Dear Jennifer Westacott, this is why we’re 

Dear Ms Westacott,

I hope this froth-mouthed rant finds you well. I happened to see some comments of yours reported in the Fairfax press today and thought I’d drop you a line or 30 about your complaint that the current political debate is leaving business “frustrated and disappointed”.

That’s an interesting choice of words because it accurately sums up how many of us feel about the contribution of the business community to policy debate.

Frustrated and disappointed, for example, that the concept of “economic reform” advanced by groups like the Business Council consist entirely of proposals designed to improve the bottom lines of companies, rather than deliver improved economic performance: IR deregulation, lower company taxes, infrastructure investment that companies should be undertaking themselves, more business welfare, etc.

Frustrated and disappointed that the business contribution to the productivity debate contains not a scintilla of evidence, but consists entirely of reflexive insistence that the only issue is IR deregulation. That business simply makes shit up about how the Fair Work Act has reduced productivity, when the greatest labour productivity disaster in recent years was WorkChoices. Speaking of which, you might not have caught this recent paper from a visiting researcher at the PC who shows that Australia’s productivity slump is less to do with “reform fatigue” than factors like the mining boom.

And frustrated, but not disappointed, because it’s no surprise, that business always talks about “flexibility” in IR but never acknowledges that the only flexibility it is interested in is the downward variety, that reduces pay and conditions for employees.

And it’s frustrating and disappointing that business has so little to say about the biggest driver of productivity of all — competition. Possibly because so many of Australia’s biggest companies routinely engage in anti-competitive behaviour, sometimes even of the illegal variety. Or they whinge about competition now that the internet has enabled Australians to bypass the companies that for so long exploited our distance from major markets.

Or they stay silent about the damage inflicted by the cartel that passes for our major banks, who are now engaged in gouging all of us, consumers and businesses alike, because the GFC, an indulgent government and implicit taxpayer guarantees have enabled them to virtually eliminate competition in lending.

Is that because competition is one of those things that’s great for everyone else but somehow not quite right for you, because, well, you’re different?

Indeed, business can often be curiously silent despite it not being in their interests. Let’s recall the Rudd government’s mining tax, which would have provided the basis for a substantial cut in corporate taxes. Virtually no business groups spoke up in favour of the proposal, except the superannuation industry. But, oddly enough, there was plenty of bitching and moaning from business groups after our friends from Switzerland and the UK, Rio, BHP and Xstrata, pulled off their coup d’├ętat and the Gillard government cut back on the size of the corporate tax cut.

Frustrated and disappointed is also how I’d describe the reaction of many of us to the sense of victimhood you peddle. I notice you’ve also complained overnight that somehow the Greens — those nefarious Greens, eh? — are somehow trying to silence you. Now, I know this constant demand for victimhood is a real thing these days. Everyone wants to be a victim, to portray themselves as censored, suppressed, bullied. But it’s particularly amusing coming from senior business groups, which have the luxury of two national newspapers that will report their every half-baked thought bubble as though it were of historic significance, and unparalleled access to government ministers and senior bureaucrats. You count some of the most influential and powerful people in the country in your ranks, so stop pretending you’re labouring under Soviet-style repression.

Instead of whingeing about the quality of public debate, perhaps you could do something to improve it. For one thing, get your members to end the practice of commissioning dodgy “independent” modelling to support their arguments. It’s rapidly losing credibility anyway, but it undermines sensible debate. Maybe encourage them to stop claiming that every policy change they don’t like will herald the arrival of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Maybe even call some businesses out when they offer a particularly facile contribution to debate.

