Like Treasurer Wayne Swan, I am a great admirer of the late John Button. There are very few politicians on either side in Canberra who have had a better understanding of the business community. That made him able to implement ‘Labor values’ and still be a business hero.
And it’s that absence of business understanding that is at the core of why the current government is unpopular and leads a frustrated Wayne Swan to attack mining billionaires.
So let’s look behind the rhetoric as to why the government is unpopular. We will start with the carbon tax.
Is it really the reason why so many mining ventures are being cancelled, why consumers are reluctant to spend and business confidence is low?
Similarly, how important are the Fair Work rules in holding back business confidence and contributing to the mining project cancellations? On their own neither of these actions would have caused the current level of business unpopularity or mining cancellations.
Indeed, had the carbon tax been introduced by the Howard government (as they planned) it would not have caused anything more than a ripple.
What makes the carbon tax so controversial is that it has been timed when there are dramatic rises in power costs because of other factors. And at the same time the high dollar is putting enormous pressure on many users of electricity. In new taxes timing is everything and John Button would not have been caught that way.
Again, on their own, most of the Fair Work provisions should not have caused a great consternation but the combination of the Fair Work Act and a return to militant stances by the unions has played havoc with our mining companies and many other parts of the business community.
And this is not simply union bashing. Former ACTU boss Bill Kelty has publicly declared that the unions have lost their way. It is worth recalling that Kelty, Bob Hawke and John Button worked together to map out what Australia’s future could look like.
Had John Button been faced with the current situation he would have tried to bring the unions into line by threatening to change the act if they maintained their current games.
When you bring together carbon taxes with other power rises and fair work with militant unions and then add the high dollar you have a base for unpopularity in the business community.
But strangely there is an even bigger factor, which really frustrates the smaller business community, and that frustration extends all the way up to big miners.
The combination of government acts and a public service that does not understand business makes working with government extremely frustrating. It’s a big part of the one third of time being wasted in business (Clearing out the time wasters, August 1).
We now have a building contractors’ paperwork being doubled by an act of government and similar frustration extends to many industries.
Perhaps unfairly that frustration tends to concentrate itself on Fair Work and carbon taxes. And if the economy slides further that frustration will reach new levels (Australia to world: “Do not invest here”, July 31).
The looming cancellation of $200 billion or perhaps $300 billion in mining projects will be more about mineral prices than government action. But the impact of government actions become multiplied many times when prices are down.
This article first appeared on Business Spectator.