Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey has labelled the voice of the business community “weak”, as he vents his frustrations over the difficulties he is facing in passing his first budget.
Hockey reportedly made the comments at the Australia and New Zealand School of Government National Conference yesterday, after delivering a speech regarding the importance of the budget reforms.
“Let me be very clear – failure to fix the budget now will impact on our living standards in the future,” said Hockey in his speech. “There is no alternative to the budget repair task.”
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According to Fairfax, the Treasurer also labelled the complexities of Australia’s economic challenges “bloody hard” and took aim at the media and business community for their lack of advocacy for change.
“I think interest groups are quite weak, and the business community is weaker than it has been over many years, as a voice,” said Hockey.
“My first budget was not anywhere as large in fiscal consolidation terms as Keating’s budgets or Costello’s in 1996,” said Hockey.
“But it had more structural reform, I would argue, than any single budget they ever delivered. And that’s been completely lost in the debate.”
Speaking to SmartCompany this morning, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive officer Kate Carnell says she agrees the mainstream media has overlooked the budget’s positive structural reform, which ACCI strongly supports.
“ACCI has been out there since budget night saying they support the government’s efforts,” says Carnell.
“I can understand Hockey’s frustrations and we say we share those frustrations.”
Carnell says the government’s timeline to create a surplus in four years is “about right” and believes every major policy has been road-blocked by media attention on small details.
“It seems that on every major policy launched, where there is significant reform, the media has grabbed on to tiny little things,” she says, pointing to recent coverage of the changes to job search requirements and an emphasis on the 40 applications job seekers will have to submit.
“Let’s be fair, the mainstream media doesn’t tend to run stories saying ACCI supports the government.”
Carnell says despite differing opinions on whether or not there is a budget crisis, every financial commenter in Australia agrees there will be a crisis if nothing is done.
She says ACCI “can’t complain” about the communication they’ve had with the Treasury since the budget was announced.
Put Peter Strong, executive director of the Council of Small Business Australia, told SmartCompany the small business interest group has not been able to have a full briefing from the Treasury since budget night.
“I’d say, if we’re not being listened to… it’s because he doesn’t want to listen,” says Strong.
Yet Strong says Hockey’s comments are more than likely directed at big business and believes there has been a recent shift in the way small business advocacy is received.
“I think Joe is talking about the big end of town,” he says. “The small business community always want more influence, but there has been a realisation there’s no economy without us.”
A spokesperson for Small Business Minister Bruce Billson told SmartCompany the budget reforms required a buy-in from the whole community.
“As the Treasurer stated, we need to make some tough decisions now so we free up future generations to react to challenges without being hamstrung paying for the spending of the current generation,” says the spokesperson.
“We know business understands the need for budget repair, but we need them to join with us in letting the wider community know why the restoration job is so important for the future.”
The Treasurer’s office was contacted for further comment but SmartCompany did not receive a response prior to publication.