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Categories: Companies, Economy

75 Responses

Comments page: 1 | 2 |
  1. Well said Bernard Keane!

    by susan winstanley on Apr 24, 2012 at 1:26 pm

  2. Pfftt. Pretty obvious that Bernard is a communist who is trying to overthrow the state.

    by James Finch on Apr 24, 2012 at 1:33 pm

  3. Absolutely spot on, BK. In particular I like your line about the way the business sector tries to disguise its sectoral objectives as altruistic and in the national interest. One thing you have to admire about the unions - they are quite open about the fact that they work in the interests of their members and which political party they support. Would that the BCA and corporates could be so honest.
    I’ll start heeding the BCA’s crocodile tears when I see them commenting about the levels and methodology behind executive salaries - if one belt has to be pulled in then they all have to be pulled in.

    by DF on Apr 24, 2012 at 1:37 pm

  4. One of the best rants I’ve read and so f’ing spot on.

    by floorer on Apr 24, 2012 at 1:37 pm

  5. LOL Well that’s one Christmas list you’ve just been struck off Bernard.
    Well said.

    by paddy on Apr 24, 2012 at 1:48 pm

  6. Bernard Keane,

    Bravo! Finally.

    by Space Kidette on Apr 24, 2012 at 1:49 pm

  7. We (Business) are frustrated and disappointed, for example, that the concept of “economic reform” advanced by groups like the Business Council consist entirely of proposals designed to improve the bottom lines of companies, rather than deliver improved economic performance: IR deregulation, lower company taxes, infrastructure investment that companies should be undertaking themselves, more business welfare, etc.”

    OMFG !!! Did BK say that? He’s on Meth surely!

    by Michael on Apr 24, 2012 at 1:51 pm

  8. Nicely put. Maybe they could also admit, at least to themselves, that the track record of many business people, especially some of the noisiest, is such that you wouldn’t trust them with your own money - so why should we listen to their expert advice on how to run the country?

    by Mark from Melbourne on Apr 24, 2012 at 1:51 pm

  9. Australia didn’t get to be a world leader in standard of living by cutting wages and conditions.

    by Cuppa on Apr 24, 2012 at 1:53 pm

  10. You forgot to mention Woolworths and Coles and indeed the Insurance Groups

    by Suzanne Blake on Apr 24, 2012 at 1:53 pm

  11. Bernard kicks a goal

    by Frank Campbell on Apr 24, 2012 at 2:01 pm

  12. Great opening line, it made me laugh, but then….it only got better!!! haha little joke. Great article Bernard

    by Sue11 on Apr 24, 2012 at 2:13 pm

  13. Woohoo!

    Straight to the pool room BK.

    by Ruprecht on Apr 24, 2012 at 2:14 pm

  14. @Suzanne Blake
    You forgot to mention “something something incompetent Government”.

    by bullokie on Apr 24, 2012 at 2:15 pm

  15. BK - sometimes a bit wooly, sometimes a bit naive but today …. hammers, nails and hits all in the right order, nice work!

    by Tom on Apr 24, 2012 at 2:19 pm

  16. Fantastic. Add the fact that lack of workplace skills may actually require business to provide skills training rather than it coming from the public purse. Perhaps some acknowledgement of the value of changes to R&D benefits made recently. Possibly some constructive input to the water plan debate. What about a statement that demonstrates you represent business rather than being a branch of the Libs.

    The sad fact is Mr Keane, that a rant from some one even as credible as you, will change nothing and probably won’t even be seen by Westacott. But I’m glad you’ve said it.

    by Joe Magill on Apr 24, 2012 at 2:19 pm

  17. Good stuff Bernard. It appears that those from all sides of politics agree, judging from the comments.

    On training Joe; I’ve often considered that it would be fair to charge companies $10, $20 or even $50,000 for a 457 visa, at least ensuring that they contribute something to training Australians.

    by David Allen on Apr 24, 2012 at 2:27 pm

  18. He shoots, he scores!

    Nice one, Bernard.

    by Meski on Apr 24, 2012 at 2:31 pm

  19. Bullokie, I also noticed that Astroturfer Blake gave the astroturfing a rest in this thread.

    by Aton on Apr 24, 2012 at 2:36 pm

  20. Well said in a page. If ever you feel like writing the book I will buy a copy. You might also mention that the never ending bleaters about productivity should occasionally raise their eyes up from the workfloor to management.

    by Bruce Munday on Apr 24, 2012 at 2:37 pm

  21. Oh, I hope you feel betterer after that Bernard, I certainly do!

    by Alex on Apr 24, 2012 at 2:43 pm

  22. You might also mention that the never ending bleaters about productivity should occasionally raise their eyes up from the workfloor to management.

