If ministers are depressed about the government’s failure to push company tax cuts through the Senate this week, their spirits will surely be lifted by the news that the Business Council has declared it will be launching an advertising campaign to convince voters of all the good that its members do. Because, if there’s one thing that’s been missing from the tax debate, it’s campaigning by the Business Council.
Well, except for its campaign in 2015 to use a GST increase to pay for a company tax cut increase — so inept it incurred the wrath of the Liberals and calls for the sacking of CEO Jennifer Westacott. And its campaign for the government in the 2016 election, in which it ran ads attacking Bill Shorten. And its social media campaign early last year for tax cuts. And the BCA’s trip to Canberra this time last year to lobby for tax cuts, which saw senior BCA members embarrassing themselves. And there’s the current “Strong Australia” campaign conducted in collaboration with BCA member News Corp, in which Sky News provides a platform for BCA executives to argue their case.
So, yep, another campaign. That’ll help.
Alas the BCA has its own difficulties: it has now had two damaging leaks in two days. Yesterday’s leak, of a recent survey showing businesses planning to use tax cuts for share buybacks rather than wage rises (surprise! just as they are in the US), went to the Financial Review, where Laura Tingle and Phil Coorey did what the paper’s economic and business journalists had failed to do — expose the lie at the heart of tax cut advocacy. Coming as the government sought to lock down the last crossbenchers needed to pass it, the revelation was deadly. Today there’s another highly damaging leak: the BCA had tried to get members to sign up to a pledge about paying tax, avoiding offshoring and providing greater transparency, but got knocked back by them.
Save up to 50% on a year of Crikey
Choose what you pay, from $99.
It seems someone within the BCA — which has had substantial turnover of its media unit in the last year — is deeply unhappy and prepared to do something about it.
And let’s take a look at some of the BCA members who are doing so much good for the community and whose stories the BCA will, presumably, want to share. There are the big four banks, plagued by scandals, rip-offs of customers and prosecutions, about which every hearing of the banking royal commission reveals more misconduct.
There’s Caltex, which presided over three-quarters of its franchisees underpaying staff or otherwise breaching workplace laws. There’s prominent tax dodger BHP. The big global accounting firms that enable mass-scale tax avoidance. There’s Credit Suisse, the target of multinational investigations for enabling tax evasion. Drug cartel money launderer HSBC. Exxon, which lied about climate change for 40 years. Gig economy exploiter Uber. The big US banks like BoA, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan who were at the heart of the financial crisis. Health insurance gougers Medibank and BUPA. Privacy abuser Google.
Well at least the TV ads about the good work these companies do won’t run too long. Indeed they might fall foul of those old laws against subliminal advertising.
The BCA, like many of its members, remains entrenched in a mindset that if only the self-serving “reforms” they advocate can be communicated better, then voters and politicians will fall into line. All it will take is one more advertising campaign (subsidised by taxpayers via the corporate tax system) and voters will understand that what is good for business is good for Australia, regardless of the impacts on working Australians who have struggled with stagnant or declining wages and increasing job uncertainty. They can’t see that it’s not the packaging, it’s the product itself — but then it’s not in their interests to see that.
Today the BCA is holding a sausage sizzle at Parliament House to raise money for charity. There’d be less need for charity, and maybe greater willingness to listen to case for business, if its members actually paid the tax they should be paying and gave their workers real wage rises. In the meantime, the rest of us will make do with a economic equivalent of a burnt snag and some raw onion.