The Business Council of Australia is facing a major attack on its credibility after sustained criticism of its recent report predicting all manner of corporate chaos arising from the Rudd Government’s carbon trading system.

Business Spectator’s Giles Parkinson is a respected journalist not prone to hyperbole, so observers took notice when he unloaded with the following last Friday:

I’ve spent a good few hours trawling through this 170-page document and its conclusions. It makes for fascinating reading, and has got lots of useful graphs and tables. But frankly, I’d be shocked if the BCA has ever produced a report as short-sighted, misleading and profoundly disappointing as this. At a time when Australia needs and deserves strong leadership and business vision to grapple with this devilish issue, the descent into corporate doublespeak is alarming.

There has been a similar response in other quarters, such as this piece by Bernard Keane in Crikey on Monday.

All this raises some serious questions about BCA president Greg Gailey, the former Zinifex CEO, who is delivering a big speech to the Sydney Institute tonight.

Despite the change of government, it would appear that the carbon club remains in control of the peak business body for CEOs. The nine person BCA board still includes leading carbon sceptic John Marlay, even though he quit Alumina earlier this year, along with Mark Nolan, the Australian CEO of Exxon-Mobil, the world’s biggest supporter of climate sceptics.

The ousting of IAG CEO Mike Hawker and last year’s retirement of Westpac CEO David Morgan removed two high profile CEOs of major public companies who bucked the carbon club and joined with Visy, Origin, BP, Swiss Re and the ACF to commission some alternative carbon research from Allen Consulting group in 2006.

There is also the issue of Gailey’s financial interests. When he bailed from Zinifex last June, he collected a $12.5 million ex gratia payment in return for surrendering $14.9 million worth of long term benefits which are worth a lot less today. And Gailey’s pay arrangements were controversial well before his departure as the Zinifex remuneration report attracted a startling 41% against vote in 2006.

Gailey also owned an additional 1.087 million Zinifex shares at the time he quit, although these have since plunged in value from $20 million to about $6 million.

Paul Kelly’s big Inquirer cover story in The Weekend Australian, which was very sympathetic towards the BCA report, identified the lead and zinc industries right at the outset, but at the very least the commercial interests of Gailey should be identified given he used to run Australia’s biggest lead and zinc producer.

The whole point of carbon trading is to stop this poison being pumped into the atmosphere, yet the BCA is railing against the scheme led by a bloke whose old company ran the giant lead smelter at Port Pirrie which caused local children to have the highest blood lead levels in the country.

Is it any wonder Resources Minister Martin Ferguson is by-passing hysterical peak bodies and inviting 50 individual companies to Canberra for a briefing on Friday?

It’s time the BCA looked for a new leadership, rather than someone that fellow sceptic Hugh Morgan was happy to hand the presidency to last October.

*Listen to last night’s chat with Lindy Burns on 774 ABC Melbourne.

Peter Fray

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