    Amen, brother! Just occasionally businesses do badly because of the dolts in the boardroom, not the lack of ‘flexibility’.

    by Son of foro on Apr 24, 2012 at 2:49 pm

  23. Lovely piece, Bernard. I wish some pollies could be as erudite as this; no, wait, some Greens are, but of course the media doesn’t publish them

    by drovers cat on Apr 24, 2012 at 2:56 pm

  24. Oh wow Bernard !! sock it to them man. Seriously though a beautiful polemic which clearly illustrates the laziness and insincerity of some of our business community.

    I think the hypocrisy they spout about “competition” is particularly telling.

    by Harry1951 on Apr 24, 2012 at 3:09 pm

  25. I hope someone mails this to the worthy Ms Westacott. Of course that won’t mean that she’ll read or act upon it, probably the opposite.

    by robinw on Apr 24, 2012 at 3:11 pm

  26. (Assumes South American accent)


    by Dan Gulberry on Apr 24, 2012 at 3:14 pm

  27. Huzzah! Well done that man.
    Unfortunately so few in the business community possess the intelligence to grasp the concepts expressed……..

    by monty on Apr 24, 2012 at 3:19 pm

  28. Nicely articulated Bernard. I’m sure some distant relative will send her a copy.

    Business won’t be happy until we are all working for $8 an hour and Australia has a population of 100M with suburbia from Cactus to Cape York.

    by Microseris on Apr 24, 2012 at 3:29 pm

  29. Well at least she is not Heather everywhere who started to bore most of the country to sleep.

    by shepherdmarilyn on Apr 24, 2012 at 3:45 pm

  30. Nice one, Mr K.

    Needs to be said.

    by Just Me on Apr 24, 2012 at 3:51 pm

  31. Whoa sunshine! What’s rub you up the wrong way this morning?! You obviously had WAY too much fiber in your diet! I’d hate to really get in your bad side. *cringe* I feel strangely refreshed from the inside, but somewhat still unwashed from the outside.

    by shitesherlock on Apr 24, 2012 at 3:51 pm

  32. While I agree with Bernard, some businesses are greedy pigs trying to exploit the workers and want too much change to IR law virtually bringing back Workchoices but some sections of the unions are corrupted greedy pigs as well giving the whole union movement a bad name. Those bad eggs are doing Australia and the workers a disservice.

    Recently, I saw on lateline the employer complaint about how the union kept striking (in the mining or mineral shipment), they demanded 36% pay rise over three years and $76,000 of allowance. That’s an incredible amount of demand, even if that does not bankrupt the employer it would put the RBA on alert about inflation and interest rate which the rest of us will have to pay.

    I remember back in my school day my teachers who had to spend 4 years of education at university earned only half that of a wharfie and they wharfies still were complaining and striking. A fair a balance discourse from both sides would help.

    by Apollo on Apr 24, 2012 at 3:54 pm

  33. Excellent.

    Tragically I don’t think you’ll get a response unless you offer them royalties. ;)

    by Steven Warren on Apr 24, 2012 at 3:57 pm

  34. Apollo this is not about balance……..he’s just chucking a few toys out of the pram.

    by floorer on Apr 24, 2012 at 4:32 pm

  35. Of course what you have written is true Bernard. Big Corporate Australia has become a very lazy beast indeed, and in spite of their own rhetoric is not filled with gargantuan brains of the most astute business people in Aus. In fact, as most of us are aware, it is a little boys club, mostly from the ‘right’ private school and university.

