­country's success.

"But current global economic conditions show we must never become complacent.

"We need to ensure we ­sustain our track record of economic reform for Australia to overcome a structural decline in productivity and to ensure we can continue to grow national income and standards of ­living.

"Those challenges include addressing tax reform, flexible workplace arrangements and investing in our people and capability," he said.

"Critical to this reform agenda will be the capacity of governments – federal and State – to work co-operatively."

Mr Walsh said: "The big test for our contemporary political system in delivering real reform in the national interest is whether or not Australia is able to adjust successfully to changing economic circumstances by becoming more competitive, while at the same time delivering the services the community expects and demands.

"We need a greater focus on long-term, strategic policy making, built on reforms that endure beyond the ­political cycle.

"Governments, and I am talking about governments of all persuasions at both State and federal level, could ­foster greater understanding in the broader community about the need for important policy reforms by nurturing debate about in the issues during the policy-making process.

"This takes time, good policy can't be rushed and the additional time will allow for greater public discussion and broader policy input. But if we get it right, the benefits of policy reform can last a generation."

Call for common ground

Another CEO in favour of a negotiated outcome is George Savvides, CEO of Medibank Private.

"Our political system has served us well for 200 years so for me it's not about the system, it's about the willingness of participants at all levels to find common ground and a way to resolve issues and any bottlenecks efficiently," he said.

Telstra CEO David Thodey said Australia needed to look at whether or not it could afford three levels of government.

"I think we need to continually look at whether we can afford the level of government we have at federal, State and local levels," he said.

"We need a political system that encourages personal responsibility and sets the framework in which the ­community and business can operate effectively. We support any changes that provide more certainty, better ­delineation between federal, State and local accountabilities and a move away from 'short termism' to what's important for the long-term sustainability of the economy."

Hamish McLennan, executive chairman and CEO of Ten Network Holdings, said while Australia's political system was envied around the world "regulatory uncertainty and policy gridlocks are bad for the country and particularly bad for businesses such as ours that face major structural change and whose day-to-day operations are impacted heavily by antiquated laws".

"Negotiating major policy change through a hostile Senate is nothing new but there is certainly a level of unpredictability now that is concerning and increasingly disruptive."

Woolworths CEO Grant O'Brien, said Australia could be proud of its system of government. "In terms of the current environment I would support any changes that foster greater certainty and stability, these are the bedrocks of economic growth," he said.

"We would also encourage greater co-operation between the three tiers of government with a strong focus on driving reforms that create jobs and grow economic prosperity."

Mike Wilkins, CEO of Insurance Australia Group, said political uncertainty was bad for business confidence.

"We know that businesses that are confident and have relatively predictable operating environments are more likely to make much needed long-term decisions which will drive economic growth and employment over the longer term," he said.

Suncorp CEO Patrick Snowball said: "The 2013 federal election promised to be an opportunity to resolve the uncertainty and division within parliament".

"But, it's yet to be proven that the elected government can achieve its objectives and regain the confidence of Australia's public.

"I commend the appetite of the government to address Australia's global competitiveness and economic prosperity through various inquiries and reviews, most topically the financial system inquiry.

"I am somewhat anxious about the pace at which any changes will be implemented.

"Both the elected and opposing governments need to find a way to enable progress in Parliament rather than the ongoing policy stand-offs."

AFR
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READER COMMENTS

Sceptic about the mandate
6/01/2015 5:35:42 AM

I am not sure that the "mandate to rule" is that clear! We would not be discussing it if it was. It could be said that the Senate has a clear mandate to obstruct? After all, they were put there by the voting public. Another case of Big Business stating give me what I want - bugger everyone else that voted. We have a political system and we need to comply with it (and not claim that the system is broke whenever we don't get exactly what we want).
VJO
6/01/2015 6:35:05 AM

The only mandate is the mandate to form government. The idea that it applied to policies was ditched long ago. The budget is the worst ever and it is lucky that the very worst bits have not been passed. CEOs are crying crocodile tears.
nico
6/01/2015 7:16:36 AM

There is no "mandate" for monolithic government, which seems to be what this small sample of CEOs want. Minor parties have a mandate to exist, in their own right, but importantly they have a "reverse mandate" - that is, voters explicitly rejected the big parties in favour of something else. Ricky Muir or Jacqui Lambie gained only a handful of primary votes, but received a large number of secondary votes. That is, they were voters' second or third choice from a long list of candidates. That's a mandate too. Our voting system is clunky but fair.
Bushie Bill
6/01/2015 7:53:57 AM

The first three posts (and probably others) have it exactly right. The bigwigs backed this bunch of Neanderthals into government in the belief they would immediately reward big business for the money it provided to the clowns to buy government. The bigwigs are disappointed that their chosen lackeys are not intelligent or ballsey enough to deliver, and the bigwigs were not intelligent or interested enough to understand the nuances of our electoral system and our brand of democracy. Justice delivered and fully deserved. How poetic!
Qlander
6/01/2015 8:23:10 AM

Basically the voters who voted this type of stalemate in are telling the Government to stick to the basics and butt out of everything else. If you really want to get the backs up of every voter in the country, start using words like 'rule'. You don't 'rule' us buddy - You do what 'we' freaking well tell you to do.
nico
6/01/2015 12:02:39 PM

Unfair to Neanderthals, Bill.
Gumtree
6/01/2015 2:34:42 PM

A good reason to get rid of compulsory preferential voting Nico.
daw
6/01/2015 6:08:25 PM

It's a new years revolution (the 'v' is not a typo). I'm in agreement with you Nico. I go one step further & add independents into the equation. Problem with major party policy is you only get the choice of take the bad bits with the good bits. We don't get to reject the bad bits but with independents it is possible to have them veto bad bits. Provided of course they hold the balance of power either individually or collectively. Whereas the party machines momentum just rolls on over the top of us.
nico
7/01/2015 6:25:30 AM

Yes, daw, I included independents by implication. As an ignorant young bloke overseas, I thought it was a joke when I found that my host country had 26 political parties and a multi-party government. Then I found that people actually felt represented by the people they elected. And a total non-sequitur from Gumtree.
GMcF
7/01/2015 7:50:02 AM

The success of good Government would be helped by the abolition of the Senate.
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