Bran Black interview with Ross Greenwood, Business Now, Sky News

22 January 2024

Event: Bran Black interview with Ross Greenwood, Business Now, Sky News
Speakers: Ross Greenwood Host, Business Now; Bran Black Chief Executive, Business Council of Australia
Topic: Industrial relations; Closing Loopholes Bill; DP World dispute; Government policy; business environment


Ross Greenwood Host, Business Now: Business is right now on tenterhooks from rising interest rates, growing wage claims, increasing industrial action and greater union power. There's a worry that Government policy, if not directly anti-business, is taking business and the taxes they pay for granted. And that it's making the environment even more difficult to make a profit. But how do you object to Government policy without risking a hostile backlash from its ministers and its advisers? One man who has to navigate that path is the head of Australia's most powerful business lobby, Bran Black, the Chief Executive of the Business Council of Australia, who joins us now. Bran, always good to chat to you.

Bran Black Chief Executive, Business Council of Australia: Thanks.

Ross: There's your problem right now. I want to ask you straight out, you represent the one hundred biggest companies in this country is this Government anti-business?

Bran: Well we're deeply concerned by some of the policies that we see from the Government. We are deeply, deeply concerned by the industrial relations legislation passed last year, that is anti-business policy. We have however, seen some policy introduced by the Government that has been useful. We're not seeking policy which is exclusively pro-business. We're seeking policy outcomes that represent a reasonable and good balance across the spectrum of policy needs in Australia, taking into account business considerations, taking into account union considerations, taking into account broader policy considerations. That's how you get to good policy. But where we see the Government going on some areas of reform, like industrial relations, is very much an anti-business perspective and we're seeing that track through in relation to the changes that were made last year, and we're seeing that at the moment in terms of the changes proposed this year.

Ross: So the IR changes that the Government is wishing to bring in are anti-business, and therefore you'd say anti Australian as well?

Bran: Well, I'd say they are certainly anti-business, absolutely. Last year's changes with respect to Same Job, Same Pay. But we also saw changes that increased union power quite significantly, they were concerning. We've got even more concerning changes before shadowed to come into the Parliament in the next coming weeks.

Ross: They call it Closing Loopholes. But effectively, this is about the casual workers, where employers are going to be forced to take on casual employees, who may choose to be casual employees, as full-time workers after a period of time?

Bran: It's not just the casual workers, casual workers is a big concern. And I'll tell you the reasons why, so a couple of key points. Firstly, these changes inject significant uncertainty in relation to the definitions of casual workers. But what that means is that businesses have the uncertainty that translates into cost and that gets passed on to consumers. There's also less scope for businesses to have protections in circumstances where they misclassified an employee who might be a casual but should perhaps be classified as permanent, even if that's inadvertent. And of course, there is a challenge associated with what happens with businesses when they're going through the process of trying to get the settings right, and they incur costs along the way, which necessarily means, as I mentioned, that they pass those costs on to consumers. That's just the casual law reform. We're also deeply concerned about what we're seeing with respect to intractable bargaining. At the moment, if there is a dispute between an employer and an employee, sorry, an employer and a union. And that dispute can't be resolved, it goes to the Fair Work Commission. And the Fair Work Commission has to make a determination, which sees the employees better off overall with the award. That's reasonable. What the Greens have done and Labor supported this change in the Bill that went through the House of Representatives last year. Is say that, where there is a dispute, the Fair Work Commission has to make a determination that sees the union better off on a clause-by-clause basis, every single clause has to leave the union better off. So what that means is there is no incentive whatsoever for unions to engage in bargaining in good faith. That is a great challenge for businesses across the economy.

Ross: So let's go and look at the bigger landscape. You know, as I say, you've got rising industrial action in Australia, that hasn't been seen for a long, long time. You’ve got big pay claims coming at a time when the Government is trying to quell inflation. You have got this legislation going through which again, you say is anti-business. So all of this really leads to a situation where companies, big companies, your members can choose where they invest their money. Whether they can actually make a dollar here in Australia, or whether they can actually make money when they're overseas instead. They can ship their money off overseas and also we don't actually attract capital to this country.

Bran: That's absolutely dead right. I think the greatest challenge that we face right now, from an economic perspective, is complacency. We have always been the lucky country and we have so many natural assets, we've got an abundance of natural resources.

Ross: Is this Government complacent?

Bran: I think that we are complacent in terms of how we're addressing our future needs. The simple point is, from our perspective, we're not going to have the funds to pay for the future that we want. We know that just from the Intergenerational Report that the Government released last year. What that said is that if we look ahead to 2060 we're going to have a revenue shortfall of $140 billion a year, a year, just to pay for what we already do. So if you want to do additional things, which we know we're going to need to do in order to fund the jobs and skills programs that we're looking for, in order to help fund the transition to the green economy, in order to make investments in other areas that will of course rise over time, in order to do all of those things we're going to need more tax revenue. And in order to bring in that revenue, we need to attract more investment. To have that investment, we need to be more competitive.
Ross: One last thing I want to leave you with and that is, as you know, there's industrial action on the Docks at the moment with DP World. The Industrial Relations Minister refuses to condemn to unions for that industrial action. Well today DP World was actually in the Senate, Blake Tierney, who's the Head of Corporate Affairs, was speaking at that Senate Committee, which was on employment legislation, let's have a listen to what he had to say.

Blake Tierney Head of Corporate Affairs, DP World: Amendments in multiemployer bargaining, particularly the complex ‘boot test’ may restrict agreement creation, effectively stopping productivity improvements. The regulation around ‘employee like’ and road transport workers might restrict commercial flexibility on our delivery partners, and increased scrutiny on independent contractors may raise contractual costs. Despite these concerns, DP World is committed to improving industry conditions, including realistic wage increases and operational advancements. However, the ongoing MUA industrial action at our Ports is causing significant economic damage, with losses surpassing $84 million per week, and totaling around $1.34 billion since it began.

Ross: So Bran just briefly there, he could hear that, but there's one great example where there's industrial action. But of course, you've got a situation right now, where the government is refusing to step in and that can create the supply log jams that we saw during the pandemic, which pushes up prices?

Bran: That's absolutely right. I think one of the great challenges with ports disputes is that they're not like other disputes that you see on the industrial relations landscape. All disputes are of course concerning and of deep trouble to those involved. If you have, for example, a manufacturing business, if it's got a disputation with its union that's of course going to affect the business and it will affect the employees and will no doubt affect their suppliers and their customers as well. The ports disputes are the gateway to Australia, they go to the gateway of Australia. So where you've got this disputation, that is prolonged, it affects our cost of living because necessarily it goes to the demand and supply of goods and services right across the economy. So our position is very simple, where there is scope for people who can intervene to help resolve this dispute they should absolutely do so.

Ross: So Bran getting back to where we started, the Government, you think in some areas, is anti-business. They have lots of gabfests in Canberra, they’re talking to business, talking to all sorts of people all the time, the sense is whether it's getting through, whether businesses message is cutting through. What's your own feeling there?

Bran: Well, it's a great question, because when I talk to CEO’s, right across my membership, and indeed CEO’s from all around the country and other businesses too. It's that point about competitiveness that comes through first and foremost in all of the conversations that I have. But what's clear, particularly when I speak to CEOs from offshore companies with operations in Australia, is that they are saying increasingly it's hard to get that capital into Australia. So what we want to see is less industrial relations reform that is bad for the economy, less restrictive planning and regulation, more focus on trade, on the green energy transition, more focus on jobs and skills and a greater focus on the digital economy.

Ross: Bran Black always good to chat and thanks for your time on the program today.

Bran: Thank you Ross.


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