Injection of Facts into the IR Debate

The Australian

By Michael Chaney
President
Business Council of Australia

It takes a very significant risk to the economy for business groups representing the smallest of enterprises through to our biggest and most successful companies to band together to express a common concern. It takes an even bigger threat to prosperity for these groups to do this directly to millions of ordinary Australians through television and other mass media advertising.

Yet such is the level of concern throughout the business community with the potential of a major reversal in workplace flexibility and choice that this is now occurring.

This week, the Business Coalition for Workplace Reform launched a program of nationwide advertising aimed at restoring balance in the public debate about workplace relations reform.

The Business Coalition represents 19 groups as diverse as the Business Council of Australia, the Minerals Council of Australia, the Australian Chamber of Commerce, as well as contractor associations and employer groups representing the hotel, hospitality and retail industries.

In fact, the group represents large, medium and small businesses in all sectors of the economy. The advertising program is not an effort being driven by one group alone. The BCWR members collectively are proud employers of more than 4.5 million Australians and indirectly contribute to the employment of millions more. They are unified by a single goal – maintaining reforms that have delivered 16 years of economic growth, prosperity and higher wages.

The advertisements, funded entirely by business, aim to provide the facts about workplace reform. In particular they highlight its importance over the past two decades in supporting the level of prosperity Australia enjoys, and the dangers to jobs and investment if workplace reform is unwound.

The Australian people have been seriously misled over the past two years by the ACTU's television advertisements that suggest workplace reform has led to widespread sackings and a decline in wages and conditions.

The realities of the Australian economy tell us otherwise. Since the latest workplace relations reforms, 306,000 full-time jobs have been created. Unemployment is the lowest in more than three decades. The economy has grown by nearly 4 per cent and days lost to strikes are their lowest in history. Recent Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows real incomes have risen by an average of 10 per cent in the two years to 2005–06, and 34 per cent in the 11 years to 2005–06.

These figures are an extension of the broad benefits across the economy that have flowed from changes to workplace relations over the past two decades, as demonstrated by independent research. They are the direct result of the reform journey begun by the Labor government of the 1980s and further advanced by the current government.

Unfortunately, the dangers to workplace reform and the economy don’t stop with union advertising and misrepresenting falsehoods as fact.

The ALP has taken the ACTU’s advertising as a cue and promised to roll back not only the most recent workplace reforms, but to take workplace relations back to a system that has more in common with the ’80s than the 21st century.

For a party that put the workplace reform ball in motion when it was last in federal government, this is difficult to fathom. Restricting choice and flexibility in the workplace will in turn mean our ability to compete with the rest of world will suffer, and our standard of living will fall.

Business’s advertising is not about politics. It is about the importance of all political parties recognising that reversing workplace reforms will damage the economy and cost jobs. This is a message that all businesses, large and small, believe is too important for Australians not to hear.