Australia is losing the battle to be internationally competitive and has become a high-cost, low-productivity country complacent about what is needed to secure its prosperity, top-tier business leaders have warned.
In a roundtable discussion hosted by the Business Council of Australia (BCA), board members from some of Australia’s biggest banks and corporations said the cost of doing business in Australia has now overtaken the US, and is less productive. A recent report from the World Bank did not list Australia in the top 10 countries for ‘ease of doing business’.
“We’re becoming a high- cost, low-productivity nation. And that certainly is something we can’t sustain,” Transfield chairman Tony Shepherd said alongside Westpac Banking Corp chief executive Gail Kelly and Stockland managing director Matthew Quinn. The business leaders called for an end to niggly politics and red tape and a greater focus on lifting our national productivity.
BCA vice-president Graham Bradley added the current industrial relations landscape is entrenching an adversarial and non- productive workplace culture at a time when labour costs are jumping sharply. “You can’t go on . . . describing businesses as you know, ‘the greedy guys’, ‘the bad guys’, ‘the big polluters’ and so on. That’s not the kind of language that’s going to lead to a productive, harmonious workforce,” Bradley said.
Indeed, in its submission to the government’s review of the Fair Work Act, which is being finalised, the BCA will argue that the IR system encourages an adversarial rather than collaborative culture. BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott said that current IR laws allow unions to go into matters outside pay and conditions that should be rightfully up to management. “Centrally there are matters that go outside terms and conditions that are subject to dispute and those matters go to the capacity of management and boards to make decisions about how companies will operate, where they will operate and how they will contract labour,” she said.
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