Media & Speeches

Time for Business to Fight Back

This opinion article by Business Council Chief Executive Jennifer Westacott was published in The Daily Telegraph on 10 June 2016. 

We all know election campaigns are a hothouse for claims, counterclaims, accusations and exaggerations.

Australians have a lot of common sense – an ear for detecting bulldust is in our collective DNA – so for the most part they are able to weed out fact from fiction on their own.

But sometimes the claims are so spurious and, frankly, dangerous that they need to be called out.

So it is with the current wave of attacks on Australian business.

When a section of the community that employs 10 million Australians, and is responsible for driving 80 per cent of economic output in this nation, is depicted as somehow motivated by interests that run counter to the rest of us, something must be said.

Having a vibrant business sector, one that continually strives to grow by investing, employing more workers, paying decent wages and making strong returns for shareholders, has been absolutely fundamental to Australia’s unbroken growth over the last quarter century.

The numbers tell the story.

First and foremost, business generates jobs. In the last five years alone, business employed almost 600,000 extra people. Businesses of all sizes employ around 80 per cent of the workforce, or 10 million people.

Second, it underpins the nest eggs of Australian families. About 4.7 million Australians own Australian shares and, on average, each Australian holds about $23,000 in domestic equity through their superannuation.

While many Australians may feel disconnected from the daily movements of the stock market, the reality is that we all have a very personal stake in the success of business.

Third, business activity is the engine for government tax collection. Business and its employees pay the majority of taxes in this country. At the Commonwealth level alone, more than 50 per cent of taxes are collected from workers through income tax and, as we’ve said, most of these people are employed by business.

Finally, the ecosystem that exists within and between businesses is an important driver of the economy. Figures suggest that the income generated through the interactions between large business and SMEs generated around $440 billion in income each year.

Within this kind of ecosystem, there is no ‘big end of town’. Businesses of all sizes are simply relying on each other to meet their customers’ needs and grow their sales. So anyone who suggests you can punish one part of the business community while protecting or rewarding another is either completely out-of-touch with the way the economy works – or being disingenuous.

With our aging population and continuing need for a decent safety net and critical services like health and education, Australia needs a strong and flourishing economy more than ever. Government has an important role to play in delivering these things – but anyone who has ever balanced a household budget knows more government spending is not the missing link to improving Australia’s living standards.

It is a trapdoor to debt and crippling interest repayments for our children and grandchildren. 

Just as they have done throughout our history, Australian businesses of all sizes are ready and willing to pay their part in driving Australia’s future prosperity.

Whether it’s the corner café putting on a new part-timer because their business tax rate has just been reduced, or Coles, which has just announced it will spend $120m in ten supermarkets across West Australia, ultimately creating 2000 new jobs, we should celebrate their success. Because when Australian business gets ahead, we all get ahead.