“Pro-business, pro-employer”: Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers says Labor is in industry’s corner ahead of the election

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Labor MP Jim Chalmers. Source: AAP/Joel Carrett.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions has responded to a staunchly “pro-business, pro-employer” speech from Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers, saying cooperation between businesses and workers leads to better outcomes for both sectors.

Speaking at the National Press Club on Tuesday, Chalmers reiterated the policy positions Labor will bring to the upcoming election, while accusing the Coalition of economic mismanagement and wasteful spending.

After running through Labor’s broad plan, including investments in green energy, fee-free TAFE places, cheaper childcare, and infrastructure upgrades, Chalmers said a Labor government would focus on “boosting the resilience of small business”.

Labor would “level the playing field” between SMEs and major employers by cracking down on multinational business tax avoidance, he said. “Smart co-investments” in fields like manufacturing and the care economy would benefit smaller operators, he added.

A Labor government would also see small businesses “get a bigger slice of the action when it comes to government [procurement]”, Chalmers said, adding to a prior Labor promise to cap invoice payment times if elected.

“You know, we want to be a pro-business, pro-employer, Labor Party,” Chalmers told a Q&A session after his address.

“Because we recognise that the challenges in our economy are so vast and so substantial that you cannot meet them without a working relationship with business, with unions, with the community sector, with the states and others, to get the job done.”

The speech was notably different in tone from 2019’s election campaign, which a party post-mortem said was harmed by “anti-business rhetoric” and “derogatory references to ‘the big end of town'”.

With the support of Australian businesses clearly on the opposition’s mind, Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus maintained the importance of business and worker cooperation “to achieve better outcomes for working people and Australian businesses”.

Beyond Labor’s business focus, McManus said the cost of living is the main concern for workers.

It is a “a crisis caused by nearly a decade of record low wage growth”, she said.

“Working people need a government which fights for them and supports businesses by keeping money in the pockets of working people who can spend it.”

Chalmers included at least one extra envoy to the union movement in his speech, declaring increasing casualisation and a sprawling gig economy — long-term concerns for Australia’s union movement — “have undermined wages now for too long”.

With the election yet to be called, the latest Newspoll, conducted after the Coalition unveiled its 2022-23 federal budget, showed the Labor leading 54-46 on a two-party preferred basis.

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