    BHP, Rio Tinto, the Banks, all have a record in the last two decades of destroying enormous amounts of shareholder wealth on boondoggles, some of them nearly going under, repeatedly.

    The call for IR reform is just the latest joke from an unimaginative and largely useless BIG corporate sector.

    Most of them, by their contributions, don’t actually understand what the word ‘productivity’ entails.

    Such is their quality. Needed saying.

    by Dogs breakfast on Apr 24, 2012 at 4:36 pm

  36. A vicariously appreciated rant, Mr Keene. My soul suddently feels a few grams lighter for the reading. Alas, traffic awaits.

    by Jeremy Apps on Apr 24, 2012 at 4:53 pm

  37. Sorry Floorer, my reference was not directed at BK but generally towards certain news media, Business lobby and certain union group.

    Yes Dogsbreakfast. What an insane culture of looking after the shareholders. The banks should have gratitude towards customers who pay their salaries and profits as well as the security the tax payers provide since the government back them with guarantee since the GFC, it’s time to show gratitude and give some back to the community, to society for god’s sake.

    by Apollo on Apr 24, 2012 at 4:57 pm


    by 81dvl on Apr 24, 2012 at 5:17 pm

  39. Crikey, I actually agree with every word….

    by kraken on Apr 24, 2012 at 6:26 pm

  40. Bloody Crikey socialists - what you think you can tell people the truth about uber capitalism and question the right to rule of the plutocracy? AND you want to shape policy on national interest rather than big business profits?? ……….no wonder the country’s going to the dogs……..let’s get the Coalition back in its rightful place, then Joe can get the kids back down pit, the oldies begging in the street & the disabled doing shoeshines (god forbid they should feel ‘entitled’ to anything that Joe & his mates get).

    by linda on Apr 24, 2012 at 6:47 pm

  41. I take back any adverse commentry of your past articles. Well done BK, time to put the facts out front, though I doubt you’ll see them reported in the Murdoch press or sadly at Fairfax.

    Terry McCran suck it up.

    by Pedantic, Balwyn on Apr 24, 2012 at 7:23 pm

  42. Go Bernard, about time someone told it like it is. I am so sick and tired of the same old whining from the same old people pushing the same old lines.

    by Lee Miller on Apr 24, 2012 at 7:30 pm

  43. While I hate to swim against the tide, surely the business council is obliged to act in the best interests of it’s members; and this means agitating for policy that can increase profits. Nothing wrong with this.
    What people also forget is that ultimately, it is households that own businesses. A strong business sector feeds into a strong, wealthy household sector through the return of these profits/costs of borrowing through share prices, dividends and interest payments.

    by Scott on Apr 24, 2012 at 7:46 pm

  44. @pedantic,balwyn …. Soooo wrong …. that should be “Terry McCran SUCK IT UP !! …….. like that.

    by izatso? on Apr 24, 2012 at 7:57 pm

  45. Watch it Bernard, this is how people end up on lists.

    by Andybob on Apr 24, 2012 at 8:09 pm

  46. Well done Bernard, thanks for calling a spade a spade and not succumbing to conservative/corporate correctness like the rest of the journalists do in this country.

    by Damotron on Apr 24, 2012 at 8:56 pm

  47. BK, well worth my subscription, due next month.
    I’ll happily pay for this to be sent, registered delivery, to Ms Westacott.
    Amazing that no-one disagrees in this thread, even the usual suspects!

    by AR on Apr 24, 2012 at 9:16 pm

  48. Bernard Keane: 1 Jennifer Westacott: 0

    by Bonzo on Apr 24, 2012 at 9:43 pm

  49. Top post.


    by nasking on Apr 24, 2012 at 10:18 pm

  50. BCA research and policy formulation simplistic and self-interested? Who would have ever thought.

    by Ceteris Paribus on Apr 24, 2012 at 10:23 pm

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